New & Used Mitsubishi Lancer: In Depth
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The current Mitsubishi Lancer is most well-known for its Ralliart and Evolution performance versions, but even the base models have solid handling wrapped in a sporty shape, and come in at an affordable price. The Lancer is the brand's second smallest offering, sitting above the tiny Mirage in the limited model lineup. It's offered as a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback called Sportback. Although perhaps best known for its all-wheel-drive versions, the Lancer is offered in base form with front-drive powertrains.
For more information, including specs, pictures, and features, see our full review of the 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer.
The competitive set for the Lancer is extensive, and it currently includes the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra, and Nissan Sentra, among others. Meanwhile, the Subaru WRX, the Volkswagen GTI, the Volkswagen Golf R, and the Ford Focus ST all go up against the Lancer Ralliart and Evolution.
The Mitsubishi Lancer name dates back to the 1970s in the brand's home Japan market, and had established a good performance reputation in other markets, but even as recently as through the 1990s—when Mitsubishi was taking center stage in WRC rally racing—the automaker sold a homely, more stripped-down version of the Lancer, called the Mirage in the U.S.
Beginning in 2002, Mitsubishi finally brought the last-generation version over with the name Lancer, and from the beginning it gave the model more of a performance emphasis—in look if not specs—with a sporty O-Z Rally edition. These Lancer models rode and handled quite well and had a reasonably roomy interior compared to other cars their size, but their handicap was the boomy 120-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which struggled with the automatic transmission and was only adequate with the five-speed manual. The 162-hp, 2.4-liter four that was introduced in 2004 with the Ralliart edition gave the Lancer more satisfying performance, thanks to a specially tuned suspension and other upgrades. In 2004 only, a boxy Sportback wagon version was offered here.
For 2008, Mitsubishi rolled out the current Lancer, which from its sharklike front end to the more aggressive stance and powertrain upgrades looks and feels a lot more exciting than its predecessor. Base SE and ES models are powered by a 152-hp, 2.0-liter four, but the GTS gets a 168-hp, 2.4-liter version. The top-of-the-line GTS emulates the Ralliart and Evolution in all but actual performance; while it's perky, it doesn't accelerate like a sports car. Lancer models come with either a five-speed manual transmission or a CVT automatic; we'd recommend the manual as the CVT causes the base model especially to be more noisy and sluggish. GTS models with the CVT get steering-wheel paddle shifters and six simulated gears, which redeem it somewhat.
A Lancer Sportback model returned to the lineup in 2010. Offering all the same features as the Lancer GTS sedan but instead in a convenient five-door hatchback body style, the Sportback has a slightly lower cargo floor than the sedan, and of course the seats fold flat to expand the space. Going into 2011, availability of the hatchback was expanded to ES trims, then in 2012 the Mitsubishi Lancer lineup gained a sporty GT model replacing the GTS. An SE model also introduced all-wheel drive for the 2.4-liter non-turbo engine. In 2012 we drove the all-wheel-drive Lancer SE and found it a worthy, albeit uninspired, rival to the Subaru Impreza.
Both the Lancer Evolution and Lancer Ralliart models have been covered in previous years by a separate model review. While the Ralliart, which has a 237-hp, turbocharged engine, has a lot in common with the Lancer GTS, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is significantly different structurally, and uses its own engine as well as a more-advanced all-wheel-drive system.
Few changes have come to the Lancer lineup in recent years, as the Mitsubishi brand has struggled to stay afloat in the U.S. market. Mitsubishi has mostly abandoned its sporty image to become an inexpensive brand selling tiny Mirages and low-content versions of the Lancer, while the small Outback Sport crossover and larger Outback keep some money coming in.
A significantly refreshed Lancer model line is due for 2016. And while Mitsubishi pondered a high-performance hybrid powertrain for the next-generation Lancer Evolution, the company has announced that the 2015 model year will be the performance variant's last, with no word on what, if anything, will replace it. The last run of Evo X models will be sold in Japan as Final Edition models. With Mitsubishi's recent move toward crossovers, we're not likely to see a direct replacement of the Evolution in the future, although the brand will hopefully continue to offer a performance vehicle of some sort.