2014 Lancer SE 2.4L AWD: Minor changes produce big results
The small Japanese manufacturer is so underfunded, it can only bring out a new vehicle every so often. Earlier this year, it was a replacement Outlander crossover, which was both bigger and more fuel efficient than its predecessor. Later this year, it will be a new Mirage subcompact that promises 44 highway miles per gallon.
Which means the company's aging Lancer must solider on for a while longer without any major changes. That's bad news for Mitsubishi, because all the other compacts cars made by its competitors have been replaced in recent years. As a result, the Lancer is now less refined than such rivals as the Ford Focus, Honda Civic and Kia Forte. It also lags behind the Subaru Imperza, but more on that in a moment.
But that does not mean Mitsubishi has completely ignored the 2014 Lancer. The most noticeable improvement is the addition of a standard touchscreen audio interface with a backup camera. New wheels, upholstery and interior panels have also been added to certain trim levels.
A more significant change is not so visible, however. Mitsubishi engineers have tinkered with the Continuously Variable Transmission that is optional on some versions and standard on others. It is now much quieter and responsive than before, greatly improving the feel of our test car, a 2014 Lancer SE 2.4L AWD. While the last one we tested was noisy and felt underpowered, this year's version was relatively quiet and peppy.
That's important because of the Lancer's most direct competitor the Impreza was completely redesigned for 2012. The Lancer and Impreza are the only affordable compacts that come with all-wheel-drive. Subaru is famous for its symmetrical AWD system, which is standard on all of its vehicles. Mitsubishi offers different versions of its All-Wheel Control system as an option on the Lancer SE and standard on two high-performance models, the Ralliart and the EVO.
The SE is unique because the AWC system can be turned on and off with a switch on the center console. The switch can also lock the center differential for maximum traction. Although the current version of the Lancer SE may not be as sophisticated as a comparable Impreza, we like the ability to choose between front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive, especially during the spring and fall months, when the weather is so changeable.
We also like the looks of the Lancer, which is offered as both a sedan and fastback. Although the styling is getting dated, it still has a clean and sporty look. Although the SE is only available as a sedan, it comes with 16-inch alloy wheels and lower side panels that make it look more aggressive without being Boy Racer silly. The interior is refreshingly simple, with just a few controls for the climate and entertainment systems.
On the road, the Lancer feels light and nimble in FWD mode. The switch to AWC is immediately apparent, making the car feel glued to the road. Although the seats weren't leather, the front buckets were comfortable and covered in what appeared to be very durable cloth.
The SE comes standard with the option 2.4-liter inline four cylinder engine, which produces a respectable 168 horsepower and 167 door-pounds of torque. And, as we've mentioned, the revised CVT responds quickly to increases in engine speed, minimizing the lag that has hampered such "shiftless" transmissions in the past.
The 2014 Lancer SE 2.4L AWC is not the most fuel efficient compact on the market. But the EPA estimates of 22/29/25 aren't bad, considering the bigger engine and additional weight of the AWC system.
The base front-wheel-drive Lancer ES with the smaller 2.0-liter engine begins at around $17,195. The Ralliart comes standards with a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, an automated manual transmission and AWC, beginning at about $28,000. We think the $22,940 list price of our test car hit the sweet spot, considering it also came with a Premium Package that included an an upgraded stereo, sunroof, and leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
Facts and figures (all models)
Model tested: 2014 Lancer SE 2.4L AWD.
Layout: Front engine, front and all-wheel-drive.
Style: Sedan or five-door hatchback.
Engine: 2.0-liter inline four (148 hp, 145 ft-lbs); 2.4-liter inline four (168 hp, 167 lbs-ft - as tested); turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four (237 hp, 253 lb-ft).
Transmissions: Five-speed manual; Continuously Variable Transmission with optional manual shift mode.
Fuel Economy: 26/34/29 (2.0/CVT); 26/34/26 (2.0/manual); 23/30/26 (2.4/CVT); 22/31/26 (2.4/manual); 22/29/25 (2.4/CVT/AWD); 18/25/20 (turbo 2.0/automated manual).
Price: Starting at around $17,000 ($22,940 as tested).