Pros: Engaging handling (especially in GT and Ralliart); edgy styling; adult-friendly back seat; plenty of available technology; wide range of trims and body styles
Cons: Unimpressive fuel economy; undesirable base 2.0-liter engine; unpleasant continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT); steering wheel doesn't telescope
What's New: The Lancer SE trim level gets a Thule roof-rack system and redesigned alloy wheels for 2013, along with an optional Premium package that includes numerous desirable features. The other Lancers are unchanged.
Yes, Mitsubishi's lineup is aging, and we're being polite. But the company has made the best of it, adding features each year to keep its products fresh. Just last year, the Lancer SE welcomed a new AWC model with all-wheel drive and the larger 2.4-liter engine, making Mitsubishi one of the few automakers to challenge Subaru's AWD supremacy in this class. And this year, the SE trim level can be equipped with a new Premium package that cranks up the luxury and technology.
Speaking of technology, the Lancer nails this category, especially for a senior citizen. The available FUSE voice-recognition system enables hands-free operation of phones and portable media devices, while automatic climate control and a hard-drive-based navigation system spruce up high-end models. When it comes to tech, this Mitsu's got you covered.
Unfortunately, the Lancer's powertrains truly are behind the times. The best the Lancer can do on gas is 26 miles per gallon city/34 mpg highway, and that's with the unpleasant base 2.0-liter inline-4 and CVT tandem. Step up to the more satisfying 2.4-liter engine and you're looking at 22/31 mpg as a high. For reference, the Toyota Camry gets 25/35 mpg with its 2.5-liter inline-4.
Still, the Lancer's got plenty of character (you can even get a turbocharged 237-horsepower engine in the Ralliart models), and it's more rewarding to drive than most compacts. Never mind how long it's been around; the 2013 Lancer still has its finger on the pulse.
Comfort & Utility
The 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer is offered in DE, ES, SE, GT and Ralliart trim levels. The DE is sedan-only, while the others are available in both sedan and 4-door hatchback body styles.
The DE sedan starts with the 2.0-liter engine, a 5-speed manual transmission, 16-inch steel wheels, automatic headlamps, a tilt-only steering wheel, power accessories and a 4-speaker audio system. Air conditioning is an extra-cost option.
The ES steps up to an optional continuously variable automatic (CVT), air conditioning, a height-adjustable driver's seat, upgraded upholstery, cruise control, an auxiliary audio input and Bluetooth and satellite-radio preparation (additional accessories required).
The SE adds a standard CVT, 16-in alloy wheels, a Thule roof-rack system, heated front seats and a 6-speaker audio system.
Optional on SE is a Premium package that adds niceties such as a color LCD trip computer, upgraded interior trim, satellite radio, Rockford Fosgate sound and a sunroof.
The GT upgrades to the 2.4-liter engine, a sport-tuned suspension, 18-in alloy wheels, fog lights, a rear spoiler, keyless entry with push-button ignition, sportier seats and upholstery, the color LCD trip computer, automatic climate control and the FUSE voice-command system for phones and music devices (a USB port included).
Optional on the GT is a pricey ($3,550) Touring package that brings a more subtle rear lip spoiler, xenon headlamps, a sunroof, leather upholstery, a rearview camera and a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system with a 6-CD changer. Also available on GT is a hard-drive-based navigation system with a touchscreen display and digital music storage.
The turbocharged, all-wheel-drive Ralliart boasts a dual-clutch automated manual transmission, summer performance tires, hood vents, an even sportier suspension tune and aluminum pedals. Otherwise, the Ralliart basically shares the GT's standard and optional equipment roster.
Some of the higher trims' standard features are offered on lower trims as options or dealer-installed accessories.
In our interior evaluation, we found that the Lancer's standard front seats are, well, standard front seats: They're firm and reasonably supportive, but we much prefer the GT and Ralliart's more contoured sport seats. The tilt-only steering wheel could be a deal breaker for drivers with long legs. Also, shorter drivers will want to get the ES or higher, as the base DE doesn't have a height adjustment for the driver's seat.
The Lancer's deeply hooded tachometer and speedometer are crisp and attractive, and they bookend a great-looking color LCD trip computer on SE Premium, GT and Ralliart models. Ergonomics are good except for the optional touchscreen navigation system, which is surrounded by small, similar-looking buttons that aren't necessarily intuitive. Materials quality is not a Lancer strong point -- although the dashboard looks nice enough in a minimalist kind of way, the plastics used to construct it are uniformly hard and basic.
The back seat, however, is an unequivocal plus. A number of compacts with cramped back seats have debuted lately (we're looking at you, Ford Focus), so the Lancer's high rear bench and satisfactory head- and legroom are especially welcome.
As for cargo space, the Lancer sedan's trunk normally measures 12.3 cu ft, but the Ralliart drops to 10 cu ft -- and the Rockford Fosgate stereo's subwoofer cuts those figures to 11.8 and 9.1 cu ft, respectively.
Trunk space in the Sportback is barely better at 15.3 cu ft, but storage improves considerably to 52.7 cu ft with the rear seat backs folded. Note that these are the maximum numbers; the Sportback has an odd dual-level cargo floor that drops three inches via a one-touch release lever. Capacities are marginally smaller with the floor raised.
The Lancer may not be the newest kid on the block, but you wouldn't know it from the available technology features.
First up is the new FUSE voice-recognition system, which lets you control your Bluetooth-compatible phone and portable music device via voice commands. Ford was here first with SYNC, of course, and now Kia's in on the action with UVO, but most affordable cars -- particularly compact ones -- still don't offer this kind of technology.
Then there's the hard-drive-based touchscreen navigation system with digital music storage, another rarity in the compact class. But even the basic ES model gets standard Bluetooth and auxiliary audio connectivity. The Lancer's definitely got its technological bases covered.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The DE, ES and front-wheel-drive SE are powered by a 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 148 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard on DE and ES, while a continuously variable automatic (CVT) is standard on SE and optional on ES.
The all-wheel-drive SE AWC and the front-wheel-drive GT feature a 2.4-liter inline-4 rated at 168 hp and 167 lb-ft of torque. Either the 5-speed manual or the CVT can be specified on the GT sedan, while the SE AWC and the GT Sportback are CVT-only.
The Ralliart is treated to a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 that cranks out 237 hp and 253 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed dual-clutch automated manual is the only available transmission.
The base 2.0-liter engine's performance is adequate, but its noises are off-puttingly industrial, especially with the drone-producing CVT. We'd recommend stepping up to the GT if you can, as the 2.4-liter 4 is a whole new ballgame. Refined and spirited, the 2.4 turns the Lancer into something much more satisfying. As for the Ralliart's turbocharged 4, it puts the Lancer on level footing with the zesty Subaru WRX, and the dual-clutch transmission is a fine example of its breed, delivering shifts that are both quick and smooth.
Fuel economy for the front-wheel-drive sedan is 26 mpg city/34 mpg highway with the base 2.0-liter engine and the CVT (25/34 mpg with the manual) and 23/30 mpg with the 2.4 (22/31 mpg with the manual). The SE AWC sedan checks in at 22/29 mpg.
The Sportbacks are rated at 24/32 mpg and 22/29 mpg, respectively. Both Ralliart body styles are pegged at 18/25 mpg. None of this is impressive by current standards.
The 2013 Lancer comes with standard stability control, anti-lock brakes (4-wheel discs on GT and Ralliart; rear drums on the others) and seven airbags (front, front-side, driver knee, full-length side-curtain).
Both the sedan and Sportback received an overall score of four stars out of five in government crash-testing, including four stars each for frontal and side impacts. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Lancer its highest rating of Good in every category.
The Lancer is rather tall for a compact car, and you notice that extra height in fast corners. Still, the Lancer is sportier than the norm, especially with the GT's sport-tuned suspension -- and especially with the all-wheel-drive Ralliart's setup.
In ordinary driving, the Lancer is quite civilized, striking a nice balance between comfort and control, with less road noise than in some rival compacts. It's a well-sorted car all around, no matter which model you choose.
Other Cars to Consider
Hyundai Elantra: The Elantra isn't as sporty as the Lancer, but it's got standard 4-wheel disc brakes, superior fuel economy and its own unique styling. If you want a hatchback, check out the Elantra GT.
Mazda 3: Still the sports car of this class, the 3 features a new SkyActiv 2.0-liter engine that gets great fuel economy without sacrificing driving enjoyment.
The Lancer GT is an unusual proposition -- sporty handling plus high technology in a reasonably priced compact car -- and we're sold on it. Give it some consideration alongside other athletic compacts.