2013 Mitsubishi Lancer GT AWC Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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If there's a compact car that's weathered the test of time well, it's Mitsubishi's Lancer. Talk about good looking. It went from nerd-mobile to the prince of the prom in one model changeover. The 2008 Lancer shook up Mitsubishi's then languishing small car sales charts and simultaneously brought a superb compact four-door into the market.

This said not much has changed as the Lancer moves into its sixth year, and while it still looks great and drives better than many of its peers while offering up some of the best audio tech in the segment, and surprisingly continuing to deliver competitive fuel economy, Mitsubishi needs to deliver an updated model soon in order to to satisfy this segment's insatiable hunger for all things new and exciting.

Well, maybe it's not the segment that demands newness, but rather the type of performance-oriented buyer the Lancer has always attracted. After all, Mitsubishi's compact competes within the same segment as cars like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, and while the latter was subtly redesigned last year and then again this year (yah, you read that right), the eleventh-generation of the former is even more overdue than the next-gen Lancer. But of course, as good as the Lancer is it doesn't benefit from the near segment-topping sales of the Corolla. Why? The reasons are too long to list, but have a lot to do with Corolla having established itself in our market way back in 1966 and the Lancer only arriving in Canada (along with the entire Mitsubishi automotive brand) a decade ago as of last year, not to mention Toyota's total global dominance and the money it has at its disposal to develop, produce and market its cars. The Corolla is a very good car, don't get me wrong, but so is the Lancer and for that reason alone (and its industry-best warranty) it deserves your attention.

My Lancer GT AWC model is especially attention getting, with its deep front airdam, sporty fog lamps, side skirts, plunging rear valance and tabletop sized rear wing. It might be a bit over the top for the average Corolla driver let alone those springing for a Civic Si, but for a car company that's made its name in performance circles by winning rally championships and then bringing replicas of those cars to market, namely the Lancer Evolution, this GT AWC's racy shape is simply business as usual. Of course, Mitsubishi will sell you a version without that wing on the back, or you can opt for something slightly lower down the Lancer family feeding chain that will look decidedly more conservative, but one thing that doesn't change is the car's provocatively handsome styling, with its shark's nose grille, rakish profile and sharply angled light clusters. I'm guessing it's not for everyone, but to my eyes it works from all angles.

Unfortunately the interior was disappointingly spartan six years ago, so I'm guessing you can imagine that it hasn't aged quite as well as the body shell. In a compact market segment filled with automakers that are so desperately trying to outdo one another that the top-selling Honda Civic has now been almost completely redesigned for 2013 with new styling, a more upscale interior and revised suspension tuning, all within a year of not doing it right for its 2012 redesign, says everything I need to say about how Mitsubishi has to upgrade this Lancer's interior, and fast. The plastics are hard where they should be soft and switchgear doesn't feel anywhere near as premium as the category's top-sellers, while its overall interior design hasn't been enhanced as often as Mitsubishi has done with its Outlander SUV. The Rockford-Fosgate audio system in my tester sounded amazing, although its interface sure doesn't let on that it's anything special, and while the GT's seats are extremely comfortable front to back and covered in leather no less, it could use more rear legroom when taller folks are up front. All things said, get behind the wheel and you're in for a treat.

Mitsubishi is an engineering company, something that becomes quickly apparent when roads start to curve. Even after all these years there are few cars in the compact class as enjoyable for carving up a mountain canyon. The Lancer is beautifully balanced, no doubt inspired by the Evo, the latter one of the best handling cars you can buy no matter the price. Unlike most of its competitors all Lancer trim levels come standard with a fully independent suspension featuring MacPherson struts up front and a multilink setup at the rear, and this makes all the difference in the world, while AWC cars get stabilizer bars front and rear, and use a conventional hydraulic rack and pinion steering system for better feel and feedback instead of the electric power steering fitted to front-drive Lancers. I was a bit miffed that the top-line GT AWC only gets 16-inch rims on 205/60 R16 all-season rubber, especially after offering standard 18-inch wheels and tires on topline non-Evo and non-Ralliart models in years past. It may be that Mitsubishi is playing the Scion game, realizing that many Lancer buyers like to personalize their cars right from the get-go, so why should they be forced to pay more for a set of rims and tires they'll be hawking on a classified site later? As for these 16s, if you decide to swap them out they'll make an ideal pairing for winter tires.

That's how Mitsubishi kitted out my tester, turning my all-wheel drive Lancer into a snow-busting skidoo for up to five. AWC is Mitsubishi-speak for AWD, or rather All-Wheel Control instead of All-Wheel Drive, and to their credit there's a reason why they played with the alpha designation: AWC is way better. First off it gets a drive-mode selector (fancy name for a simple rocker button) that lets you choose 2WD to save fuel, 4WD Auto so that the AWC can automatically swap back and forth between two and four wheels as needed, and 4WD Lock to (as the name suggests) lock in all four wheels in order to get out of messy situations, such as the unusually heavy snowfall that buried my little Lancer out on the street one morning. After scooping snow off the top with my dustbin (we aren't so prepared on the West Coast) and then brushing it off with the broom, I shoveled a bit on the ground up front to make the snow level with the airdam, but didn't bother getting down to the pavement. I climbed inside a warming car, seats already fully heated and ambient temperature fittingly toasty, set the selector to 4WD Lock, put the autobox into "D" and let the little Lancer crawl straight out of the snow drift like it was a 4x4. That's when I fell in love.

During my first week in the car it was snowy conditions all-round, and not the nice light dry stuff you interior people get to play in, but the nasty slushy wet slime we coastal types suffer through. It looks all pretty the first day, and then none of us can wait to get back to the usual evergreen, except for those of us who ski. The Lancer's split-folding rear seatbacks were the charm, allowing me and my two youngest plus all of our ski gear inside with room enough to spare while changing out of wet clothes, exactly when its heated seats were appreciated more than ever.

Driving back down the slippery snow covered mountain road with my two kids aboard is normally a time for careful caution as most cars exhibit a tendency to slide a bit in tighter corners, but the Lancer GT AWC's road holding was once again unflappable. A bevy of safety equipment, including ABS-enhanced four-wheel discs with electronic brake force distribution, brake assist, and even a brake override system enhanced my feeling of security. Traction and stability control, especially useful in these types of conditions, come standard too, and of course all the usual airbags are standard including side-curtain airbags for each window occupant.

Towards the bottom of the hill, snow now on the trees instead of the road, I was able to really open it up, much to the kids' enjoyment. AWC fitted Lancers use a 2.4-litre four-cylinder in place of the 2.0-litre engine found in front-wheel drive models, making 20-horsepower and 22 lb-ft of torque more than base at 168 and 167 respectively for spirited acceleration. The five-speed manual gearbox isn't available with this engine, which is a bit of a shame, but the Sportronic CVT (different than the optional CVT used with front-drive Lancers) is a real charmer. It's supplied with a gorgeous set of large magnesium paddles fixed to the steering column like with its Evo sibling and any race-bred performance model, and when shifts are applied they're crisp and sporting, unlike most CVTs I've tested. It's so good that for a moment I was even questioning if Mitsubishi had upped the GT AWC ante with its phenomenally capable double-clutch automated gearbox. Impressive.

A few details that visually separate the Lancer GT and GT AWC from regular Lancers include a special Ralliart chrome-surround grille and front bumper design, the aforementioned front airdam with integrated fog lamps and side skirts, and a chrome exhaust tip, while inside the design team not only wrapped the steering wheel and shifter knob in leather but also the parking brake lever. Nice! I must admit that the upgraded hydrographic instrument panel was impressive too, with easily legible dials and appealing colours for the multi-information display at centre, while ample use of brushed metals and chrome helped to spiff up the rest of the cabin. This included splashes of chrome on the upgraded HVAC switchgear; an automatic system in GT models, by the way. A powered glass tilt and slide sunroof with sunshade is one of many GT extras, my favourite convenience being proximity sensing access with keyless ignition. And that Rockford-Fosgate audio system upgrade I mentioned earlier? It's a 710-watt Punch unit with a six-disc CD/MP3 changer, Sirius satellite radio with six months complimentary service, aux and USB plugs, a digital processor, speed compensated volume and equalization, and nine speakers including a 10-inch sub housed in the trunk. Yah, it kicks.

That really sums up the entire Lancer GT AWC; it totally kicks. It's not the most powerful compact on offer, its Ralliart and Evo brethren among a handful of rivals filling the super compact role, but it gets up and goes with surprising energy and feels more like these mainstream exotics than any of its more mundane rivals. Mitsubishi needs to update the Lancer for sure, but like I said in the beginning, it still looks fabulous, drives brilliantly and returns impressive fuel economy with my performance-oriented all-wheel drive tester getting a claimed 8.2 L/100km combined city/highway and the base Lancer good for a combined 7.1 with the manual or 7.0 with the CVT. And that warranty? Try to find a better one at five years or 100,000 km bumper to bumper and 10 years or 160,000 km powertrain.

Lancer pricing starts at $17,098 including destination and pre-delivery inspection, while my top-line GT AWC tester sneaks under the $30k barrier with a listed price of $29,598, destination and PDI included. There are loads of dealer-installed accessories available, but the only factory option is Tarmac Black Pearl paint at $160. On the other hand, Mitsubishi offers automatic $500 rebates for those in the military, students, those with mobility issues and a loyalty reward for current Mitsubishi owners. Of course, the usual discounts can be had too.

If you're looking for a unique compact four-door that really stands out in a crowd while delivering the kind of driving pleasure normally found in cars that start in the mid-$30k range, include the Lancer GT AWC on your shopping list.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sport Sedan, Mitsubishi, 2013, Lancer GT AWC, $20,000 - $29,999, Compact,

Organizations: Mitsubishi

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