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Mitsubishi Lancer delivers something the competition doesn’t

In a world of near autonomous driving features, and primary front wheel drive compact sedans, for 2017, Mitsubishi Lancer holds out for base-line comfort and superior road handling characteristics, without the added MSRP of accident avoidance features.

I was curious about Mitsubishi, a world-brand that seemed to abandon North America markets with the closure of their Normal, Illinois manufacturing plant. Although I’d personally owned a “Mighty Max” compact pickup truck back in the day, I’d pretty much lost track of the brand. Here in the Pacific Northwest, you just don’t see too many Mitsubishis on the road, despite of what I just discovered to be one of the best road handling 4-wheel-drive options on the market today.

Heck, I thought “Lancer” was a Dodge, Chrysler name plate

In fact, at one time it was, but that was last century. The current Mitsubishi Lancer came to be in 2007, the year the U.S. began its slide into a world-wide recession – not good for the car business – not good for Mitsubishi, at one time the fastest growing import auto brand in North America.

For 2017 all-wheel-control (AWC) is available in all Lancer trim levels

That’s the first feature Mitsubishi offers that compact mainstay Honda, Kia, Toyota and other Americanized import leaders do not. Mitsubishi puts its own spin on 4-wheel-drive, and does so in a relatively comfortable sport-sedan with a starting MSRP just a tad under $20,000.

Granted, Lancer is not an all-wheel-drive compact crossover or SUV, but it will find superior traction at the push of a drive-mode toggle -- on ice, mud, sand, snow, and that 2-lane country sweep that keeps you from falling to sleep on your daily commute to work. The driver’s seating position is decent, offering good forward visibility and hand to control reach.

I found our test Lancer 2.4 SEC AWC 4-door sedan’s leather covered seating surface to be comfortable. Although manually adjusted, they did so with relative ease. I eased into a second-nature driving position within minutes of taking the steering wheel, and couldn’t help but to admire the uncluttered near intuitive layout of Lancer’s driving environment. Old School? Certainly.

Looking around the surprisingly well finished confines of a car that brings good value, and a no nonsense ‘driver’s’ dynamic to an ever-changing high-tech-driven field of fierce compact car competitors; I was pleasingly blown away by the drive and ride experience discovered in what I believe the be the lowest base priced 4-wheel-drive, compact 4-door sedan currently being sold in North America.

While arguably not the most feature packed, or visually dynamic (largely unchanged for a decade) sedan in the compact sedan segment, Lancer is without peers at its base-line MSRP for pure road-handling satisfaction-- Lancer is “road sticky.”

Great! How does it drive?

Lancer is not the quietest offering in the ever-evolving compact sedan segment, nor is it the most tech-driven. However, when I finally had the opportunity to dance Lancer down the country 2-lane sweeps of Lane County, Oregon, I rediscovered the joy of all-wheel-drive enabled road handling. Back in the day, I’d owned a twin turbocharged Mitsubishi 3000 in Dodge trim. Frankly, I’d forgotten how good Mitsubishi builds a car. I suppose the 10 year; 100,000-mile warranty should have been a clue!

While Lancer doesn’t employ the help of all wheel steer and 300 hundred + horses to tame the road, it does bring to the compact segment a rather unique, road sticky drive dynamic – and does so seamlessly. Granted, the CVT can high rev a bit at times. That’s the nature of the beast. But when driven in normal mode, one can gain a sense of transmission-shift. In short, Lancer’s 2.4 Liter 16 Valve gasoline 4-cylinder engine performs with the best in the segment. I found the throttle response to be instantaneous, with a mid-range torque band rivaling many small displacement turbocharged mills.

And, as stated earlier in this rant, I was hard pressed to break traction under dry or wet driving conditions --torque steer was pleasantly absent. One feature that’s very cool here is Mitsubishi’s drive-mode selection. In our Lancer, one could switch from front-wheel-drive, to automatic 4-wheel drive, or “locked in” 4-wheel drive. Very cool, it all works seamlessly, and on can be switched “on the fly.” What’s Furthermore, Mitsubishi presents a superior road handling dynamic via a McPherson Strut front end and multi-link wishbone rear suspension, without the harshness of “stiff” suspension tuning. Reasonably soft with the mush – I like that.

Ample engine power, CVT drive dynamic

As with Honda, Toyota and others, Mitsubishi Lancer with the exit of the Rally-King Lancer Evolution, restricts manual 5-speed shifting to its 2.0 Liter base model. The balance of the heavy lifting is relegated to a rather seamless CVT transmission for 2017, with paddle shifting available in select models. Largely a carryover for 2017, I spent some road time in a 2016 Lancer 2.4 SEC AWC. As a review writer that drives most if not all import and domestic offerings at one time or another, I find Mitsubishi’s trim combinations to be just a bit peculiar.

Case in point: Our rather top trim Lancer arrived sans paddle shifting, power seat adjustment, and power sun roof. The latter is offered in Lancer’s “Sun Package” trim option. However, while one does find stability track, and a federally mandated backup cam, you won’t find “active” safety and accident avoidance features as touted in this car. Instead, Mitsubishi relies on superior metallurgy, crumple zones, multiple airbags, and top rated driver and passenger restraint to gain a 4 if not 5-star safety rating.

It’s all in the MSRP

Our rather nicely equipped black on black, 18-inch alloy rimmed, leather clad, 160+ horsepower, 26 combined driving MPG, 2016 Lancer SEC AWC, arrived in the driveway with a total MSRP of $22,805. Looking to 2017 pricing: Mitsubishi holds the price line on Lancer. Where the bottom line quickly reaches 2016 Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, is when we add options to our ride, like 3-D Graphic Navigation, and a very exceptional 9-speaker Rockford Fosgate premium sound system – but you still won’t find a power-seat option, like I said, peculiar!

When I was done loading my “build” model with options…

My fully optioned 2017 Lancer sport sedan comes in with a total MSRP of $28,475, right in the middle of some pretty heady tech-advanced competition. In conclusion, I find the greatest value in Lancer to rest just a bit above the base model. For those of you that demand an exceptional all-weather road handling sedan, and aren’t yearning for state of the art active safety features, Mitsubishi Lancer should be at the top of your consideration list when looking for a capable, attractive 4-door compact sedan.

What I like: Suspension; road handling; engine power band; cab ergonomics; basic good looks.

What I’d change or add: Power adjusted driver’s seat; standard active safety suite: navigation: and minor body style refresh.