The original Mitsubishi Lancer never exactly blew us away. It was underpowered and not particularly entertaining to drive, its interior was simply OK and its styling was dull to boot. The second-generation Lancer has corrected two of those problems, especially with its aggressive new styling featuring a "shark nose" fascia. It's also kind of fun to drive, thanks to solid handling dynamics and (apart from the base engine) peppy engine choices.
All in all, count the Lancer as one model that has greatly improved from generation to generation. However, compared to more recently redesigned compact sedans, the Lancer's refinement, interior quality and fuel economy trail considerably. While the latest Lancer is an attractive, sporty sedan, we suggest thoroughly looking around at its many competitors.
Current Mitsubishi Lancer
Mitsubishi's stylish compact sedan is offered in DE, ES, SE, GT and Ralliart trims. The Sportback body style and high-performance Evolution are reviewed separately.
The two lower trims are front-wheel drive and powered by a 148-horsepower (143 hp in California-emissions-level states) inline-4. The all-wheel-drive SE and front-wheel-drive GT get a 2.4-liter 168-hp four. Should that not be enough, there is the Ralliart, which offers a 237-hp turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on all but the Ralliart, while Mitsubishi's continuously variable transmission (CVT) is optional (except on Ralliart). The Ralliart comes with a quick-witted automated-clutch manual transmission.
In reviews of the Mitsubishi Lancer, we've been impressed with its secure handling, sporty styling and high-tech optional features. The Rockford Fosgate hard-drive-equipped audio system drew particularly high praise. On the downside, we've found the Lancer's base four-cylinder rather lacking in both power and refinement, and the CVT does nothing to help the situation -- in fact, we feel it saps power from the engine. We would therefore suggest sticking with the five-speed manual transmission or going with a GT, though fuel economy isn't impressive with any model. The Lancer's cabin also falls short of the segment leaders in terms of materials quality and lacks a telescoping steering wheel, which makes the car uncomfortable for many tall drivers.
Used Mitsubishi Lancer Models
The current Lancer generation dates back to the 2008 model year. Originally, only DE, ES and GTS trims were offered and all came with the base four-cylinder listed at 152 hp until 2011. The GTS was similar to the current car's GT, but it possessed a sport-tuned suspension. The 2.4-liter engine and the Ralliart showed up for '09. Stability control was available only on the Ralliart until 2010, when it became standard across the board along with four-wheel antilock brakes. ABS had previously been optional on the DE (that trim switched to four-wheel discs for 2010, but then reverted back to drums a year later). Some revised exterior and interior styling for certain trims and standard power door locks also showed up for 2010. The SE trim was new for 2012.
The first Mitsubishi Lancer was launched for the 2002 model year as a replacement for the Mirage sedan. It originally came in three trim levels: ES, O-Z Rally and LS. The ES came with a fine list of standard features, such as power accessories, a CD player and air-conditioning. The O-Z Rally trim offered a sportier look thanks to 15-inch O-Z alloy wheels and special interior trim upgrades. The LS distinguished itself with cruise control, ABS (not offered as an option on the ES or O-Z Rally) and remote keyless entry. All trims came with the 120-hp 2.0-liter engine and a five-speed manual. A four-speed automatic was standard on the LS and available as an option in the other two models.
Running changes included the 2004 debut of the Lancer Ralliart trim level, which boasted a 162-hp 2.4-liter engine, ABS, alloy wheels, sport exhaust and a sport-tuned suspension. Ralliart sedans came standard with a five-speed manual transmission. That year, Mitsubishi also introduced the Lancer Sportback wagon, available in LS or Ralliart trim. The 162-hp engine powered both wagon trim levels, but the Sportback was only available with a four-speed automatic. Mitsubishi discontinued the Lancer LS and both Sportback models in 2005. In 2006, the Lancer SE, featuring a sunroof, six audio speakers, cruise control and remote keyless entry, was introduced to freshen up the lineup.
In road tests, our editors found this Mitsubishi Lancer comfortable, though not especially fun to drive. Its power and performance weren't exactly overwhelming. But its spacious interior, particularly for rear passengers, and comfortable ride might appeal to those looking for a pleasant and roomy sedan at a decent price. The sport-tuned Lancer Ralliart, with its more powerful engine and tighter suspension, offers higher performance at an affordable price, making it the best choice of this Lancer generation.
Previous to the Lancer, Mitsubishi's small-car offering was the Mirage.