Up until a few years ago, the Mitsubishi Lancer had some advantages over most of its small sedan competition, including distinctive styling, engaging handling and a lot of high-tech features. But these days the 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer is still pretty much the same car it was before, while other rival models have considerably outpaced it in most areas.
If you look toward the top end of the Lancer lineup, there are some interesting attributes, such as all-wheel drive and a pair of feisty engines that are available. But the entry and midlevel trims -- the ones most folks in this segment actually buy -- are merely average, notably in key areas such as performance and fuel economy. Moreover, they are below average in a few others, like powertrain refinement, interior quality and trunk capacity.
As such, most folks are likely to be happier with one of the newer entries in this segment. The Mazda 3 offers athletic road manners, while boasting better fuel economy. The Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra all offer superior refinement as well as more welcoming interiors and higher fuel mileage. And if all-wheel drive is needed, one should also consider the Subaru Impreza. Happily for the savvy consumer, the economy car segment is better than ever, but sadly this leaves the Lancer languishing in the back of the pack.
The 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer is a small sedan available in DE, ES, SE, GT and Ralliart trim levels (the high-performance Lancer Evolution is 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 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, special roof rack mounts 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, additional sport exterior treatments, a sport-tuned suspension, a sport steering wheel, unique upholstery, aluminum pedals and satellite radio.
Many features of the upper trims are also available on the lower trims via options or packages. There are also several appearance packages for the DE and ES that add sporty enhancements such as a front airdam, rear spoiler and chrome exhaust outlet. An optional Premium package for the SE adds a sunroof, a nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system (with satellite radio and a six-CD changer), leather-wrapped steering wheel/shift knob, a color display screen and upgraded door trim.
An available Touring package for GT and Ralliart trims features xenon headlights, the sunroof, a smaller rear spoiler, rain-sensing wipers, leather seats and the Rockford Fosgate sound system. 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).
While the 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer's chiseled exterior lends an air of aggression, its interior design and materials drag down the car's overall appeal. On the whole, the cabin design is uninspiring and rife with hard plastic elements. The upper trim level's padded door inserts help, but the lingering downmarket feeling persists.
Taller drivers will likely bemoan the lack of a telescoping steering wheel and the dearth of under-thigh seat 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 of Sync's functions and commands, but for the most part, it works pretty well.
The 2013 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 transmission is standard, while a continuously variable transmission (CVT) is optional. In Edmunds performance testing, the base engine coupled to the five-speed delivered a time of 8.8 seconds to 60 mph, which is a bit slow for the class. The CVT ran that dash in 9.1 seconds, which is 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. The GT has front-wheel drive and the five-speed manual standard, while its optional CVT features a 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 of torque. 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 but has notably poorer fuel efficiency, with ratings of 18/25/20.
With a decent amount of comfort and a quiet cabin, a 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer equipped with the base 2.0-liter engine is powerful enough for the daily commute. Unfortunately, this engine seems to generate more noise than horsepower, especially when saddled with the CVT, a technology that makes performance seem lackluster even though it delivers good fuel economy. 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 Lancer Ralliart represents a more affordable version of the high-performance Lancer Evolution model, and it delivers plenty of excitement thanks to turbocharged power, sharp handling and rapid-fire shifting from the dual-clutch automated manual transmission.
Standard safety features on all 2013 Mitsubishi Lancers include front-seat side airbags, full-length side 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 model with its summer high-performance 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.
For 2013 the Mitsubishi Lancer sees just a few minor changes for the SE trim level, the most notable being standard mounts for the Thule roof rack.