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Car Review: 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer SE 2.4L AWC Review By Carey Russ

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2015 Mitsubishi Lancer SE 2.4L AWC

Word association test: When someone says "Mitsubishi Lancer", the answer is usually "Evo", the high-performance rally-replica with the performance of a serious sports car in the body of a mild-mannered family sedan. But the vast majority of Lancers sold are of the non-Evo variety, and Mitsubishi has one in a state of

tune and at a price point for just about everyone. Base is the ES, front-wheel drive with a 2.0-liter, 148-horsepower (143 CA emissions states) engine. Above that is the SE 2.4L AWC, with eponymous 2.4-liter, 168-hp engine and Mitsubishi's AWC front- or all-wheel drive system and CVT (continuously-variable transmission). Want more sport with your 2.4? That would be the GT 2.4L, front-wheel drive, five-speed stick or CVT. Even more. but not quite Evo? See the Ralliart AWC, aka "Evo Lite", powered by a detuned version of the Evo's 2.0-liter turbomotor with 237hp driving all four wheels through a multi-mode full-time AWD system and the TC-SST dual-clutch automanual transmission.

More than that would be the last version of the Evo, 291hp. 300 lb-ft, five-speed stick or six-speed TC-SST. Quote from the press release: "Currently in its 10th generation, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution high-performance luxury sports sedan bows out with the 2015 model year edition." So this is it for that.

Bad news for the enthusiast driver. On the other hand, if you're milder in your desires and needs -- and budget -- but still understand and want the advantages of all-wheel drive, the SE is a good choice. With an MSRP (for this week's test car, as of this writing) of $20,995, it's one of the least-expensive AWD cars available. CVTs can be slow to react when acceleration is needed, with a "rubber band" effect -- stretch, stretch, streeeetch, now it goes, maybe. Not this one. Press throttle, get expected reaction. No waiting, and because a CVT doesn't have discrete ratios there are no shifts, smooth is the word. The CVT's wide ratio spread also helps both fuel economy and performance, with low "lows" for acceleration, particularly at traffic speeds, and a high overdrive high for economical highway cruising. EPA estimates are 22 mpg city, 29 highway, and 25 overall. Which were close to what I saw -- low twenties around town, 28 on the open road, and around 25 overall.

As the midlevel offering in the Lancer lineup, the SE is well-equipped and comfortable and oriented to value. It's no sports sedan, but is sportier than your typical compact sedan and so is enjoyable to drive, even moderately enthusiastically. My week with the SE AWC saw plenty of rain, and the car was stable and secure. If it's not a fire-breathing Evo, fuel, insurance, and, um, road-use fees are likely to be far less -- and it still has the the advantage of a good all-wheel drive system.

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APPEARANCE: In this day of sedans that want to impersonate coupes, it's refreshing to see one that is unabashedly a three-box sedan. The Mitsubishi development budget is not huge, so styling has changed little since the 2008 introduction of the current version. It has aged well. The front makes a definite impression, with one of the better implementations of the currently-popular oversize grilles, an upside-down trapezoid trimmed with chrome and bisected by the real bumper. A sporty-looking lip at the bottom of the front bumper fascia that is not so low as to be in permanent danger of damage and moderate side sill extensions give a sporty look without calling undue attention to itself, or branding the driver a poseur. The leading edge of the hood overhangs the headlights for a hawk-eyed look; clear taillight covers over colored lenses show just a bit of the tuner look.

COMFORT: Interior styling is as conservative as the exterior, and should age as well. Meaning that it will still look good when it's paid off. Synthetics are the order of the day for materials, except for the leather steering wheel rim and shift knob that are part of the Premium Package, as are the sunroof, 710-watt Rockford-Fosgate audio system, and Fast Key entry system. That last is the now-familiar keyless entry with pushbutton start/stop, although here that is a rotary knob on the steering column in place of the key lock. Fit and finish are good, and multiple materials and textures keep it interesting. Front seat comfort is good. Adjustment is manual, including driver's cushion height and two-level cushion heat. The steering wheel adjust for tilt only, with controls for audio, cruise, and phone systems on its spokes. Brightly-back main instruments and a functional hood over the instrument pod keep glare at bay. Useful trip info is displayed between the tach and speedometer. Touch-screen control for the AM/FM/Sirius-XM/CD/Bluetooth streaming/USB/external jack audio system is standard, even without the Rockford-Fosgate system. Ditto the rearview camera, with image displayed in the screen. Rear seat space is good for two medium-sized adults in the outboard positions. A 60/40 split to the seatback helps when extra luggage capacity is necessary. The Rockford-Fosgate system's subwoofer does take a bit a trunk space, but heavy mesh protects the speaker cone. External struts prevent crushed luggage, and a space-saver spare is found under the trunk floor.

SAFETY: The Lancer has been named a "Top Safety Pick" by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and has an overall four-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Mitsubishi's patented Reinforced Impact Safety Evolution (RISE) energy-absorbing unibody construction protects passengers. All of the required and expected safety features are standard in all models. All but the base ES have four-wheel disc brakes (antilock, of course, with electronic brake-force distribution). The usual front, front-side, and side curtain airbags are complemented by a driver's knee bag.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Fittingly, the Lancer SE is a bit softer than the GT or Ralliart, with thinner stabilizer bars. Any extra body roll from that is inconsequential in everyday use. Those more interested in cornering abilities will head for the GT or Ralliart. Or Evo. That said, the SE AWC's fully-independent MacPherson strut / multilink suspension strikes a very good balance between sport and touring, with good comfort and handling characteristics. Steering assist is not too high. The SE's AWC system is not the ultimate traction and performance one used in the Ralliart. It's more oriented to all-season driving. Automatic AWD mode is the default, and I left it in that position. Front-wheel drive is an option, with maybe a light increase in fuel economy. There is also a "4WD lock" position for traction is snow and other slippery low-speed conditions.

PERFORMANCE: The only drivetrain offered in the SE AWC is the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and CVT. It's perfect for this application. A 16-valve dual overhead cam design with block and head of aluminum alloy, it uses Mitsubishi's MIVEC valve lift and timing control system to produce maximum 168 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 167 lb-ft of torque (at 4100 rpm). CVTs (continuously-variable transmissions) are becoming a more common choice for the automatic role as such a transmission can have a wide ratio spread for both good low-speed acceleration and economical highway cruising and can be more efficient than a regular torque converter automatic. Many seem to sap performance, with sluggish response to throttle inputs. Not this one. It's one of the best such that I've driven, with no strange behavior and no real reason other than curiosity to move the shift lever to manual mode, which changes virtual "gears" since there are no discrete gears in a CVT. There is plenty of torque all the time, and if acceleration is not Evo-class, neither is thirst. It's quick enough to more than keep up with traffic, and fuel use seems surprisingly close to the EPA estimates.

CONCLUSIONS: If you need all-wheel drive on a budget, the Mitsubishi Lancer SE AWC offers a pleasant driving experience and good fuel economy for a reasonable price.

2015 Mitsubishi Lancer SE 2.4L AWC

Base Price                      $ 20,995
Price As Tested                 $ 23,505
Engine Type                     DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with
                                 MIVEC variable cam phasing
Engine Size                     2.4 liters / 144 cu. in.
Horsepower                      160 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)                  167 @ 4100 rpm
Transmission                    CVT
Wheelbase / Length              103.7 in. / 180 in.
Curb Weight                     3142 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower           19.6
Fuel Capacity                   14.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement                87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires                           P205/60 R16 91H Yokohama Avid S34
Brakes, front/rear              vented disc / solid disc,
                                 ABS, EBD, BA standard
Suspension, front/rear          independent MacPherson strut /
                                  independent multilink
Drivetrain                      transverse front engine, all-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed           22 / 29 / 25
0 to 60 mph                             est 8.5  sec

Premium Package -- includes:
  power glass sunroof, 710-watt Rockford FosgateĀ® 9-speaker
  surround-sound audio system, Fast Key entry system, leatherā€“
  wrapped steering wheel and shift knob                         $ 1,700
Destination charge                                              $   810