2014 Mitsubishi Lancer SE
Engine: 2.4-liter MIVEC
Fuel Economy: 25mph combined
Price Driven: $22,940
In 2002, the Barenaked Ladies sold a large number of Mitsubishi Lancers—over 69,000 in the United States alone. The Canadian group licensed its chart-topping hit "One Week" to the Japanese auto manufacturer, and the song propelled the true North American launch of the compact sedan. A cast of multiethnic characters sang along and, in the words of the brand, prepared to "wake up and drive."
Times have changed. Mitsubishi lives a humbler existence on American soil. The company's new micro car, the retooled Mirage, has sales goals of just 7,000 in model year 2014. Its bigger brother, the Lancer, is likely to barely double that output. More than a decade after U.S. debut, the Lancer's positioning as an entry-level motor isn't as universal, and global smash hits have been replaced by comedic odes to drifting in campaigns. Additionally, domestic competition has cut into the market for lower cost cars, creating a competitive market with an emphasis on sleek design and digital integration. Whereas once a song propelled initial interest, the Mitsubishi badge became a foil for balling rappers to express their success. Nicki Minaj tells us "You in that Mitsubishi, I'm in that Bentley GT" on Gucci Mane's "Coca Coca.
In its Evolution form, the Lancer gets our heart racing. With 291 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque, the Rally ready ride has an unquestionable element of fun—and is the type of ride that would make us tell Nicki "fool you." We think the Lancer Evolution is one of the most intriguing turbo charged cars for under $35k. The vehicle—and its cousin the Ralliart—is exactly what the new Lancer advertisements live and breath.
Knowing this, we tested a car more in-tune with Lancer's original purpose—providing an affordable, driver-friendly option—and tested out the Lancer SE. The SE is the second step Lancer, adding all-wheel control to a mix that includes 168 hp and 16-inch wheels. It's also relatively spacious—big enough to transport 4 full-size men on a full-day tour of eastern Pennsylvania. The sound system, an available 710-Watt Rockford Fosgate with a 10-inch sub in the truck, knocks. Added bonus: the new 7-inch touchscreen offers simple, intuitive navigation. In a world of in-car amenities of varying degrees of success, the ease of the Mitsubishi system is reassuring if not A+.
Also reassuring is the driving stance. While the wheel doesn't telescope (slightly to very annoying) the dash is low and road visibility is great. Gas milage doesn't disappoint at 25mpg combined. The overall balance of drivability, creature comfort, and aesthetics lends to remarkably satisfying ride. Sure, there are points of contention—noise, being one of the biggest—but the Mitsubishi Lancer is what it is (a sub-$23k car) and doesn't try and masquerade as anything else. In a climate where bells & whistles attempt to bridge a luxury gap, Mitsubishi's steadfast hold on the basics—gas milage and pumping base—is a nice throwback to what entry level cars should really be about: Waking up, grabbing your friends, and hitting the road.
Bottom Line: The 2014 Mitsubishi Lancer SE won't fulfill your drifting or rally dreams. However, the car will competently fulfill the demands of daily life.