- Sharp, responsive handling
- Seating and interior space
- Nice manual transmission
- Hard cabin plastics
- Road and engine noise
- Unremarkable fuel economy ratings
The Mitsubishi Lancer might be positioned and priced as an economy car, but with the right equipment, it can feel like a lot more.
As Mitsubishi’s smallest and most affordable vehicle in the U.S. market, the Lancer stands out from the crowd of low-priced sedans for two main reasons: First, its resemblance to the much more expensive Lancer Evolution and Ralliart models (covered under a separate review) somehow earns it a little more street cred than, say, a Corolla. Second, the new Sportback model gives the Lancer a new, more versatile body style—and an alternative to small SUVs and crossovers.
Across the parking lot, the Lancer could be mistaken for an Evo, especially in top-of-the-line, sporty GTS trim. It’s a nicely proportioned small sedan, looking chunky but low and lean, while the new Sportback hatch model also fits perfectly with the sharklike snout. Even on base models, sporty interior themes and a mix of darker surfaces and matte-metallic trim give it a sophisticated, upscale look from a distance. Unfortunately, as we’ll explain below, up close the interior materials are a letdown.
Standard on Lancer DE and ES models is a 152-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine; with it, performance is perky with the five-speed manual and acceptable with the continuously variable (CVT) automatic. Sporty GTS models step up to a 168-horsepower, 2.4-liter four, and CVT versions receive magnesium steering-wheel paddle-shifters with six simulated gears to suit high-performance driving. The GTS also gets larger wheels, a firmer suspension, and upgraded braking to put the driving experience pretty much on par with the turbocharged Ralliart—minus the extra power, of course.
Cabin design is a highlight in the 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer. Front seats provide a nice, upright driving position with good outward visibility and long-distance comfort; the sport seats in the GTS are even better. Backseats are tight for legroom, but there’s just enough headroom for adults (just two, ideally). Available only in GTS trim is the new Sportback body style, which brings a little bit more cargo space and versatility—especially if you fold the backseats forward. Otherwise, backseat space is identical between the two. Noise and ride comfort could be deal-breakers. Especially in GTS form, the Lancer rides quite hard, however, with plenty of road noise to match the engine noise. The roar of the engine is more of an issue in CVT models, where the engine gets raucous and buzzy on acceleration. DE and ES models come with a slightly softer suspension and more forgiving tires that comfort-oriented buyers will probably prefer. Also bringing a downmarket feel to the Lancer is the collection of decidedly basic materials used in the cabin—including lots of hard plastic.
The Lancer is one of the safer small cars, considering its confidence-inspiring handling, plus safety features including front side airbags, side-curtain bags, and a driver's knee airbag. The Lancer also does quite well in crash tests, with four- and five-star ratings in the federal tests for frontal and side impact, and "good" ratings for both frontal impact and rear impact from the IIHS. Anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control are newly standard for 2010 across the entire model line.
The base DE model is a price leader and, thus, doesn’t come with a long list of features. Power windows and a CD sound system are included, but expect steel wheels with cheap-looking wheel covers and rear drum brakes with optional anti-lock. Most people will be happy with the mid-grade ES, adding stabilizer bars, ventilated disc brakes, a split-folding backseat, steering-wheel audio controls, keyless entry, and air conditioning. The sporty GTS lives up to its Evo look, with a sport suspension, fog lamps, rear spoiler, and air dams, plus automatic climate control, high-contrast gauges, sport seats, and a Bluetooth calling interface. Bluetooth is optional on the ES but not for the DE. As part of an optional Sun and Sound Package, available for both the GTS and ES, a FAST Key entry system permits keyless entry and ignition. Other top options on the 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer include a navigation system that includes a 30GB hard-drive music server, plus a 650-watt Rockford-Fosgate sound system and a sunroof.