In a segment defined by value and gas mileage, the sporty Lancer GT doesn’t cut it against its best competitors — or even against the average ones.
Though you wouldn’t know just by looking, the attractive Lancer hasn’t been redesigned since the 2008 model year. That may not seem like a long time, but the compact-sedan segment has taken huge leaps in refinement and gas mileage since the Lancer last saw a thorough going-over. Little has changed for the 2013 model year (see them compared here).
Compacts like the Mazda3 and Ford Focus are many times more refined for a similar price, and some versions of these competitors get substantially better gas mileage. The Lancer sedan comes in four primary trim levels: DE, ES, GT and SE. The GT has a more powerful engine and a sportier suspension than the other trim levels, but it’s slotted below the higher-performance, turbocharged, all-wheel-drive Ralliart and Evolution models. See here for a comparison of Lancer trims. Compare the GT, Ralliart and Evolution here.
If you prefer hatchbacks, the Sportback version of the Lancer comes in ES and GT trim levels, detailed separately.
The Lancer’s angular, stocky appearance still looks good in an aggressive way, though it’s bordering on dated when lined up against the new Focus or Mazda3. The GT borrows front styling from the turbocharged Ralliart and wears large, 18-inch wheels that don’t look overdone thanks to their understated styling. Even the interior design still looks fairly contemporary, as the materials have stood the test of time.
The Lancer GT’s shining driving characteristic is how sportfully it handles. The quick-acting steering is reminiscent of the Evolution, a legitimate sports car. The GT is available only with front-wheel drive, so it doesn’t have the Evolution’s super-smart all-wheel drive, but the GT’s handling is still entertaining for a compact car.
The 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine has more guts than many small sedans, with a potent 168 horsepower, up from the base model’s 148-hp, 2.0-liter engine. The 2.4-liter engine pairs with a standard five-speed manual transmission or an optional continuously variable automatic transmission. The CVT responds quickly to accelerator inputs and isn’t as laggy as other CVTs when you need quick response for passing.
When you’re not having fun tossing this car around, you’re really not having fun. The ride is harsher than an all-wheel-drive Lancer we tested without the sports suspension; rough roads jostle the GT, and the suspension thwacks unpleasantly over bumps.
Not helping the rough ride and ugly-sounding suspension is a variety of road and wind noises at highway speeds. Plan on talking to a passenger who’s only a foot away? Raise your voice a few notches. The engine fails to keep wheezy and unrefined noises in check, too. The wind, road and engine noises all add up to an unrefined car that’s hard to swallow no matter how well the Lancer GT handles or how good it looks.
Sporty compact cars like the Focus and Mazda3 provide an equal fun-to-drive factor without the noisy interior, unrefined engine or as harsh a suspension. The Focus and Mazda3 are more comfortable and livable everyday drivers; compare them to the Lancer here.
The Lancer GT’s gas mileage maxes out at an EPA-estimated 31 mpg on the highway — a number that was merely average even back when this Lancer generation was introduced. The smaller, more efficient 2.0-liter is rated 34 mpg on the highway, which is still a ways off from the segment’s 40 mpg benchmark. The manual-transmission GT rates 22/31 mpg city/highway, and the CVT automatic is rated 23/30 mpg.
A Mazda3 sedan with automatic transmission and the efficient SkyActiv engine option is rated 28/40 mpg. The automatic Focus sedan is 27/38 mpg.
The Lancer GT’s standard features include a USB input and Bluetooth for the $20,790 starting price with a manual transmission, $21,790 with the automatic (all prices include destination charges). USB is optional equipment on the ES ($17,890) and SE trims ($21,090), and not available on the entry-level DE ($16,790). Bluetooth is standard on all trims above the DE, including the ES, SE, GT, Ralliart and Evolution. The DE cannot be equipped with Bluetooth.
An important missing feature shows the Lancer platform’s age: Its steering wheel tilts but doesn’t telescope. Most new compacts have both tilt and telescoping adjustability. Finding a comfortable distance from the steering wheel is a hassle without a telescoping wheel. Sit too close, and front legroom disappears. Sit too far away, and the steering wheel is beyond a comfortable reach.
Our test car’s price of $27,340 with the $795 destination charge was shockingly expensive. The price includes uncommon features for the class, like an over-the-top stereo with a 10-inch subwoofer — large for a factory sub — rain-sensing windshield wipers and smart key entry.
The GT’s two major option packages don’t leave much room for a la carte options. Popular features are lumped into an expensive GT Touring Package. The $3,550 package includes a sunroof, leather seating with heated front seats, a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate stereo with the aforementioned 10-inch subwoofer, satellite radio, xenon headlights and rain-sensing wipers. Leather seats are an available option on their own, sans the heat.
The two navigation options have different prices and features depending on whether they’re linked with the GT Touring Package. Get navigation with the GT Touring Package, and it costs $2,000 and includes a backup camera that displays in the navigation screen. When not paired with the GT Touring Package option, navigation costs $2,295 and includes a backup camera that displays in the rearview mirror.
Included with navigation is a 7-inch touch-screen display with a 40-gigabyte internal hard drive to store music. The touch-screen is like using a clunky aftermarket system to access radio, iPod and navigation functions. The finicky virtual buttons are small and hard to find while driving, and surfing through a music library proved a pain even though I don’t have a huge library on my phone; there’s no quick-scrolling feature. Mitsubishi’s voice-activated Fuse system, standard on the GT, is an alternative to using the screen for accessing music and phone information, instead using voice commands, much like Ford’s Sync system.
A 2013 base Lancer with front-wheel drive scores an overall four out of five stars in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests. The Lancer receives the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick designation with its best score, Good, in frontal-offset, side, rear and roof-strength tests.
Standard safety features include front airbags, front-seat-mounted side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags for front and rear occupants, and a driver’s knee airbag. See here for a list of standard safety features.
Click here to see how well child-safety seats fit in the Lancer.
Retail-priced Lancers shouldn’t entice buyers because of how the dated Mitsubishi stacks up against the great crop of sedans at similar prices with better gas mileage. As of this writing, browsing 2013 Lancer prices on Cars.com reveals many dealers are listing prices below MSRP, even before their 2012s have sold. Mitsubishi also has zero-percent financing available. At discounted prices, buyers looking for a deal on a sporty, good-looking sedan — without concerns about gas mileage or refinement — may find something to like in the Lancer GT.