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

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

August 17th, 2013 by Mark Kennedy in Business Diary

Mitsubishi Lancer Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

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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.