If you’re a car guy, you most likely are fascinated with the ultra-hyper Mitsubishi Lancer EVO. Lord knows I am, and even though it’s been a couple of years since I had the pleasure of driving one, I still have fond memories of carving up Connecticut’s Route 66 on a gorgeous summer’s day. It’s a given the EVO is highly desirable among gearheads and gamers. But, what about the car that beast is actually based on? The car most buyers actually buy? A regular, plain jane, Lancer. It was The Garage’s turn to find out.
The current Lancer has been around since 2008, essentially rendering it a dinosaur against its competition. Fortunately, the Lancer has been blessed with stylish, tasteful looks that defy the test of time. The slight forward leaning of the front end recalls classic BMW’s, and the slanted styling treatment of the head and tail light clusters are distinctive, and add character in an otherwise banal class of cars. The character line ripping up just shy of the door handles on the side profile is also a sporty touch. She may be the oldest design in its class, but she still looks terrific after all these years.
Time has not been so kind to the interior of the Lancer. Given the intensity of the EVO, I was willing to forgive a lot of shortcomings. With the pedestrian Lancer, not so much. It’s disappointing that Mitsubishi was able to craft such an attractive exterior, yet come up with a completely uninspiring interior. All black, all dark, and hard plastics prevail. All controls are easy to decipher and intuitive to use. At 6′ 1″, I had plenty of room and was fairly comfortable, but I’m not sure if I’d pick the Lancer for a long trip. The lack of a telescoping steering wheel was a disappointment, and the trunk size is pathetic. It’s by no means an econo-box cabin from the 1980’s, but the Lancer’s peers offer much more refinement for the same money.
The Lancer is offered with a choice of two engines. Lesser Lancers come equipped with a 2.0L four cylinder rated at 148hp, and is available with a five-speed manual or a CVT. Step up to SE or GT trim, you get a 2.4L four good for 168hp. The GT can also be had with either the manual or CVT, but our test car was an SE, which is all-wheel drive, and can only be had with the CVT. And that’s a shame. Our Lancer packs a lot of horsepower for its class, but the godawful Continuously Variable Transmission sucks the soul out of the car. Passing is slow, and all the rough engine racket that accompanies it makes for a less than pleasant driving experience. Naturally, the Lancer handles well, since she is the basis of the almighty EVO, but this drivetrain takes all the fun out of driving. If you want affordable all-wheel drive fun, Subaru offers its Impreza with a manual tranny.
The Lancer is available in DE, ES, SE and GT trims. Our test car was the all-wheel drive SE. Standard equipment includes side sill extensions, roof rack plug in roof rack accommodation, 16″ alloys, heated seats, SiriusXM satellite radio, HD radio, 6.1″ color touch screen display, rearview camera, and Bluetooth connectivity. Our test car added the Premium Package, which includes a power moonroof, 9 speaker Rockford Fosgate audio, and leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. All in, our Lancer has an MSRP of $22,940USD, including destination charges. For what you get, this is a fairly reasonable price.
So where does that leave us? In its favor, the Lancer SE offers all-wheel drive, great looks and desirable features at a fair price. However, the low-rent interior and tiny trunk make a tough case for a car for a small family. While boasting a powerful engine, the CVT seems to make a deliberate effort to sap all of the power. I’ve driven cars with much less power than our Lancer that felt far quicker off the line, and were much more fun to drive. Having driven the EVO, I know how good this chassis is, but with this engine and transmission, all that effort from Mitsubishi’s engineers are completely lost on this car. Swap in a six-speed automatic, you might give up a couple MPG, but in exchange the driving experience would be transformed. Upgrade the interior to modern standards, and Mitsubishi has a home-run with this car, but until that happens, I have a hard time recommending this car to potential buyers.