We’ve test-driven quite a few Mitsubishi Lancers over the years, from basic econoboxes to fast, slick-handling Evolutions. The 2016 Lancer SEL with all-wheel drive was the first one to really hit the sweet spot for us. Although the Lancer hasn’t been redesigned extensively in years, the SEL seemed more refined and people-friendly than any of its predecessors. Its versatile all-wheel drive system also was a pleasing addition in a car with an early February delivery date.
Our Diamond White Pearl Lancer had a sticker price of $22,805, with no options. That’s high for a compact sedan – the base Lancer starts under $18,000 – but Mitsubishi may be counting on this model’s all-wheel-drive system to nose out many of its front-wheel-drive competitors, especially in northern climes. Aside from the Subaru Impreza, the Lancer is the only economy sedan available with AWD.
In SEL trim, the Lancer is loaded with desirable features. Among them are rain-sensing windshield wipers, leather upholstery, heated front seats, automatic climate control, tilt (but not telescoping) steering wheel, satellite radio, rear-view camera, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and cruise control. Curiously, the Lancer – with just 5.5 inches of ground clearance as well as ground effects that make the car seem even lower than it really is – can be operated in front-wheel, all-wheel and 4-wheel-drive lock settings.
Our Lancer handled well, the 2.4-liter Four provided ample power, and the continuously variable automatic transmission was unobtrusive. Unlike the basic Lancers we’ve driven in the past, the test car did not prove tiring or uncomfortable on long drives, and there’s plenty of room for back-seat passengers, too. The ride, noise level and overall refinement seemed much improved over previous Lancer models we’ve driven. Fuel economy was so-so for a compact sedan, at 23 mpg city and 31 highway.
Just once, we had to drive the Lancer in snow. It performed capably. We suspect it wouldn’t fare quite as well in deep, heavy snow, owing to its low-slung chassis, but the Lancer confidently made its way through the moderate snow that fell during the first week of February.
While some Japanese and Korean automakers, including Suzuki and Daewoo, gave up on the U.S. market in recent years, Mitsubishi soldiers on despite limited success. Today, the brand has just five models in the U.S. market – the Lancer, the tiny Mirage, the all-electric i-MiEV, the compact, U.S.-built SUV Outlander Sport, and the beefier Outlander, a compact SUV built in Japan. The Outlander and Outlander Sport models led the way with a combined 3,776 units sold in January, a substantial increase over January 2015. Lancer sales saw a slight increase, from 1,515 to 1,523. In another encouraging sign, Mitsubishi enjoyed a 22.8 percent increase last year over 2014.
The 2015 Lancer was rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Changes for 2016 were mainly in the areas of mechanical improvements, styling tweaks and revised trim levels, none of which should affect crash-protection ratings.
Steven Macoy (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
2016 Mitsubishi Lancer SEL AWC
Engine: 2.4-liter inline Four, 168 horsepower, 167 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: continuously variable automatic
Ground clearance: 5.5 in.
Weight: 3,142 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 16-in. alloy
Tires: P205/60R16 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 12.3 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 14.5 gal.
Fuel economy: 23 mpg city, 31 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline