Autos: Steady Lancer faces tough competition
With all the great compact sedans on the market, why would you consider the Mitsubishi Lancer?
Well, it's a nice-looking car that is fuel-efficient. It performs competently and can also be equipped with all-wheel-drive. It is backed by a strong warranty and has top-notch safety credentials.
It's also priced competitively, with base stickers starting at $15,995. And if you like to haggle, you might be able to get an even better deal. Mitsubishi shoppers are precious these days.
In the last month of 2012, when automakers were enjoying their best December since 2007, Mitsubishi sales were down 18 percent compared to December 2011. The bright spot was the Outlander and Outlander Sport, whose sales rose sharply.
If you look at Lancer's competition, you see the problem: Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra, Volkswagen Jetta, Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Dodge Dart. That field represents an awful lot of good choices for comparison shoppers.
The Civic was the best-selling car in the last two months of the year, beating the larger Toyota Camry. The Cruze and the Focus are winning high marks for their blend of styling, standard equipment, performance and fuel economy. The fifth-generation Elantra reset the benchmark for compact cars with its introduction in 2010.
Lancer may not be top of mind in that class, but among enthusiasts, its Lancer Evolution, or Evo, version is a star. The high-performance Evo is designed to cast a halo over the Lancer clan. But the halo might not be bright enough to make a difference amid the radiance of the competition.
A decision to buy the Lancer will not require a defensive posture in your neighborhood. The sporty sedan represents the high standards of Japanese quality, a tradition that South Korea's Hyundai brand can't claim.
The base DE trim level comes loaded with a 140-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with Digital Signal Processing control and four speakers, with speed compensated volume and equalization control.
Also standard are remote keyless entry and anti-theft engine immobilizer, power door locks and mirrors with driver-side auto up/down, four-way adjustable driver's seat, auto-off halogen headlamps, a tilt-adjusted steering column, and a 12-volt power outlet in the center console that serves well as a cellphone charger.
Design features included on every 2013 Lancer DE are a blacked-out front grille and sculpted side air dams.
Step up to the $17,095 Lancer ES, and you get a HDD navigation system with music server that can hold up to 3,000 songs, FAST-Key passive entry with panic feature, and FUSE Handsfree Link System for operating audio system, iPod and a Bluetooth-enabled cellphone functions using voice commands.
Both the 2013 Lancer DE and ES models are powered by a 16-valve 2-liter double overhead cam 4-cylinder engine rated at 148 horsepower that features Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing Electronic Control system.
With a continuously variable automatic transmission, fuel economy is rated at 26 city mpg and 34 on the highway. The standard transmission is a five-speed stick.
The 2013 Lancer SE AWC with all-wheel drive is powered by a larger displacement 2.4-liter DOHC MIVEC 4-cylinder engine that produces 168 horsepower and provides power to either the front or all four wheels. The SE AWC is priced at $20,295.
For enthusiasts, Mitsubishi Lancer GT and the Lancer Ralliart provide interior amenities and sporty performance.
Lancer GT features the 2.4-liter engine and a short-throw five-speed manual transmission. Other included amenities on the 2013 Lancer GT are sport front bucket seats, automatic climate control, sport-tuned suspension, a six-speaker audio system and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The GT is priced at $19,995, while the Ralliart sells for $28,095.
Buyers should gain peace of mind from the fact that Lancer earns "Top Safety Pick" status from the Insurance Institute and carries a 10-year powertrain warranty from Mitsubishi.
2013 MITSUBISHI LANCER SE AWC
TYPE: All-wheel-drive, five-passenger, compact sedan.
PRICE: $20,295 base; $22,640 as tested.
WHERE BUILT: Kurashiki, Japan.
POWER: 2.4-liter, DOHC, 168-horsepower 4-cylinder engine; continuously variable automatic transmission.
FUEL ECONOMY: 22 city, 29 highway, 25 combined mpg; estimated annual fuel cost $2,150, savings of $850 over five years compared to average new car.
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT: 180 x 69.4 x 58.3 inches.
WHEELBASE X TRACK: 103.7 x 60.2 inches.
CURB WEIGHT: 2,866 pounds.
STANDARD: HDD navigation system with music server that can hold up to 3,000 songs, FAST-Key passive entry with panic feature, and FUSE Handsfree Link System for operating audio system, iPod and a Bluetooth-enabled cellphone functions using voice commands, remote keyless entry and anti-theft engine immobilizer, power door locks and mirrors with driver-side auto up/down, four-way adjustable driver's seat, auto-off halogen headlamps, a tilt-adjusted steering column, and a 12-volt power outlet in the center console.
OPTIONS: Premium package includes sunroof, premium sound system, leather wrapped steering wheel ($1,500).
Email Richard Williamson at motorfriend(at)sbcglobal.net