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Don Adair's Seat Time

Mitsubishi Lancer: AWD on a budget

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Should you be shopping for a compact, all-wheel-drive sedan, you have a choice of two — Subaru’s Impreza and the Mitsubishi Lancer.

As the entry-level Subie, the Impreza’s bona fides are well established. But Mitsubishi is an enigma in the U.S. After partnering here with Chrysler for many years, the company went solo in 1981 and didn’t mount its first national ad campaign until 1989.

Mitsubishi currently offers seven vehicles here; the iMIEV electric vehicle, the subcompact Mirage (made over for 2014), two crossovers (Outlander and Outlander Sport), and three Lancer variants; the sedan, a five-door hatchback called the Sportback and the high-performance Evo. The Sportback and Evo are marketed as separate vehicles.

The Lancer sedan (from $17,990, including destination) is a frugal, well-built and agreeable five-passenger sedan, with crisp styling, excellent rear-seat legroom and a healthy standard-features list. Some studies call it the most reliable car sold in North America.

Today’s tester, the Lancer SE AWD, occupies the second rung of a four-trim lineup that mixes and matches powertrains and drivetrain configurations.

Below the SE ($21,490, including destination), lies the base, front-drive-only ES ($17,990); above it are the front-drive GT ($21,240) and AWD Ralliart ($29,990).

A 148-hp four-cylinder engine powers the front-drive ES, which is available with either a five-speed manual transmission or optional CVT.

The middle pair, ES and GT, share a 168-horsepower four. ES can be had only with a continuously variable transmission (CVT); GT is available with the CVT or a five-speed manual. 

The Ralliart gets a turbocharged 237-hp four and can be had only with AWD and a dual-clutch automated manual.

Fuel efficiency runs about mid-pack among compact sedans, ranging from the 26 mpg city/34 mpg highway/29 mpg combined for an automatic-equipped ES to the Ralliart’s 18/25/20.

New this year on all but the ES are a standard touchscreen audio-system interface and rearview camera. Upper trims get new upholstery and soft-touch door panels, help dress up a cabin that otherwise lacks sparkle.

Standard features on the ES include automatic headlights, keyless entry, full power accessories, air-conditioning, cruise control, front and rear center armrests, height-adjustable driver seat and steering-wheel audio controls.

Besides the larger engine and all-wheel drive, the SE adds four-wheel disc brakes (the ES runs rear drums), heated front seats and side mirrors, chrome exterior accents and the new 6.1-inch touchscreen audio interface with rearview camera and HD and satellite radio.

The Lancer, which was last made over in 2007, faces stiff new competition and is due for a refresh. Taller drivers may regret the absence of a telescoping steering wheel and the short front-seat cushions provide too little thigh support. Others in the segment feel fresher and more refined. 

Even so, its good looks, top-notch build quality and available all-wheel-drive make the Lancer a solid choice. If an AWD compact sedan is on your shopping list, this is one that must be reckoned with.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.


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