Last year, we said good-bye to an iconic sports compact.
It was the one car that engaged a whole generation of enthusiasts with its brute turbocharged power and tremendous traction from its all-wheel-drive system. Our drive in it exhibited all of the traits that brought these enthusiasts to this high-performance sedan.
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution may be gone, but its legacy lives on.
The good news is that the Lancer still exists. You might not get high horsepower and all of the performance goodies of an Evo. What you do get is one of the most proven sedans in the class. While other compacts try hard to woo you into sharp lines, loads of technology and ultra-efficient drivelines, the Mitsubishi Lancer gives you a straightforward, no-nonsense car with superb value.
No-nonsense? Yes, but the 2017 Lancer lineup is far from no-nonsense. In fact, for a car that has been sold in its current basic form since the 2008 model year, it offers a lot more than most of its rivals in its class. A facelift for 2016 helped give the Lancer a new life without the Evo and Ralliart models to cast a shadow on the rest of the lineup.
As long as we covered Mitsubishi, we never got a chance to drive a “regular ol’ Lancer.” We finally got one: a 2017 SEL 2.4 AWC model. The first we’ll tell you is that this is not just any “regular ol’ Lancer.”
The SEL is the Lancer’s top-of-the-line model. It is also the top of the line among cars in the Mitsubishi lineup. Last year’s updates truly make this model special: the new nose along with a few nips and tucks all around. Prominent on the SEL are 18-inch two-tone alloy wheels with low-profile tires.
The rest of the Lancer should be familiar. Though Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Ford Focus, and Chevrolet Cruze owners prefer their more modern, edgy, and stylish exteriors, the Lancer is the only one that kept it real. It is a solid formula with a conservative roofline and a short deck. The new front clip helps the Lancer’s cause by keeping it modern, including the LED driving lamps surrounding the fog lights on the lower part of the bumper.
Step inside and things might not have changed since 2008. There have been a few upgrades since. The audio interface is an upgrade to meet with the rest of the lineup. A few buttons and switches here and there. But, mostly, this is the same tested and true instrument panel we have seen since the 2008 model year — and it works. Two big dials with a TFT information screen in the middle keep the driver in check, while there are steering wheel switches and appropriate stalks for better control of essential systems. In all, every switch is logical and solid to the touch including the climate control, knobs, and AWC switch for a change in traction.
Front seating offers support in the cushion and seat back, with leather upholstery denoting the SEL model. These manually adjusted seats were heated, which worked well through some winter weather conditions that the Lancer was subjected to. Rear seat room was quite good, even for people up to six-foot-one. Headroom and legroom are indeed a surprise for a compact sedan. Trunk space starts off with 12.3 cubic feet of space, but is expandable with fold-down rear seats into the cabin for longer items.
Infotainment starts with a touch screen system offering Bluetooth and USB connectivity for your phone. It also has 24 presets for SiriusXM broadcasts. Nine Rockford Fosgate speakers, including a trunk-mounted subwoofer, emitted 710 watts of sound throughout the cabin. The one thing I wished this Lancer had is a satellite navigation system. It is not available on even the top model of this lineup.
There are two engines for the Lancer. A 148-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is available for the value-packed ES 2.0 version. That model comes with a five-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive. An available Continuously Variable Transmission can be added to the ES 2.0; however, our SEL 2.4 AWC tester had the upgraded 168-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, the CVT transmission, and All-Wheel Control as standard.
The latter point is important because only a few cars in its class offer all-wheel drive. Only the Subaru Impreza, WRX, Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, SportWagen and R offer the added traction of all four wheels being driven, aside from the Mitsubishi Lancer. In this car, there is a switch that can also lock both front and rear axles for maximum traction through even the worst conditions.
With the exception of some slick patches of ice, the Lancer’s AWC system did quite well. This was accomplished even with all-season Dunlop tires. Winter tires would make this package even more superb. What stood out on the Lancer, however, was underneath its hood. The 2.4-liter engine was more than willing to go even with a light touch of the accelerator. Even with 3,149 pounds to cart around, the 2.4-liter engine seems to be a better performance choice for the Lancer. It felt happier in the Lancer than in the other Mitsubishi models this engine equips. Perhaps this was a reminder from Mitsubishi to forget about the Evo and Ralliart models that once topped this sedan’s lineup.
As for driving dynamics, it is not quite up to the hardcore level of the gone-but-not-forgotten Evo/Ralliart. Ride quality was very compliant and smooth, though, that meant some roll and lean at times and an earlier cornering limit than expected. There is plenty of control, especially with the AWC system switched to the 4WD Auto setting. Steering is well-weighted and very precise. In fact, the Lancer SEL uses a good ol’ hydraulic steering system — and that is a welcomed sensation a lot of us have forgotten. The brakes have an excellent feel and feedback. It exhibited solid stops in normal, panic, and winter situations.
The one thing you will not find on the Lancer is a host of active safety features found on some of its competitors. This is an important point as there had been plenty of pushback by consumers regarding the use of life-saving features, such as forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, and lane departure warning. Mitsubishi offers a good suite of these features on their Outlander SUV, therefore the technology is proven within the brand. The Lancer is plenty safe and solid, starting with the AWC drive system.
The Lancer lineup is priced from $17,795 for the ES 2.0 with front-wheel drive and the five-speed manual transmission. Our fully optioned SEL 2.4 AWC tester came with a sticker price of $24,430.
While the Evo and Ralliart are no longer offered, that fact should not prevent customers from considering the 2017 Mitsubishi Lancer altogether. In essence, this car is quite good for what it offers when compared to others in this segment. Only a few would want a big turbocharger and hardcore driving dynamics. The rest of us want to simply commute, shop, go out and enjoy life.
There is some news to pass along. While the remaining models of the Mitsubishi Lancer are still for sale, it will disappear altogether by the end of this year. Production for the Lancer will finish up in August in Japan.
While we still have this wonderful car, let’s just say that the Mitsubishi Lancer is the right choice for the rest of us. If you are not one to care about active safety technology or being on the advanced automotive curve but want a good, solid automobile with all-wheel drive, then this is your car.