2013 Mitsubishi Lancer GT AWC quick spin
New Lancer variant offers affordable AWD but it's no poor man's Evo
What is it?
These days you can buy a new car with a back-up camera for under $20,000. Electronic stability control, once exclusive to the most expensive Mercedes-Benz sedans, is now standard on every new car or light truck. Such is the power of trickle-down theory as it applies to automotive technology.
But there are limits. All-wheel drive, for example, is now fitted to most luxury cars sold in Canada, but if you want AWD on a budget closer to $20K than $40K-plus ... well, let's just say you won't have to budget much time for shopping around. Affordable AWD cars exist, but they remain far from mainstream.
Still, the list is longer now than it was. Mitsubishi introduced the SE AWC (All-Wheel Control) version of its compact Lancer sedan for 2012. For 2013, this uplevel GT AWC model has joined the lineup.
Some could argue that what the Lancer really needs now is a total re-do: the current generation is now in its sixth model year. Meanwhile, though, the wider availability of all-wheel drive helps set the Lancer apart from the mostly fresher mainstream competition.
Of course, AWD has always been integral to the iconic Lancer EVO model and the "Evo Lite" Ralliart, but those turbocharged sport sedans start at $42K and $32K respectively. The SE AWC starts at $23,098. The GT tested here asks $27,998, and — despite the promise of the GT tag — is mostly distinguished by additional luxury features such as leather, sunroof, climate control, push-button start, and a much higher-end sound system.
Mechanically the two trims are (in Canada) identical. They are distinguished from lesser Lancers by a 2.4-litre, 168-hp engine, standard CVT automatic transmission, and of course all-wheel drive. (In the U.S. the GT AWC has sport-tuned suspension and an available five-speed manual gearbox).
We drove and photographed the GT, but let's pretend it was the SE. Minus the GT's near-$5K-worth of bells and whistles, the SE better meets the mandate for affordable mainstream compact with all-wheel drive. It's decently equipped (including Bluetooth and Voice Recognition) and combines its AWD edge with more hustle under the hood than most comparably priced FWD alternatives.
What's it like to drive?
Our instrumented 0-100-km/h test took 9.2 seconds — not pocket-rocket performance, but quick enough to place the Lancer among the leaders in its class. The CVT's wide ratio range gets it moving smartly off the line and then yanks the revs right down when you level off at cruising speed — a laid-back 2,400 rpm at 120 km/h, for example. The engine is pretty cultured, too, so it's not overly intrusive when the CVT keeps the revs up high under hard acceleration. When you're feeling frisky, wheel-mounted paddle shifters let you manually pick among six pretend ratios.
We didn't drive far enough to measure fuel consumption but official figures are 9.2/6.9 L/100 km city/highway — quite a bit thirstier than the class norm, including the also-AWD Subaru Impreza (7.5/5.5).
The AWC hardware in this Lancer is the simplest of Mitsubishi's multiple AWD packages, but is still more sophisticated than most, offering three modes: 2WD for maximum fuel economy on good surfaces; 4WD Auto for consistent traction in variable conditions; and 4WD Lock for extreme slitheriness. All of which has obvious safe-and-sensible advantages in Canada's climate.
By no stretch, however, is the AWC a poor man's Evo. Compared with the surgically precise and exquisitely balanced handling of its famous cousin the rally star, the AWC is a dull-witted plodder. It's safe and predictable, to be sure, but the steering is kinda heavy even at parking speeds (2WD Lancers have electric power steering, but the AWC's tiller is hydraulically assisted) and expressive cornering generates more understeer than entertainment.
Good thing, then, that the ride is correspondingly soft and comforting.
For my midsize body-type, at least, seating comfort is also easy to find — surprisingly so, considering the lack of steering telescopic adjustment, and the limitations of only six-way seat adjustment. As for the plain, screen-free dashboard with its three round HVAC dials and sparse array of low-tech audio buttons ... maybe the Lancer's ergonomic simplicity is actually ahead of the game?
Should you buy one?
You can make up your own mind whether the extra doodads on a GT AWC are worth a price pushing $30K. In my book it's easier to make a case for the SE version. If you're shopping for AWD in an affordable compact package, you probably already have the Subaru Impreza on your short-list. You might want to drop in to a Mitsubishi showroom before you decide.
2013 Mitsubishi Lancer GT AWC
Base price / as-tested: $27,998/$27,998
Type of vehicle: AWD compact sedan
Engine: 2.4-litre, 16-valve, DOHC I-4
Power/Torque: 168 hp / 167 lb.-ft.
Transmission: CVT automatic
0-100 km/h: 9.2 seconds
Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 9.2 / 6.9 L/100 km
Competition (AWD): Subaru Impreza, Suzuki SX4 Crossover, Suzuki Kizashi
QUICK SPIN SUMMARY
AWD in an affordable compact package
Performance near the top of its class
Refined and smooth-riding for a compact
Rather thirsty by class standards
Less rear-seat and trunk space than most rivals
Not a bundle of fun when the going gets twisty
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