2016 Mitsubishi Lancer Review

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The Car Connection
2019
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

John Voelcker John Voelcker
April 26, 2016

Buying tip

Given its lack of refinement, make sure you test-drive the 2016 Mitsubishi Lancer under different conditions before you sign on the line—virtually

The 2016 Mitsubishi Lancer shows its 10 years of age, with a noisy ride and a low-quality interior, which will limit shoppers' interest unless value for money trumps all.

The 2016 Mitsubishi Lancer is the oldest compact sedan in the segment—it's now entering its 10th year—and inevitably one of the trailing contenders when compared against others. It's working hard to keep up and represents good value for money, but its value and sporty nature come at the cost of a noisy and unrefined interior and painfully noncompetitive gas-mileage ratings.

The Lancer retains its square, crisp, traditional four-door sedan shape, with a new and less aggressive grille and front-end design for 2016. Inside, the center console has been updated, but the interior shows its age in design, fit, finish, and materials. Low-end Lancers get improved cloth upholstery and glossy black trim this year, but those are minor changes on an earlier version of what a compact interior should be.

The base front-wheel-drive ES model is powered by a 148-horsepower 2.0-liter inline-4, with a 5-speed manual gearbox standard and an optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) that Mitsubishi says is redesigned for better performance and fuel economy. If so, it needs more work—it barely cracks 30 mpg.

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The rest of the Lancer range features a 168-hp 2.4-liter inline-4, which in the three mid-level models—ES, SE, and SEL 2.4L AWC—feature the CVT only and standard all-wheel drive. That gives the Lancer a spec that only one other compact competitor, the Subaru Impreza, can offer. But with the market's wholesale shift to crossovers and SUVs of all sizes, will it be enough of a distinction?

At the top of the range, the Lancer GT reverts to front-wheel drive, with either the manual or the CVT, and adds sport suspension, larger 18-inch alloy wheels, and other performance accouterments. All models offer a neat, responsive driving experience. Steering is pleasantly direct throughout the lineup, while handling is reassuring and communicative in the GT, less so in the more basic models.

Packaging and interior space are impressive; the Lancer makes smart use of its cabin dimensions. But it's noisy on the road, with tire and wind noise competing with engine roar and whine, especially in the CVT models. And while the interior looks good at first, lots of hollow, hard plastics tarnish its appeal. The Lancer simply isn't nearly as refined as the latest compacts from larger makers.

For 2016, Mitsubishi  has added more features to the base ES model, which now comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, LED daytime running lights, fog lights, voice-activated audio and cellphone controls, and heated power mirrors with built-in turn indicators. For 2016, Mitsubishi has also added a new SEL trim level with more features.

Most buyers will be happy with either a well-optioned ES or the mid-grade SE, which adds stabilizer bars, ventilated disc brakes (rear discs with the available alloy wheels), a split-folding backseat, air conditioning, steering-wheel audio controls, and keyless entry. But those buyers will have to prioritize value-for-money over a pleasant and calm driving experience to choose the Mitsubishi over the brand-new Honda Civic, not to mention the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Sentra, and Toyota Corolla.

There's only a single Lancer version that even cracks the 30-mpg combined rating, and all the rest range from 25 to 28 mpg combined. That might have been competitive a decade ago, but it's woefully behind the times today. Performance of the small engine is OK at low speeds with the manual, but it strains with the CVT—and it's remarkably noisy while it does so.

7

2016 Mitsubishi Lancer

Styling

The 2016 Mitsubishi Mirage is a relatively ancient design; this year's front-end update and interior tweaks can't disguise its age or drabness.

Now in its 10th year on the market, the 2016 Mitsubishi Lancer is showing its age despite several incremental updates over the years. It remains a straightforward, fairly handsome compact four-door sedan. It has chunky proportions, crisp edges, a low-and-lean stance, and a high beltline—which give it a nice sense of proportion.

But it looks old-fashioned and upright against the latest, wedgier compact sedans—the latest Focus, Mazda 3, and the new fastback Honda Civic—and you'll need to step up to the sportier GT model to get the larger 18-inch alloy wheels that fill out the wheel wells and make the design pop.

For 2016, Mitsubishi has given the Lancer a revised front end that re-emphasizes the horizontal line of the front bumper. It now has a small grille above the bumper and a larger opening below. That makes it less bold and distinctive than the former aggressive, shark-like snout, but also more refined and less boy-racer-appearing than last year's model. It also adds LED daytime running lights and a chrome trim strip along the window line this year.

Inside, a redesigned center console and an improved display audio system update the dashboard, and new seat fabrics and gloss-black trim on lower-level ES and SE models freshen the interior as well. But despite some soft-touch surfaces, the Lancer falls behind competitors in materials, surface details, and design refinement.

The sporty layout, with a mix of darker surfaces and matte-metallic trims, looks good but is let down by its details and materials. At 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.

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2016 Mitsubishi Lancer

Performance

The 2016 Mitsubishi Mirage loses its performance models this year, though even base models handle decently.

The 2016 Mitsubishi Lancer no longer has its Evo or Ralliart high-performance models to cast a halo over the range. So now it's competing straight across with compact sedans from other makers, though the Lancer offers all-wheel drive as a distinction few others except Subaru can match in the segment.

The five-model Lancer range mixes and matches among two engines, two transmissions, and a choice of front- or all-wheel drive. The base Lancer ES 2.0L is the sole model powered by a 148-hp 2.0-liter inline-4, with a standard 5-speed manual gearbox standard or an optional continuously variable transmission (CVT)—in front-wheel-drive form only. This is the sole Lancer even to crack a 30-mpg combined rating from the EPA, indicating how badly the car falls short on gas mileage.

One step up is the ES 2.4L AWC, with a 168-hp 2.4-liter four, the CVT only, and electronically variable all-wheel drive that's also used in the Outlander Sport compact SUV. That same powertrain is used for the better-equipped SE and SEL models as well, but the sporty Lancer GT reverts to front-wheel drive, with a choice of manual gearbox or CVT.

The 2.0-liter engine is perky at lower speeds if you have the 5-speed manual. Mitsubishi has updated its CVT across the lineup for 2016, and we haven't driven the revised transmission yet, but the smaller engine struggled to keep up with traffic with the previous CVT. Moving up to the 2.4-liter engine provides plenty of power and torque to move the small sedan with more confidence. On GT models with the CVT, Mitsubishi adds magnesium steering-wheel paddle shifters with six simulated gears, too.

On the road, the Lancer drives well and has a sportier feel than many other small compacts—though it's considerably noisier than the best in class. And without the sexy Evo models, its fuel-economy shortfalls loom larger. Perhaps modest gasoline prices make that less of an issue these days, but while the Lancer is enjoyable to drive, that will have to suffice against some increasingly tough competition.

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6

2016 Mitsubishi Lancer

Comfort & Quality

The 2016 Mitsubishi Mirage may be comfortable and make good use of its space, but it's noisy and cheap inside.

Quality is a double-edged sword for the 2016 Mitsubishi Lancer. From one perspective, the compact sedan makes excellent use of its interior dimensions, and continues to offer adequate passenger space even as competitors get larger inside.The relatively boxy, straightforward cabin shape provides impressive interior space, as well as good usability and versatility.

On the other hand, however, despite numerous small updates, the Lancer's details—the fit, finish, and materials—leave much to be desired, especially against newer, quieter, and more advanced alternatives in this very competitive segment.

And reflecting its age—the basic design is now in its ninth year on the market—the Lancer is noisy and rough-riding, to the degree that back-to-back test drives with newer competitors could be a deal-breaker. Especially in GT form, the Lancer rides quite hard, and generates plenty of road noise to match its not-very-well-suppressed engine noise.

Earlier CVT models let the engine gets raucous and buzzy during acceleration, though Mitsubishi says the 2016 models have a redesigned "CVT8" version of that transmission giving better fuel economy and performance. Refinement wasn't mentioned as one of the improvements, though we haven't yet driven a Lancer with the new CVT, so we'll reserve judgement on that.

Mitsubishi has worked to keep its compact sedan up to date in the equipment wars, so buyers who prioritize value-for-money over refinement and more upscale interior fit and finish may find the Lancer to their liking. But all shoppers should spend enough time with the car to experience its noise level and ride—just in case.

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2016 Mitsubishi Lancer

Safety

Despite its age, the 2016 Mitsubishi Mirage has always maintained decent safety ratings.

The 2016 Mitsubishi Lancer may now be nine years old, but its safety ratings have held up commendably well. Its crisp, direct driving dynamics may well help owners in sudden emergency maneuvers to avoid an accident.

The IIHS has given the Lancer its top rating of "Good" in frontal offset, side impact, and rear impact tests, along with the roof strength test. More impressively, it rates "Acceptable" in the new and challenging small-overlap front-crash test, which hadn't even been invented when the Lancer first landed in showrooms.

The NHTSA gives the 2016 Lancer four stars across the board—for overall, front crash, side crash, and rollover safety. And there's little missing in basic safety equipment from even the base Lancer ES, with seven airbags including a driver's knee bag.

The Lancer's rather tall window line and thick rear pillars can make it difficult for shorter drivers to see out when changing lanes or backing up, though taller drivers won't have issue. A rearview camera is now standard or optional on most Lancer models.

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2016 Mitsubishi Lancer

Features

The 2016 Mitsubishi Mirage gets a few feature upgrades this year, keeping it decently priced in a competitive segment.

The 2016 Mitsubishi Lancer loses its high-performance Evo halo models, but it's still offered in five separate trim levels that vary engines, transmissions and drive systems, and feature content. Base models added features last year, and this year there are some interior tweaks and an upgraded navigation system.

Every Lancer, even the base ES version, comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, LED daytime running lights, fog lights, voice-activated audio and cellphone controls, and heated power mirrors with built-in turn indicators. The ES actually comes in two variants: the ES 2.0L has a 148-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, with a 5-speed manual gearbox standard and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) optional, and front-wheel drive only. One step up is the ES 2.4L all-wheel drive, with a 168-hp 2.4-liter four, the CVT only, and electronically variable all-wheel drive.

On the CVT-equipped ES, an optional Sun & Sound package bundles a power glass sunroof, a rear-view camera, a radio with 6.1-inch display, HD and satellite radio, and a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate premium sound system with nine speakers.

The better-equipped mid-level SE model use that same drivetrain as well, meaning all-wheel drive is standard—a big draw in wintry climates. For 2016, Mitsubishi has also added a new SEL trim level with more features. Most buyers will be happy with either a well-optioned ES or the mid-grade SE, which adds stabilizer bars, ventilated disc brakes (rear discs with the available alloy wheels), a split-folding backseat, air conditioning, steering-wheel audio controls, and keyless entry.

On top of that, the Lancer SEL adds leather wrappings for the steering wheel and gearshift knob, rain-sensing wipers, and a handful of other minor upgrades.

At the top of the range, the sporty GT model—which reverts to front-wheel drive—rides on big 18-inch alloy wheels, and adds a sport suspension, fog lamps, rear spoiler and air dams, plus automatic climate control, high-contrast gauges, and sport seats. It can be ordered with either a 5-speed manual gearbox or the same CVT as the rest of the range. GT models with the CVT automatic transmission get a sunroof, the upgraded Rockford Fosgate sound system, and HID headlamps. The Lancer GT looks rather like the departed Evo, without the all-wheel-drive performance.

The GT can be further loaded up with a Touring Package adding a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate Punch premium sound system, 10-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.

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2016 Mitsubishi Lancer

Fuel Economy

The 2016 Mitsubishi Mirage simply isn't as fuel-efficient as competitors with smaller, more modern engines; its ratings are mediocre.

Fuel efficiency isn't a strong suit for the 2016 Mitsubishi Lancer. In fact, it's one area where the car is significantly behind the competition. Not only compact cars but even mid-size sedans outdo the Lancer's EPA ratings.

It has only one single model that even cracks 30 mpg combined. It has the smaller of two engines, a 148-hp 2.0-liter inline-4, and it's fitted with a continuously variable transmission. It's rated at 27 mpg city, 35 highway, 30 combined.

Every other model, including the 5-speed manual version of that car and every Lancer fitted with the larger 2.4-liter engine, is rated at 25 to 28 mpg combined. That's far, far behind the competition, which is now routinely knocking out combined ranges in the low to mid 30s. The new Honda Civic, for example, is rated at 35 mpg combined—across the board, except for a single model.

With the Evo performance models retired from the lineup for 2016, the Lancer's worst fuel-economy performers are gone. But that means that it competes purely as a compact sedan against new and fresher vehicles from Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota, and others—pretty much all of which deliver better gas mileage.

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July 31, 2017
2016 Mitsubishi Lancer 4-Door Sedan Manual GT FWD

Love the Lancer

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I owned two lancers and my family loved it. Excellent performance and fuel efficiency. Incredible car to drive on the road.
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November 7, 2015
2016 Mitsubishi Lancer 4-Door Sedan CVT SEL AWC

Needs better sound insulation and materials and at least 170 hp on the all wheel drive.

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Time for a new model to compete in the same segment.
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Styling 7
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 6
Safety 7
Features 8
Fuel Economy 6
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