There was a time when owning an economy sedan resulted in being consigned to a dull and lifeless experience. For years, the Mitsubishi Lancer bucked that trend, infusing the segment with a much-needed dose of driving excitement and aggressive styling. Unfortunately, these admirable traits also came with drawbacks and in the face of new rivals, it is no longer unique among sedans.
A few improvements to the 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer lineup bolster its standing, but only slightly. Most notably, a new Lancer SE trim allow buyers to select the midrange engine with all-wheel drive. Previously, AWD was only offered in the sporty range-topping Ralliart model. Furthering the Lancer's cause is the addition of optional soft-touch door panels, which partially addresses our prior complaint of too much interior hard plastic.
Sadly, many of the Mitsubishi Lancer's faults are left untouched. The base 2.0-liter engine lacks adequate power and the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) further compounds this issue. Upgrading to the more powerful engines helps, but the penalty in fuel economy may be enough to scare some shoppers off.
Most people, we suspect, will be happier with one of the newer choices for a small sedan. The Mazda 3, for instance, is similarly fun to drive but gets better fuel economy. We would also steer buyers toward the popular Chevrolet Cruze, the refined Ford Focus and the stylish Hyundai Elantra. For those who need all-wheel drive, there's also the redesigned Subaru Impreza to consider.
Unfortunately for Mitsubishi, the small sedan segment is better than ever, and the 2012 Lancer has been left near the back of the pack.
The 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer is a compact sedan available in DE, ES, SE, GT and Ralliart trim levels (the Lancer Evolution and Sportback are reviewed separately).
The base DE comes with 16-inch steel wheels, automatic headlights, a tilt-only steering wheel, full power accessories, a trip computer and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player. The ES comes with all the aforementioned items and adds chrome exterior accents, air-conditioning, cruise control, keyless entry, upgraded cloth upholstery, a 60/40-split rear seat, front and rear center armrests, a height-adjustable driver seat, steering-wheel audio controls and an auxiliary audio jack. The Alloy Wheel package adds 16-inch alloy wheels to the ES trim along with rear disc brakes (instead of drums) and a rear stabilizer bar.
The SE trim gains a more powerful engine, all-wheel drive and the Alloy Wheel package. The GT is similar to the SE, but is front-wheel-drive only and adds 18-inch alloy wheels, foglights, a sporty front fascia, a rear spoiler, keyless ignition/entry, automatic climate control, upgraded sport upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, shift paddles (with the CVT), an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a rearview camera, the Fuse voice-activated electronics interface, a color driver information display, Bluetooth and a six-speaker sound system with a USB jack.
The all-wheel-drive Ralliart ups the performance ante with a turbocharged engine, an automated dual-clutch manual transmission (with shift paddles), hill-start assist, front and rear limited-slip differentials, additional sport exterior treatments, a sport-tuned suspension, a sport steering wheel, unique upholstery, aluminum pedals and satellite radio.
Some features listed are also available on lower trim cars as stand-alone options or as part of packages. Several cosmetic and aerodynamic enhancement options are also available for the DE and ES trims.
A Touring package is available for GT and Ralliart trims and features xenon headlights, a sunroof, a smaller rear spoiler, rain-sensing wipers, leather seats and a nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate sound system with an in-dash six-CD changer and satellite radio. Also optional on GT and Ralliart trims is a navigation system that features a 40GB hard drive capable of storing digital music files and a larger rearview camera monitor relocated to the touchscreen display (versus the rearview mirror). A new Deluxe package for the SE trim adds most of the GT's interior upgrades, along with soft-touch door trim panels.
While the 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer's chiseled exterior lends an air of aggression, its interior design and materials drag down the vehicle's overall appeal. On the whole, the cabin design is uninspiring and rife with hard plastic elements. This year's addition of optional soft-touch door panels helps, but the lingering downmarket feeling persists.
Taller drivers will likely bemoan the lack of a telescoping steering wheel and the lack of under-thigh support. On the other hand, the rear seats are quite comfortable, with a generous amount of legroom. These 60/40-split seats fold flat to accommodate bulky items, which is advantageous considering the Lancer's rather small 11.6-cubic-foot trunk.
Much like Ford's Sync system, Mitsubishi's Fuse voice-activation system assists in selecting a destination or your favorite music. The Fuse system lacks some ofÂ Sync's functions and commands, but for the most part it works pretty well.
The 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer DE and ES are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual is standard, while a CVT is optional. In Edmunds performance testing, the combination of the base engine and five-speed delivered a time of 8.8 seconds to 60 mph, which is a tad slow for the class. The CVT delivered a slower performance of 9.1 seconds, but this is actually average among automatic-equipped cars. In terms of fuel economy, the 2.0-liter achieves an EPA-estimated 26 mpg city/34 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined with the automatic transmission, an average rating for this class of car.
The Lancer SE and GT upgrade to a 2.4-liter four that makes 168 hp and 167 lb-ft of torque. The SE comes standard with a CVT and all-wheel drive, and it is the only choice for the SE (optional on the ES and GT). The GT gets front-wheel drive and the five-speed manual standard, while its optional CVT features manual mode with simulated gear ratios operated via shift paddles on the steering wheel. In Edmunds testing, a GT with a manual transmission accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds, which is quick for this class. The 2.4-liter gets 23 city/30 highway and 26 combined with the automatic. The manual transmission delivers nearly identical fuel efficiency.
The Ralliart features a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 that thumps out 237 hp and 253 lb-ft. Power is sent to all four wheels through an automated dual-clutch manual transmission with shift paddles and an active center differential. The Ralliart dispatches the 0-60 dash in a sizzling 5.8 seconds. It has notably poorer fuel efficiency, with a rating of 18/25/20.
With a decent amount of comfort and a quiet cabin, a 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer equipped with the base 2.0-liter engine is fine for the daily commute. Unfortunately, this engine seems to generate more noise than horsepower, especially when saddled with the CVT. For those seeking a bit more excitement on a budget, the SE or GT are better alternatives thanks to more low-end engine power and a suspension that responds better to spirited driving.
The Ralliart bridges the gap to the high-performance Lancer Evolution model with turbocharged power, sharp handling and rapid-fire gearchanges from the dual-clutch transmission. Mechanically, the Ralliart provides plenty of fun around corners, but in our testing we've found its tires to be a bit too economy-minded considering the car's strong performance potential.
Standard safety features on all 2012 Mitsubishi Lancers include front-seat side airbags, full-length head curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag. Antilock brakes and stability control are standard across the board, but four-wheel disc brakes are standard only on the SE, GTS and Ralliart. The DE and ES trims get by with rear drum brakes. In Edmunds brake testing, a Lancer GT stopped from 60 mph in an excellent 115 feet. Surprisingly, the Ralliart and its summer tires delivered a disappointing stop of 126 feet.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Lancer a top score of "Good" in the organization's frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests.
The 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer gains a new midrange SE trim level, while new features include optional soft-touch materials on front door panels and a rearview camera (standard on upper trims). The Lancer also receives minor interior and exterior styling enhancements.