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At their very hearts, the Mitsubishi Lancer and Lancer Evolution are tried and true economy cars. While you sure won't need to dig deep to see that, these models also stand out for their relatively sporty driving manners — and we're not just pointing to the amped-up, all-wheel-drive Evolution.
Yet that only goes so far. In today's market, as so many other small cars are packing in technology features and stepping up sophistication and refinement, both of these model lines feel a little out of place. Although even the base Lancer isn't a slouch on performance, poor fit and finish and unforgiving road noise can make driving it feel more like a chore than a treat.
It's definitely not all bad here, though. If you look toward the upper end of the Lancer lineup, you'll find a few versions of the car that feel as sporty and rewarding to drive as the Mitsubishis of yesteryear—be it the satisfying Ralliart, or the track-ready Lancer Evolution. Even amongst so many new compact economy cars in the segment, these two vehicles with their all-wheel-drive and turbocharged engines remain interesting and relevant, especially to shoppers who live in colder climates.
For 2015, Mitsubishi has added a few new standard features to base models, as well as repackaged a few features into a new Value Pack trim. All models now receive heated power mirrors with built-in turn indicators. SE models get a sportier front bumper and the FUSE handsfree bluetooth audio system. ES models get an optional Value Pack, which includes the upgraded infotainment system and a few upgraded interior materials. GT models with the CVT automatic transmission get a sunroof, the upgraded Rockford Fosgate sound system, and HID headlamps.
The overarching design of the Lancer attractive, bold, and practical, and it still manages to stand out in a good way, seven years after its introduction. Packaging and interior space are impressive, too, and this is one vehicle that makes smart use of its cabin dimensions. At issue, really are the interior details; from a distance, the instrument panel might be described as elegantly simple, yet up close the materials are disappointing, and there's too much hard, hollow plastic.
Although there the Lancer is lacking inspiration inside, it tends to make up for that with a neat, responsive driving experience. Steering is also nice and direct throughout the lineup, while handling is reassuring and a bit communicative for all but the more basic models. The Lancer ES has a 152-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that's perky at lower speeds with the five-speed manual but barely gutsy enough with the continuously variable (CVT) automatic. If you move up to the 168-horsepower, 2.4-liter four that comes in the Lancer GT (or all-wheel-drive SE), you get plenty of power and torque to move this small sedan or hatchback with more confidence. With the CVT, on GT models, you get magnesium steering-wheel paddle shifters with six simulated gears, too.
The driving-enthusiast draws of the lineup are the Evolution and Ralliart. With the Ralliart, you essentially get a Lancer GT, fitted with a 237-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four, With a few more borrowed components from the high-end Evolution, like its quicker-ratio steering, you get a car that's a lot more engaging to drive. Yet those craving track time will want to head straight to the Evo; its much stronger 291-hp engine and sophisticated all-wheel drive system are complemented by serious performance upgrades all around--even a strengthened body structure and aluminum panels--to deliver awesome performance and grip. If drivability is important, though, you might prefer the Ralliart for its better drivability and broader torque curve.
Those willing to pay up to $45k for an Evo will have to get past a few hurdles--like how, awesome Recaro seats aside, the interior appointments aren't all that much different than in a $17k base Lancer. The Lancer GT and Ralliart are still the best bets in the lineup if you want that look, at a much lower price. With them, you get a sport suspension, big 18-inch alloys (a fresh design this year), fog lamps, rear spoiler, and air dams, plus automatic climate control, high-contrast gauges, and sport seats.