- Confident steering, handling
- Looks more grown-up
- Well-equipped for the price
- AWD available
- Decent front seats
- Older than ever
- Rough, noisy on the road
- Cheap, unrefined interior
- Subpar gas mileage
- Evo hot-rod only a memory
The 2017 Mitsubishi Lancer has a cheap-looking interior, it's noisy on the road, and the gas mileage isn't remotely up to par; it's showing its 11 years of age and will likely appeal only to value-for-money shoppers.
The 2017 Mitsubishi Lancer is by far the oldest 4-door compact sedan sold in the U.S., with a car launched in 2007 now entering a remarkable 11th year. The Lancer is offered in base ES, ES AWC, SE, and top SEL formats, the latter three offering all-wheel drive as standard; changes for 2017 are limited to a few feature updates.
The Lancer been updated over the years, with a much simpler lineup and some feature and styling updates recently, but its main selling point these days is simply value for money. That value comes at the cost of come at the cost of a noisy and unrefined interior and painfully noncompetitive gas-mileage ratings. We give the 2017 Lancer a score of 4.3, among the lowest of all cars rated, because it's simply not competitive with other compact sedans across a broad array of measures. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Since its launch, the Lancer has been a crisp, square, traditional sedan. In a time when more and more compacts are adopting fastback lines for reduced aerodynamic drag, the Mitsubishi compact may appeal to traditionalists who want a sedan that looks like a sedan. Last year it got a new, less aggressive front end, with grille openings split above and below the bumper, giving it a more adult look. It's actually a return to the original 2007 look, after a phase in which all Lancers sported a trapezoidal opening that screamed "boy racer." But the rest of the body remains essentially the same.
The interior clearly shows its age, despite a new center console last year. Its design, materials, and fit and finish simply aren't competitive with even base models of newer vehicles, including the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, and Honda Civic. Low-end Lancers got glossy black trim and nicer cloth upholstery last year, but those minor changes don't disguise its 10-year-old origins.
Two engines, two transmissions, available AWD
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. The 2.0-liter engine is perky at lower speeds if you have the 5-speed manual, but it strains with the CVT—and it's remarkably noisy while it does so.
The rest of the Lancer range features a 168-hp 2.4-liter inline-4, which in the three other models—ES, SE, and SEL 2.4L AWC—is paired with the CVT only and standard electronically variable all-wheel drive, the same system used in the Outlander Sport compact SUV. Moving up to the 2.4-liter engine provides plenty of power and torque to move the small sedan with more confidence.
On the road, the Lancer drives well and has a sportier feel than many other small compacts—though it's much noisier than the rest of the class. And these days, its fuel-economy shortfalls loom larger even if low gas prices make that less of an issue these days. While the Lancer offers a neat, responsive driving experience and steering is pleasantly direct, that will have to suffice against some increasingly tough competition.
Old it may be, but the the Lancer makes smart use of its cabin dimensions and both interior space and packaging are impressive. But on the road, tire and wind noise competing with engine roar and whine, especially in the CVT models. It's just plain noisy. On first glance, the interior seems fine, but swathes of hard, hollow plastic surfaces tarnish the allure. It's simply not as nice-looking or refined as as the latest compacts from larger makers.
In safety, the Lancer has held up a bit better. 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 gave the 2016 Lancer four stars across the board—for overall, front crash, side crash, and rollover safety. For 2017, Mitsubishi has made a rearview camera standard on all Lancer models.
Value for money, but little else
The base ES model 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 2017, the display audio system has been updated and a rearview camera is now standard on all Lancer versions. The ES AWC model adds the larger 2.4-liter engine and all-wheel drive. New 16-inch two-tone alloy wheels are optional even on the base ES.
Most buyers will likely opt for either a well-optioned ES or the mid-grade SE. The latter trim level adds 18-inch alloy wheels, ventilated disc brakes, stabilizer bars, air conditioning, a split-folding backseat, steering-wheel audio controls, and keyless entry. Mitsubishi has also added a new SEL trim level with more features. Options on the SE and SEL versions include a Sun and Sound package with a sunroof and premium sound system.
Shoppers who seriously consider the Mitsubishi Lancer will be those who prioritize value-for-money over all other factors, includes a calm and pleasant driving experience and any semblance of fuel efficiency. Choosing the 11-year-old sedan over a new Honda Civic, not to mention the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza, or VW Jetta demands sacrifices from the owner compared to competing compacts.