published Saturday, August 17th, 2013

Test Drive: Lancer a dash of fun in a practical package

Mitsubishi Lancer
Staff photo by Mark Kennedy
Mitsubishi Lancer Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

FAST FACTS

* Model: 2013 Lancer ES

* Exterior color: Mercury Gray

* Interior color: Black

* Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder

* Horsepower: 148

* Transmission: continuously variable

* Fuel economy: 34 mpg city, 26 mpg highway

* Dealer: Kelly Mitsubishi

* Price (as tested): $19,185

The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is legendary in the high-performance world as one of the hottest pocket rockets on the planet.

People forget that the basic Lancer compact sedan is worth a look, too. It's an especially nice car for those on a budget who would love to own a strand or two of the Lancer Evo's DNA, but who need only about half its eye-popping 291 horsepower.

Earlier this week, we drove a Lancer in ES trim from Kelly Mitsubishi downtown to see what you get for under $20,000 in the Lancer line. Our 148-horsepower test vehicle carried a sticker price of $19,185, its only option being a $395 hands-free phone package.

The ES comes with the Lancer line's base, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine. Quicker to leave the lot are Lancer SE and GT models, which get a more potent 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at 167 horsepower, according to Kelly Mitsubishi's Don Casteel. There's also a five-door hatch called the Sportback for those buyers who need a little more cargo versatility.

STYLING AND COMFORT

The Lancer's chiseled sheet metal is among the more attractive in the compact class. Its shark-like fascia gives the car a bit of menace, which should appeal to masculine tastes. Meanwhile, the body bristles with ground-effects.

The aerodynamic body includes a high belt-line and a generous roof-line which results in a bright and airy cabin.

Inside, the cabin is a model of clean design. Our ES Lancer wasn't burdened with a ton of doodads. It's comforting to climb into a car where all the dash functions are self-evident and you don't have to reserve a half day to study the owner's manual just to operate the radio.

The patterned cloth seats are firm and supportive. Rear seat head-room is especially generous for those who carpool with taller passengers.

Standard features include steering-wheel mounted cruise control, a CD-MP3 combo with four speakers, a six-way adjustable driver's seat and auto-off halogen headlamps.

Our base car came with steel wheels and hubcaps -- with alloys standard on the SE and GT models -- and all-season, Yokohama tires.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

With a chassis designed to withstand the athleticism of the Evolution model, the Lancer ES is solidly planted and inspires confidence. The smaller 2.0-liter engine, mated to a low-maintenance continuously-variable transmission, returns 34 miles per gallon on the highway, 26 mpg city.

On our short test drive on Corridor J, the Lancer settled into traffic and strikes me as a comfortable commuter car. Stepping up to the higher-displacement four-cylinder engine, though, is a smart move for those who appreciate a little more passing power.

Steering is well-weighted and the steering wheel can be adjusted to fit your height.

BOTTOM LINE

Any measure of the Lancer's value should take into account Mitsubishi's generous 10 year/100,000-mile power-train warranty. There's also a five-year, 60,000-mile comprehensive warranty.

If your compact car must-haves list includes a roomy cabin, sharp looks and a decade-long warranty, the Lancer is certainly be a vehicle you'll want to test drive.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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