2012 Mitsubishi Lancer Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 27, 2012

The 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer family has a little more panache than most compacts, but it's missing some of the finer details.

As Mitsubishi tries to remake itself as an automaker focused around electrified vehicles and green-tech ideas, the Lancer line of compact cars carries on--and still really stands out in a sea of low-priced sedans. While the Lancer's close resemblance to the high-performance Lancer Evolution and Ralliart models (covered under a separate review) is definitely a selling point, even in its more affordable, basic Lancer models this family of vehicles remains a lot of fun to drive.

Last year, Mitsubishi expanded availability of the Lancer Sportback (five-door hatchback) body style, and made it available in more affordable ES trim. For 2012, Mitsubishi is adding . For 2011, Mitsubishi has dropped the former GTS model and replaced it with the Lancer GT, a model that has much of the same equipment as the GTS but now includes all-wheel drive, at a more affordable price compared to the turbocharged Ralliart.

Not much else has changed for the Lancer lineup, which still manages to be one of the most distinctive compact cars, in terms of styling. The aggressive, sharklike snout, chunky proportions, low-and-lean stance, and high beltline give both the sedan and Sportback a nice look. The mid-level Lancer ES gets color-keyed door handles and mirrors, but it's the larger wheels of GT models that especially serve to fill out those proportions and help the design pop. Inside, the Lancers aren't nearly as alluring; although the layout is sporty, trims and materials tend to be on the drab side.

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Power for Lancer DE and ES comes from a 152-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that's just perky with the five-speed manual and just gutsy enough with the continuously variable (CVT) automatic. The 168-horsepower, 2.4-liter four that comes in the Lancer GT can move this small sedan or hatchback with more confidence, and GT models with the CVT get magnesium steering-wheel paddle-shifters with six simulated gears to suit high-performance driving.

Overall, Lancer DE and ES models should be thought of as cheap wheels that handle better than most other models in this price range—though not with all that much verve. With its larger wheels, firmer suspension, and upgraded braking, the GT (if it's like its predecessor, the GTS) provides a driving experience that's almost on par with the turbocharged Ralliart. On the flip side, a stiff, juggly ride is the tradeoff, along with more road noise. Also bringing a downmarket feel to the Lancer is the collection of decidedly basic materials used in the cabin; there's lots of hard, hollow-sounding plastic.

The 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer has a fundamentally good package, with good front seats and enough space to fit a couple of adults in the backseat for short trips, but it falls short with respect to interior noise and refinement. The five-door Sportback body style is offered now in ES and GTS trims and brings a little more cargo space and versatility—especially if you fold the backseats forward. Otherwise, backseat space is identical between the two.

If you want the Evo or Ralliart look, but not their high prices; the Lancer GT comes with 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. GT models include a USB port plus FUSE, a hands-free system that allows voice-command access to phones and media players. Back at the affordable end of the scale, base Lancer DE sedans include power windows and locks, keyless entry, and a 140-watt sound system.

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2012 Mitsubishi Lancer

Styling

The 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer could be mistaken for the iconic Evo or high-performance Ralliart--and that's a good thing.

Not much else has changed for the Lancer lineup, which still manages to be one of the most distinctive compact cars, especially from the outside.

The aggressive, sharklike snout might call out 'Evo' to some--certainly not a bad thing here--and otherwise the chunky proportions, low-and-lean stance, and high beltline give both the sedan and Sportback a nice look. The mid-level Lancer ES gets color-keyed door handles and mirrors, but it's the larger wheels of the sportier GT models that especially serve to fill out those proportions and help the design pop.

Inside, the Lancers aren't nearly as alluring; although the layout is sporty, and the mix of darker surfaces and matte-metallic trims tends to look upscale from a few paces away, materials tend to be on the drab side up close.

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2012 Mitsubishi Lancer

Performance

Except when equipped with the CVT automatic, the 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer feels sportier than most other inexpensive small sedans.

Power for Lancer DE and ES comes from a 152-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that's just perky with the five-speed manual and just gutsy enough with the continuously variable (CVT) automatic. The 168-horsepower, 2.4-liter four that comes in the Lancer GT can move this small sedan or hatchback with more confidence, and GT models with the CVT get magnesium steering-wheel paddle-shifters with six simulated gears to suit high-performance driving.

Overall, Lancer DE and ES models should be thought of as cheap wheels that handle better than most other models in this price range—though not with all that much verve. With its larger wheels, firmer suspension, and upgraded braking, the GT (if it's like its predecessor, the GTS) provides a driving experience that's almost on par with the turbocharged Ralliart. On the flip side, a stiff, juggly ride is the tradeoff, along with more road noise. Also bringing a downmarket feel to the Lancer is the collection of decidedly basic materials used in the cabin; there's lots of hard, hollow-sounding plastic.

For 2012, Mitsubishi has also added a new SE model that adds all-wheel drive but is geared more for those with snowy driveways than those dreaming of the rally stage. We haven't yet driven this model, but stay tuned for impressions.

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2012 Mitsubishi Lancer

Comfort & Quality

Refinement, ride, and interior trims are all subpar, but the 2012 Lancer has comfortable seats and a good driving position.

The 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer has a relatively boxy, straightforward cabin shape, which pays dividends in making the interior quite roomy and useful--whether you go with the four-door sedan or the five-door hatchback (Sportback). But road and engine noise, along with bargain-basement interior trims leave a lot to be desired compared to most other rivals in the compact-sedan class.

Front seats in the Lancer are supportive and a little larger and better-bolstered than those in many other small cars; they also yield a nice, upright driving position and reasonable long-distance comfort. In back, there's enough space to fit a couple of adults in the backseat for short trips.

The five-door Sportback body style is offered now in ES and GTS trims and brings a little more cargo space and versatility—especially if you fold the backseats forward. Otherwise, backseat space is identical between the two.

On any of these models, noise and ride comfort could be deal-breakers. DE and ES models come with a slightly softer suspension and more forgiving tires that comfort-oriented buyers will probably prefer. But especially in GT form, the Lancer rides quite hard, however, with plenty of road noise to match the engine noise. Inside, the cabin materials are decidedly basic, with lots of hard, hollow-sounding plastic, and in CVT models the engine gets raucous and buzzy on acceleration.

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2012 Mitsubishi Lancer

Safety

Good safety ratings plus a full list of equipment and responsive handling put the 2012 Lancer at a safety advantage.

The safety story for the Lancer has plenty of upside, with a good list of safety features, top-tier safety ratings, and crisp, responsive handling. For those reasons, it can truly be called one of the safest small-car models.

Front side airbags, side-curtain bags, and a driver's knee airbag are included in all 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer models, along with anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Lancer top 'good' scores for frontal offset and side impact tests, as well as their seat-based rear impact test. It's also scored a 'good' rating in the new roof strength test and earned Top Safety Pick status for 2011. The federal government hasn't yet tested the Lancer in its revised, tougher NCAP testing program.

Outward visibility might be something worth noting on the test drive. The spoiler on GT models could potentially get in the way of rear vision, and the rather high beltline could also prove an issue.

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2012 Mitsubishi Lancer

Features

The 2012 Lancer is a reasonably strong value, ranging from one of the most affordable small sedans up to the value-conscious, sporty GT and SE all-wheel drive models.

If you want the Evo or Ralliart look, but not their high prices; the Lancer GT comes with 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. GT models include a USB port plus FUSE, a hands-free system that allows voice-command access to phones and media players. Back at the affordable end of the scale, base Lancer DE sedans include power windows and locks, keyless entry, and a 140-watt sound system.

Otherwise, the Lancer comes with a generous list of standard features and some high-tech options that aren't widely offered in this affordable class of vehicle. The only exception is the base DE model, a price leader that could classify under the old definition of 'economy car.' Power windows and a CD sound system are included in the Lancer DE, but expect steel wheels with cheap-looking wheel covers, as well as rear drum brakes (though anti-lock brakes and stability control are now included).

Most people will be happy with the mid-grade ES, adding stabilizer bars, ventilated disc brakes (rear discs with the available alloy wheels), 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, big 18-inch alloys, fog lamps, rear spoiler, and air dams, plus automatic climate control, high-contrast gauges, and sport seats.

Options on the Lancer are limited to alloy wheels and a Deluxe Package on the ES (including the FUSE system, a USB port, sunroof, and leather-wrapped steering wheel. The GTS can be further loaded up with a Touring Package adding a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate Punch premium sound system, ten-inch subwoofer, a CD changer, leather seats, heated front seats, bi-xenon headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, and a sunroof.

New this year is the Lancer SE, which builds on the equipment of the ES but adds all-weather all-wheel drive, to appeal to those in Northern climates wanting AWD but not the performance ability of the Ralliart or Evolution.

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2012 Mitsubishi Lancer

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer models are acceptably frugal for small cars, but not standouts in any way green.

The 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer isn't the most fuel-efficient small sedan or hatch, but it is offered in sporty GTS and all-wheel-drive SE models that set the lineup apart from others.

The Lancer got a boost in mileage last year, too, thanks to the adoption of electric power steering through most of the line, but that still leaves the Lancer at an EPA rating of 25 mpg city, 34 highway, at best, with the standard five-speed manual gearbox, or 26/34 with the available CVT. GT models rate 2 or 3 mpg lower all around at 22/31 or 23/30 respectively, while the SE rates just 22/29.

All said, those figures are nothing to boast about, as a number of much larger cars get EPA ratings in the mid 30s on the highway (like the Hyundai Sonata, at 35 mpg).

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