There's a theme in our Mitsubishi reviews, and the 2014 Mitsubishi Lancer drives it home: 

Getting older isn't always a bad thing. 

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. The recently introduced FUSE voice-recognition system is a great example, enabling 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. 

Unfortunately, the Lancer's powertrains are behind the times. The best the Lancer can do on gas is 26 miles per gallon city/34 mpg hwy, and that's with the ES model's unpleasant 2.0-liter engine and CVT tandem. Step up to the more satisfying 2.4-liter engine and you're looking at 22 mpg city/31 mpg hwy as a high. For a 4-cylinder economy car, that doesn't really cut it in this day and age. 

Still, the stylish 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. If fuel economy isn't a huge priority, you'll find that the 2014 Lancer otherwise still has its finger on the pulse. 

What's New for 2014?

Every Lancer from the SE AWC on up gets a standard 6.1-inch touchscreen with HD radio, satellite radio and a rearview camera. There's also a new optional navigation system with a 7-in high-definition touchscreen and updated software. 

What We Like

Engaging handling (especially in GT and Ralliart); edgy styling; adult-friendly back seat; plenty of available technology; wide range of trims and body styles 

What We Don't

Unimpressive fuel economy; undesirable base 2.0-liter engine; unpleasant continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT); steering wheel doesn't telescope 

How Much?

$18,890-$29,190 

Fuel Economy

The Lancer ES sedan is powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 148 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard, while a continuously variable automatic (CVT) is optional. Fuel economy is 26 mpg city/34 mpg hwy with the CVT and 25 mpg city/34 mpg hwy with the manual. 

The ES Sportback hatchback comes only with the CVT and drops to 24 mpg city/32 mpg hwy. 

The all-wheel-drive SE AWC and the front-wheel-drive GT sedans feature a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder rated at 168 hp and 167 lb-ft. Either the 5-speed manual or the CVT can be specified on the GT sedan, while the SE AWC is CVT-only. Fuel economy for the SE AWC is 22 mpg city/29 mpg hwy. The GT checks in at 23 mpg city/30 mpg hwy with the CVT and 22 mpg city/31 mpg hwy with the manual. 

The GT Sportback comes only with the CVT, and is rated at 22 mpg city/29 mpg hwy.

The Ralliart is treated to a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder that cranks out 237 hp and 253 lb-ft. A 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual is the only available transmission. Both the sedan and Sportback body styles are pegged at 18 mpg city/25 mpg hwy.

Standard Features & Options

The 2014 Mitsubishi Lancer is offered in ES, SE AWC, GT and Ralliart trim levels. All come in sedan form, while the ES, GT and Ralliart are also offered as a Sportback hatchback. 

The ES ($18,890) starts with the 2.0-liter engine, 16-in steel wheels, a 5-speed manual transmission, power accessories, air conditioning, a height-adjustable driver's seat, cruise control, a 4-speaker audio system with an auxiliary audio input, and Bluetooth and satellite-radio preparation (additional accessories required). 

The SE AWC ($21,490) adds the 2.4-liter engine, a standard CVT, all-wheel drive, 16-in alloy wheels, a Thule roof-rack system, heated front seats, a 6-speaker audio system and a 6.1-in touchscreen display with HD radio, satellite radio and a rearview camera. 

Optional on SE AWC is a Premium package that adds niceties such as a color LCD trip computer, upgraded interior trim, Rockford Fosgate audio and a sunroof. 

The GT ($22,240) is front-wheel drive but upgrades to 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, Bluetooth and the FUSE voice-command system for phones and music devices (a USB port is included). 

Optional on the GT is a pricey Touring package that brings a more subtle rear lip spoiler, xenon headlamps, a sunroof, leather upholstery and Rockford Fosgate audio with a 6-CD changer. Also available on GT is a hard-drive-based navigation system with a 7-in touchscreen display and digital music storage. 

The turbocharged, all-wheel-drive Ralliart ($29,190) 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, including Bluetooth connectivity. 

The Lancer's backseat comfort is an unequivocal plus, delivering near-midsize accommodations in a compact package. 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 1-touch release lever. Capacities are marginally lower with the floor raised. 

Safety

The 2014 Mitsubishi 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 gave the Lancer its highest rating of Good in all tested categories. 

Behind the Wheel

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. 

The Lancer's deeply hooded tachometer and speedometer are crisp and attractive, and they bookend a great-looking optional color LCD trip computer. Materials quality is not a Lancer strong point, however. Although the dashboard looks nice enough in a minimalist kind of way, the plastics used to construct it are uniformly hard and basic, and that extends to the door panels, as well. 

The base 2.0-liter engine's performance is adequate, but its noises are industrial, especially with the drone-producing CVT. We'd recommend stepping up to at least the 2.4-liter engine if you can, as it's a relatively refined and spirited motor that makes the Lancer much more satisfying. As for the Ralliart's turbocharged 4-cylinder, 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. 

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 or the all-wheel-drive Ralliart's racy setup. In ordinary driving, the Lancer is quite civilized, with less road noise than in some rival compacts. 

Other Cars to Consider 

Hyundai Elantra -- The Elantra isn't as sporty as the Lancer, but it has standard 4-wheel disc brakes, superior fuel economy and unique styling. If you want a hatchback, check out the Elantra GT. 

Mazda3 -- Still the sports car of this class, the redesigned 3 also offers great fuel economy without sacrificing driving enjoyment. 

Volkswagen Golf -- With a nicer interior than the Jetta sedan, the Golf hatchback is the pick of Volkswagen's compact litter. Like the Lancer, the Golf comes in a variety of strengths to suit individual tastes. 

AutoTrader's Advice

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.

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