2012 Mitsubishi Lancer SE AWC Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Since its introduction in 2007 the current-generation Mitsubishi Lancer has changed very little. In many ways that's a good thing, because the Lancer offers aggressive good looks, competent handling and a comfortable interior with one of the most spacious back seats in the compact sedan segment.

But five years is a long time in the automotive market, and change was due for the Lancer. So for 2012 Mitsubishi has delivered, sort of, with the addition of a noteworthy new trim level for the Lancer lineup: the SE AWC. This new trim level finally makes Mitsubishi's excellent AWC all-wheel-drive system - which was developed for the iconic Lancer Evo rally car and its slightly detuned Ralliart cousin - available for the less expensive bread-and-butter Lancer models.

While some all-wheel drive systems simply aid traction in marginal driving conditions, Mitsubishi's AWC (all-wheel control) takes an active role in all driving conditions, controlling engine torque and braking force at each wheel to optimize traction and cornering performance. It really works, too - stepping into the Lancer SE AWC after driving a series of run-of-the-mill front-wheel drive cars over the previous weeks, I switched the system into all-wheel drive mode (you can operate in front-drive to save fuel) and entered a series of sweeping high-speed corners, immediately noticing the AWC system at work. It delivers precise, grippy cornering with exceptional levels of confidence on dry pavement, and promises to be just the thing for snowy winters.

In addition to all-wheel drive, SE AWC trim upgrades the Lancer's engine from the base 148-horsepower 2.0-litre 4-cylinder powerplant to a 2.4-litre 4-cylinder that pumps out 168 horsepower and 167 lb-ft of torque. Where the lower trim levels get a choice of a 5-speed manual transmission or an optional automatic CVT (continuously variable transmission), the Lancer SE AWC gets the CVT as standard, with alloy paddle shifters to allow manual control of programmed virtual "gears" when a more engaged driving experience is desired. City/highway fuel consumption is a claimed 9.1 / 6.8 L/100km (by comparison, front-wheel drive Lancers with the smaller engine and the CVT get an estimated 7.9 / 5.8 L/100km, while cars with the 5-speed pay a half-litre penalty in city driving).

While many buyers will likely appreciate the fact that the CVT is included in the SE AWC trim, for sporty-minded drivers like myself (and I reckon this may include a significant proportion of the target market for the SE AWC) the CVT is a bit of a buzz-kill. As with any CVT, hard acceleration revs the engine up to near redline and holds it there, and this tends to accentuate any buzziness in the engine. In a luxury-oriented car with a silky-smooth 6-cylinder a CVT can be quite sublime, but in a performance-minded car with a 4-cylinder (and given the huge rear spoiler Mitsubishi attaches to it, the SE AWC clearly has performance aspirations) I find it's like pairing kippers and hot chocolate, or pickles and ice cream: It's just not my taste. The 2.4-litre engine in the Lancer SE AWC is a potent and spirited little powerplant, but it's not what I'd call exceptionally smooth, and paired with the CVT it tends to moan and buzz when driven even moderately hard. Memo to Mitsubishi: make the SE AWC available with the 5-speed!

On the bright side, the column-mounted alloy paddle shifters included with the SE AWC's CVT are solid and pleasant to operate, and do allow you to row the transmission through simulated gears to provide reasonable control of the powertrain, which is nice when driving on twisty roads. Unfortunately the transmission reverts to automatic mode whenever you come to a halt, so the paddle shifters lose some of their effectiveness around town.

Outside, the Lancer SE AWC gets 16-inch alloy wheels, chrome accent grille, colour-keyed door handles and mirrors, plus the previously mentioned rear spoiler. Inside it comes well-equipped with features including air conditioning, power windows and mirrors, cruise control, anti-theft system, 60/40 split folding rear seat, a 140-watt CD/MP3 audio system with Bluetooth phone compatibility and USB input, plus steering-wheel mounted cruise and audio control switches.

The interior itself is comfortable and spacious, especially in the back seat, and puts all controls within easy reach, so it gets 10 out 10 for packaging. The interior design is starting to show its age a little, however, especially when compared to cars like the Ford Focus or Hyundai Elantra, and the materials could bear some upgrading. As it is, there's a lot of hard plastic around (there are soft inserts in the door panels, but that's about it) and not too much in the way of visual interest aside from a silver-coloured panel running horizontally across the dash and a few matching accent panels.

Price-wise, the Mitsubishi Lancer starts at $15,998 for the base front-wheel drive DE model, with the optional CVT transmission costing $1,200 extra and destination charges adding an additional $1,350. The SE model (which includes most of the SE AWC upgrades except for the bigger engine, the drivetrain components and the rear spoiler) starts at $19,398, and the SE AWC I tested clocks in, fully equipped, at $23,098 plus destination charges. There's also a front-wheel drive GT trim that includes leather upholstery, a killer Rockford-Fosgate audio system, automatic climate control, a Ralliart grille, sunroof and other selected options for $23,998.

With this price range, the Mitsubishi Lancer is certainly competitive in the compact sedan segment. In SE AWC trim, the Lancer compares favourably to the Subaru Impreza (a natural comparison, given that the rally versions of the two cars used to go head-to-head in the world rally circuit): The Lancer SE AWC has the edge in terms of power and is within about $100 of the same price, at least if you want the automatic transmission (the Impreza Touring sedan, which is similarly equipped to the Lancer SE AWC with all-wheel drive, Bluetooth and cruise control, has a 148-horsepower engine and costs $22,995 with the automatic, plus destination charges). If a manual transmission is your thing however, it's not so cut and dried: the Lancer can be had cheaper, but no longer with any power advantage and only with front-wheel drive. And with front-wheel drive, the competition opens up to include cars like the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Kia Forte and Volkswagen Jetta. In DE and SE trim the Lancer still has some aces up its sleeve (the roomy back seat and unique, aggressive styling both spring to mind), but it's the all-wheel drive system in the SE AWC trim that really sets the Lancer apart.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Mitsubishi, 2012, Lancer, $20,000 - $29,999, Compact,

Organizations: Mitsubishi

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page