Freshened outside and updated inside, the 2016 Mitsubishi Lancer compact sedan offers a roomy interior, athletic handling, and a generous load of standard equipment. Perhaps its most compelling attribute is the availability of all-wheel drive, which no big-brand competitor offers.
With all Lancer models, the theme is value. You get a lot of car for the money and even some fun, if not the highest refinement or efficiency. Its upright, politely aggressive styling may look dated to some, but it certainly helps the Lancer stand out from the crowd of newer, mass-market compacts.
Lancer has been on the market since 2008.
For 2016, Lancer gets new front-end styling with LED running lights. The interior has been updated for 2016 with a redesigned console and spiffier trim. Several previously optional convenience features are now standard. There’s also a new Lancer SEL trim with leather seating. Sorry, performance fans, the turbocharged Ralliart model has been retired.
The standard 2-liter four-cylinder engine produces 148 horsepower and comes with a 5-speed manual or optional continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The available 168-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder comes only with the CVT, and is required with all-wheel drive.
With the 2.0-liter engine and CVT, the Lancer is EPA rated at 27/35 mpg City/Highway and 30 mpg Combined, the highest in the lineup. Ratings are 2 mpg lower with the manual transmission. The 2.4-liter delivers 24/31 mpg City/Highway and 27 mpg Combined. Adding all-wheel drive doesn’t hurt highway efficiency at all, and reduces city efficiency by just 1 mpg.
Mitsubishi Lancer ES ($17,595) comes with the 2-liter engine. Upgrading to the 2.4-liter automatically gets you the CVT and all-wheel drive ($19,995). Standard features include automatic climate control, heated side mirrors, and foglamps.
Lancer SE ($20,995) gets the 2.4-liter, CVT, all-wheel drive as standard, along with heated front seats, keyless ignition, a rearview camera, and an upgraded infotainment system. Lancer SEL ($21,995) has all of that, plus a leather interior and extra convenience features.
Lancer GT ($22,495) comes only with the 2.4-liter engine and front-wheel drive, although both the manual transmission and CVT are available. The GT gets a sport-tuned suspension, sunroof, and Rockford Fosgate sound system.
The 2016 Lancer front styling tweaks give the car a more conventional appearance, which is a good thing in this case. The aggressive old snout was starting to look juvenile in a class that’s becoming ever-more refined. GT models still wear a beefy rear spoiler, as well as 18-inch wheels, for some visual punch.
Thought not exactly boxy, the Lancer is taller and more angular than other choices in this field. It looks like a proper sedan, albeit one that’s been around for a while. You won’t find any of the fluid curves or deep creases that adorn so many compacts today. We would characterize the Lancer’s styling as crisp and straightforward, but we can also see how it could be interpreted as old-fashioned. Either way, there’s no denying that its practical shape leaves plenty of room inside for people.
The Lancer makes the most of its interior dimensions, offering impressive room in all seating positions. Headroom and rear legroom are especially generous for this class. However, trunk space is merely average.
The dash layout is surprisingly sporty. The hooded gauges, chunky steering wheel, and neat packing would look at home in a small performance coupe. 2016’s plusher seat fabrics and gloss black trim go a long way to enrich the mood.
While the interior looks better than before, the same can’t be said for how it feels. There are still plenty of hard, plain surfaces and hollow plastics. Most competitors have a comparatively refined feel inside.
Lancer’s relatively firm suspension produces uncommonly good handling. This isn’t a sports car of course, but drivers who like to have fun behind the wheel can feel free to do so in the Lancer.
The 2-liter engine is powerful enough for a car of this size, especially when paired with manual transmission. The CVT blunts performance a bit, but recent improvements have made it a better choice than in previous years. The 2.4-liter, which powers most models, transforms the Lancer into a confident performer than doesn’t sweat highway entrance ramps or a load of passengers.
While the Lancer deserves credit for its responsive road manners, the tradeoff is a firm ride that can interfere with passenger comfort over the long haul. The issue is even more pronounced on the sport-tuned GT. There’s also plenty of road noise and even some unpleasant engine racket when accelerating. These shortcomings used to be unavoidable in this class, but not these days. Such harshness has been at all but eliminated from compact sedans produced by the major automakers. Now in its ninth year on the market, the Lancer simply can’t match their hushed operation and rolling smoothness.
The Lancer’s ace might be its all-wheel drive system, which is either standard or optional on all non-GT models. No amount of refinement is going to get you through any kind of weather, but the Lancer will. Mitsubishi has a great deal of experience with all-wheel drive gained from involvement in the World Rally Championship, which involved Lancers racing down bad roads in terrible weather.
The Lancer is an aging product, but it offers a strong value, with more equipment than ever, good space, and brute practicality. Buyers who need to really stretch their dollars will find a lot to like. All-wheel drive is a great option.