The Mitsubishi Lancer is by far the oldest compact sedan sold in the U.S. It was launched in 2007, and is now entering a remarkable 11th year. On the one hand, that makes it virtually obsolete; on the other, it must be good or it wouldn’t still be here without being redesigned. Lancer is about value and is an alternative to a used car.
To be sure, it has been updated over the years. And if all you care about is a car that reliably gets you where you want to go, it isn’t bad looking. It has a good all-wheel-drive system and, if you live where it snows, it can make sense. So what if the cabin is noisy and the fuel mileage is only 30 highway miles per gallon.
The big news for 2017 is a standard rearview camera; also new are optional 16-inch two-tone alloy wheels.
The base front-wheel-drive Lancer ES model is powered by a 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder that’s perky with the 5-speed manual gearbox, or sluggish with the available continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The other three Lancer models use a 168-hp 2.4-liter four that’s mated to the CVT and electronically variable all-wheel drive, the same system used in the Outlander Sport crossover SUV. This engine delivers enough power and torque to move the small sedan with confidence.
The NHTSA gives the Lancer four overall stars for safety, including four stars in front crash, side crash, and rollover. The IIHS give it the top rating of Good in frontal offset, side impact, rear impact, and rollover. Impressively, the Lancer earns Acceptable in the new and challenging small-overlap front-crash test, a test that didn’t even exist when the Lancer was designed. Lots of so-called state-of-the-art compact sedans can’t earn that Acceptable rating.
The 2017 Mitsubishi Lancer is offered in ES ($17,795 with manual, $18,795 with CVT), ES AWC ($20,295), SE ($21,095), and SEL ($22,095), with the latter three having standard all-wheel drive.
Lancer ES comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels (not the two-tones), air conditioning, LED daytime running lights, fog lights, voice-activated audio and cell phone controls, and heated power mirrors with built-in turn indicators.
The ES AWC model adds the larger 2.4-liter engine and all-wheel drive.
Lancer SE adds 18-inch alloy wheels, ventilated disc brakes, stabilizer bars, air conditioning, a split-folding backseat, steering-wheel audio controls, and keyless entry. The SEL has more features. Options on the SE and SEL include a Sun and Sound package with a sunroof and premium sound system.
For the most part, the Lancer looks the same as it did a decade ago. It’s crisp, square and traditional, in a time compacts are waving fastback lines chasing fuel mileage.
Last year the Lancer got a new front end that actually backed off some from the boy-racer look; the grille openings are split above and below the bumper, making the nose more understated and mature. giving it a more adult look.
The cabin clearly shows its age, despite a new center console last year, with its hard and hollow plastic surfaces. The glossy black trim is okay, and the cloth upholstery is nice, but refinement is sorely lacking compared to the competition; the design, materials, and fit and finish are beneath the level of Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, and Honda Civic.
And on the road, it’s just plain noisy, with wind noise whirring over the roar of the engine and whine of the CVT.
On the upside, the Lancer makes smart use of its cabin dimensions, as packaging and interior space are both impressive.
The Lancer drives well and has a sportier feel than many other small compacts. It offers a neat, responsive driving experience, while the steering is pleasantly direct.
The 2.0-liter engine is perky at lower speeds with the 5-speed manual, but it strains with the CVT.
The Mitsubishi Lancer offers value when compared against its rivals. It’s a dated product, but the basic structure here is very good. The 2.4-liter engine is okay if a bit thirsty, and the CVT is boring. The 2.0-liter with the manual gearbox doesn’t save enough to be worth it. The traditional styling still holds up, although the cabin has cheap materials and is noisy.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.