Sporty styling gives Mitsubishi Lancer a leg up
BY JEFF TAYLOR For Sun-Times Media February 6, 2012 4:44PM
2012 MITSUBISHI LANCER SE
ENGINE: 168-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder
TRANSMISSION: continuously variable transmission
DRIVETRAIN: all-wheel drive
FUEL ECONOMY: 22 city/29 highway
BASE PRICE: $20,195
AS TESTED: $23,285 (including $2,295 navigation package and $795 destination)
The current 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer SE is part of a group of capable compact sedans that are often overlooked by consumers. One reason for the Lancer’s ambiguity is finding its signature.
Or maybe better said — finding what makes it a good buy.
The Lancer doesn’t have a plethora of best-in-class stats to tout, nor does it feature revolutionary propulsion or high-tech features. A decade or so ago consumers were perfectly comfortable buying a car that carried you from point A to B, held a decent amount of gear, came with contemporary safety features and had average fuel economy. The 2012 Lancer SE 2.4 all-wheel control has those qualities, but is that enough to satisfy today’s car buyers?
The two biggest (best) aces the Lancer has going for it are attractive styling and sporty handling.
The Lancer SE has a distinctive nose, and up-level GT models faintly resemble an Audi A4 straight on. The body has some muscular curves, and the car sits low to the ground rolling on p205/60 R16 tires, which appear fatter than they are. The overall effect is that this car stands out a bit more than competitive makes. Optional tires and rims really up curb appeal.
The flipside is the interior, which is pretty basic. The design is functional, but not sporty because shiny plastic prevails and magnifies exterior noise. The high-power stereo combined with a navigation system helps with this issue. There is a decent sprinkling of power and comfort features on SEs, and Mitsubishi throws in floor mats.
The heated cloth front seats did a good job of keeping us in place and kept fatigue from setting in. Rear seat space is typical compact car – cramped for adults behind average-size front passengers but fine for kids. Rear seats are 60/40s, and the trunk has a flat floor with decent cargo room.
Behind the snout my Lancer SE came with a spunky168-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder backed with a continuously variable transmission. The sport factor increases with magnesium steering-wheel paddle shifters to help you wring out some high-performance movement.
On the road the Lancer SE excels with some sporty moves. Don’t confuse this Lancer with the Evo. Throw the SE deep into a curve and you’ll get plenty of tire chatter. The SE can handle some curves but you could get in over your head if you expect too much. The SE keeps its composure in typical driving situations. Active stability control also helps you balance out some of the rough spots.
The around-town ride can get a bit choppy and the noise magnification adds to the feeling. The steering is quick to respond and the brakes were strong during hard stops versus the soft feeling I’ve experienced in some compacts after repeated full stops. The SE can dart in and out of traffic and slips into tight parking spots well.
Acceleration is punchy with this all-wheel-control (as Mitsu calls it) sedan with traction control as initial torque steer is present then the system clamps down. When I had my heavy shoes on acceleration was brisk enough but you’ll hear the engine unless the stereo is turned up. The paddle shifters are the way to go for some performance gratification.
With smaller cars safety is always in the back of your mind. The Lancer SE addresses this issue with front, side, curtain and knee bolster (driver) air bags.
For buyers who are looking for an affordable good-looking compact sedan, the Lancer line of cars may fit their needs if they are willing to make a few tradeoffs.
So the answer to the satisfy question is “yes,” but barely. While the 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer SE is competitive, there are a number of cars in this class that put the current Lancer in the lower half of the segment.
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