2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 26, 2013

The 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer models looks sharp and handles well--and the Ralliart and Evo provide all-wheel-drive performance thrills--but there are enough flaws to limit their appeal.

The Mitsubishi Lancer family of compact sedans and hatchbacks stand out as different, yet confounding. It's hard to make a case for the most of the Lancer lineup–unless you're considering at the finely honed Lancer Evolution--an all-wheel-drive track star--or the satisfying, sporty Ralliart. That's become increasingly true with the long list of recently redesigned models in this class, like the excellent Hyundai Elantra, the very comfortable Chevy Cruze, or the particularly stylish and fun-to-drive Focus.

Admittedly, the Lancer has its merits.The boxier, more upright look, and the distinctive shark-snout front end still manage to look refreshingly different, even though they've been around now for many years. Steering is also nice and direct throughout the lineup, while handling is crisp and responsive for all but the more basic models. Plus, there's back-seat space for adults, and both Sportback (hatchback) models and sedans offer lots of cargo space, and versatility.

Driving enjoyment is another big plus for the Lancer lineup--provided you don't go with one of the base models. The Lancer DE and ES have a 152-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that's perky at lower speeds with the five-speed manual and barely gutsy enough with the continuously variable (CVT) automatic. But step up to the 168-horsepower, 2.4-liter four that comes in the Lancer GT (or all-wheel-drive SE) and you get plenty of power and torque to move this small sedan or hatchback with more confidence; GT models with the CVT also get magnesium steering-wheel paddle-shifters with six simulated gears.

Evolution and Ralliart models are the driving-enthusiast draws of the lineup. The Ralliart is essentially a Lancer GT, fitted with a 237-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four, but it gets a number of borrowed components from the high-end Evolution, including its quicker-ratio steering. But those planning for track time will want to head for the Evo; with a more sophisticated all-wheel drive system and a much stronger 291-hp turbo four, plus exclusive strengthened body structure and aluminum panels, and serious performance upgrades all around, the Evo delivers awesome performance and grip. Some drivability is lost in translation, though; the engine in particular is much peakier in the Evo, and we prefer the broader torque curve and better drivability of the Ralliart.

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While the package and performance of these models brings lots of appeal, there's plenty to sour the impression. Across the lineup, these models sorely lack refinement; materials feel cheap; and ride quality can be harsh. Cabin materials are decidedly basic, with lots of hard, hollow-sounding plastic, and in CVT models the engine gets raucous and buzzy on acceleration. And those willing to pay up to $45k for an Evo will be disappointed to find that, awesome Recaro seats aside, the interior appointments aren't all that much different than in a $17k base Lancer. Even in those more affordable Lancers, there are too many hard-and-hollow plastic surfaces.

If you want the Evo or Ralliart look, but not their high prices, the Lancer GT or Ralliart are still the best bets. They come 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, as well as a USB port plus FUSE, a hands-free system that allows voice-command access to phones and media players. For 2013, Mitsubishi has also expanded your options for the all-wheel-drive SE model with a new Premium Package bringing upgraded audio and a sunroof, among other features, and the SE gets new-style alloy wheels and a Thule roof-carrier option.

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2013 Mitsubishi Lancer

Styling

The 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer family stand out from the outside, but inside these models look more drab and ordinary.

The 2013 Lancer is hardly a fresh face in the compact-car arena, but the sedan especially manages to stand out in as stylistically different from both models that try to emulate larger mid-size sedans (like the Chevrolet Cruze and the Volkswagen Jetta) as well as those that are taking a sleeker, creased, and rakish look (such as the Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra).

One key to the Lancer's still daring, different look is its aggressive, sharklike snout. For standard Lancer models, it calls out 'Evo,' while even on the Evo and Ralliart models it simply fits right in with the rest of the chunky proportions, low-and-lean stance, and high beltline--which altogether give both the sedan and Sportback their nice sense of proportion. With all but the base-level Lancer DE you get color-keyed door handles and mirrors, but you'll need to step up to sportier GT models, as well as the Ralliart or Evo, to get the larger alloys that especially serve to help the design pop by filling out the wheel wells.

Inside, the Lancers feel low-rent--surprisingly so, considering their attractive exteriors--and they lack enough differentiation from the sub-$17k Lancer DE all the way up to a loaded $45k Evo MR. The look barely fits the bill for the Lancer DE and ES models, as the competition has upgraded its materials and detailing to such a degree. Provided you don't become obsessed over the details (which will get you down)--and provided you're a few paces away--the sporty layout, with a mix of darker surfaces and matte-metallic trims tends to look quite good.

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2013 Mitsubishi Lancer

Performance

The 2013 Lancer handles well compared to other sporty sedans, while the Ralliart and Evo provide turbocharged engines and all-wheel drive to make the whole driving experience a hoot.

The 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer might be a sharp, performance-honed small sport sedan (or hatch) in its Ralliart or Evolution variants, but it's far from that in base form. While these cars can look closely related from the outside, what's under the hood, and the driving experience, is very different.

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—while Lancer GT models providing a taste of Ralliart performance without the turbocharged engine or all-wheel drive. At the top of the lineup is the no-holds-barred Evolution—an all-wheel-drive supercar in some respects—while the Ralliart works down from the Evo and up from the Lancer GT, compromising the two with a hotter-performing yet practical and affordable package.

Power for the basic 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 barely gutsy enough (though not any fun) with the continuously variable (CVT) automatic. The Lancer GT is sharper and more responsive, and it gets some suspension and performance improvements (in common with the Ralliart), and has a 168-horsepower, 2.4-liter four; GT models with the CVT get magnesium steering-wheel paddle-shifters with six simulated gears to help those who want more of a performance driving feel.

A new SE model was introduced last year and essentially fits all-wheel drive (not the Evo's Super All Wheel Control system, but the more ordinary AWD system also used in the Outlander Sport) and the 2.4-liter. It builds onto the ES rather than the GT, and clearly aspires to snowy driveways, not the rally stage. 

The Evolution is of course the performance star of the lineup. It packs a 291-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder that's very peaky by today's standards, with quite a bit of turbo lag and the need to be revved high into its range to extract its power. When it arrives, it's phenomenal, and delivered confidently with an Active Center Differential, helical-gear front differential, and Active Yaw Control, altogether giving this plebeian sedan the agility, tractability, and poise to match much more expensive sport machines. You can get a notchy five-speed manual gearbox, but our pick would actually be the six-speed 'Twin Clutch SST' gearbox--a dual-clutch automatic that actually serves to help keep you in the turbo boost.

The Evo has changes beyond that, though; with an 'enhanced body structure' and many body panels made of aluminum, not steel. It's no doubt a costly manufacturing process that's in part reflected in the Evo's much higher sticker price.

If there sounds like a huge performance jump between the GT and the Evo, there is; and it's the Ralliart that fills the gap. With a lower-boost, 237-hp version of the turbo four, all the body and suspension improvements of the GT, plus the quicker-ratio steering and some other hardware borrowed from the Evo, the Ralliart is the best sweet spot between performance and daily-driver usability for most. Its engine is much more flexible, and feels just as strong as the Evo's in everyday driving. The only thing missing is the Evo's high-end AWD system, and in either of these models it's worth keeping in mind that ride harshness does play a part in the driving experience--they're a couple of the relatively few cars on the market in which you feel everything, and seat-of-the-pants drivers will like that.

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2013 Mitsubishi Lancer

Comfort & Quality

Comfortable seats and a good driving position make these models appealing when you're sitting still, but once moving you'll note the subpar refinement, ride, and interior trims.

Whether you choose the sedan or Sportback (hatchback) body style of the 2013 Lancer family, in its Lancer, Ralliart, or Evolution guises, what you get is a relatively boxy, straightforward cabin shape, and that brings impressive interior space, as well as good usability and versatility. But across the lineup, these models sorely lack refinement; materials feel cheap; and ride quality can be harsh. 

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. Trunk space is surprisingly good in sedans, while in the five-door Sportback models (offered in ES and GT trims) the rear seatbacks fold forward to a nearly flat cargo floor. Between the two body styles, backseat space is identical, though.

That's the good. The bad is that, on any of these models, noise and ride comfort could be deal-breakers. DE and ES models (and SE) 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, and 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.

We'd like to say that the Evolution or Ralliart are much better and more refined than the lesser models, but they're not. You do get much better sport seats in the Evo, but its structure pounds and rings as its ride is downright jarring on pothole-ridden Rust Belt roads. Those with back issues need not apply.

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2013 Mitsubishi Lancer

Safety

With good handling and a solid list of safety features, the entire 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer family is at an advantage.

The 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer models earn excellent safety ratings from both major U.S. agencies; and with a good list of standard safety ratings plus crisp, responsive handling, these models have plenty else to either protect you when an accident occurs or avoid one completely.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has given the Lancer top 'good' ratings in frontal offset, side impact, and rear impact tests, along with the roof strength test. And in federal tests, the Lancer sedan and Sportback both earned four stars in both frontal and side crash categories, for an overall rating of four (out of five) stars.

Neither agency extends these results to Evolution and Ralliart models. The Evolution has its own exclusive, stronger and performance-focused body structure.

We would recommend that you take a look at outward visibility on the test drive. Because of the Lancer's rather tall beltline and thick rear pillars, it could be tough for some to see out when changing lanes or backing up (taller drivers won't have issue).

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

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2013 Mitsubishi Lancer

Features

Most of the 2013 Lancer and Ralliart models offer plenty of features and are a good value for the money, but the Evo feels pricey for what it is.

The Mitsubishi Lancer family of compact sedans and hatchbacks have now gone quite a few years without a complete refresh; however, you might not know that in looking at their feature sets.

Generally, the mid-grade Lancer ES, GT, and SE models come 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 Lancer SE, which builds on the equipment of the ES but adds the larger 2.4-liter engine plus all-weather all-wheel drive, to appeal to those in Northern climates wanting AWD but not the performance ability of the Ralliart or Evolution. The sporty GT 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. GT models include a USB port plus FUSE, a hands-free system that allows voice-command access to phones and media players.

The GT 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; separately, there's a navigation package that includes a rearview camera system.

In addition to its turbo engine, the Ralliart includes most of the GT's equipment, plus standard leather trim and aluminum pedals, as well as a hands-free entry system. Step up to the Evo and its track-tuned performance, and you'll already be past the $35k mark with the GSR model, the more basic take on the Evo that includes a slightly more compliant suspension, better wheels, and HID headlamps, plus other extras like remote start and the FAST hands-free entry system. The loaded Evolution MR tops $45k when loaded with the Touring Package, as well as a Premium Package that includes Recaro leather-and-suede seats.

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2013 Mitsubishi Lancer

Fuel Economy

Compared to other small cars, the 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer, Ralliart, and Evo models aren't standouts in any green sense. .

Much of the 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer lineup looks like it would be miserly and fuel-efficient. Yet that's not so much the case.

With the base 2.0-liter engine, mileage is reasonably good, at 25 or 26 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway, but that's 3-6 mpg lower on the highway than most other cars in this class.

GT models rate 2 or 3 mpg lower all around at 22/31 or 23/30 respectively, while the all-wheel-drive SE rates just 22/29--far thirstier than the AWD Subaru Impreza and its 36-mpg highway rating.

It continues to get worse with the Ralliart, which only manages 18 mpg city, 25 highway, and the Evo, rated as low as 17/22.

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Styling 8
Performance 8
Comfort & Quality 6
Safety 8
Features 8
Fuel Economy 7
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