2012 Mitsubishi Lancer AWC – an all-wheel-drive sedan in dire need of marketing campaign

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At the height of summer it’s tough to be reminded that we endure some of the harshest winter driving conditions on planet.  For years I’ve been a self-professed evangelist for the advantages of all-wheel-drive vehicles, and never tire of insisting that once you drive an all-wheel-drive car in winter, you’ll be a convert too.  When we had the chance to test the new 2012 Lancer SE AWC (‘All-Wheel Control’, according to Mitsubishi’s naming convention), we welcomed it with open arms.

The Mitsubishi line, which includes the attractive compact Lancer AWC sedan we tested, certainly has a compelling list of features including an industry leading 10-year, 160,000 kilometre powertrain warranty.

Our test unit was a base 2012 Lancer SE AWC sedan.  One of Mitsubishi’s main marketing strategies is to build their vehicles with a lot of standard equipment ‘stuff’ and the Lancer doesn’t disappoint.  The main feature that ought to attract most buyers at the $23,098 MSRP is the standard equipment all-wheel-drive, CVT automatic transmission, and sophisticated multi-link independent rear suspension.  Like the Suzuki Kizashi, the Lancer’s all-wheel-drive mode is a part-time, selectable system.  The Lancer AWC operates in front-wheel-drive mode until the driver selects (via a console mounted push button) the electronically controlled all-wheel-drive mode, or optionally, the AWD (centre differential) ‘locked’ mode for the most extreme slippery driving conditions.   (The segment leader in the all-wheel-drive compact sedan class is the Subaru Impreza which has full-time all-wheel-drive.)

Externally, the Lancer SE AWC comes standard with a body package (a front air dam, sideskirts and rear wing spoiler) that further enhances the compact sedan’s basic, good looks.  Inside there are other nice features for a car at this price point are heated seats, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for those who want to pretend their continuously-variable transmission has gears like a traditional automatic transmission, floor mats, a natty black cloth interior that would not look out of place on a German sport sedan and a 140W 4-speaker audio system.

As expected in Canada’s favourite car class, the compact Lancer must be an exemplary cargo hauler and is fitted with the obligatory 60/40-split, fold down rear seats.  Although a small detail, the trunk hinges are recessed and do not intrude into the cargo area when the trunk is closed.  Obvious by its absence is a handle to close the trunk.

The Lancer SE AWC’s interior is simple and well laid out.  I liked the easy-to-read instrument cluster and the multi-information display right in front of the driver that shows all the important data clearly, mainly fuel consumption, ambient temperature and driving distance to empty.  Typical of most new cars, there’s an “Eco” light that appears when the car is driven in the most fuel-efficient way.

Where the Lancer’s interior is subject to criticism is in the quality of plastics used to trim the dashboard and door panels.  Various passengers (mostly critical, car enthusiast-types) said, “Typical Mitsubishi – plasticky, shiny interior (surfaces.)”

But get behind the wheel and the Lancer quickly redeems itself.  The 2.4-litre engine has sufficient power to accelerate the car in decent fashion and the CVT transmission keeps the 168 horsepower engine in the meat of its powerband.  While many auto writers dislike CVT transmissions because they don’t give you that traditional gearshift change ‘feel’, I’m the odd man out.  In this class, for me, better fuel economy trumps the ‘feel’ of acceleration.

The Lancer steers quickly, especially turning in, and that adds to the car’s sporty feel.  In faster cornering, body roll is well controlled, and the vehicle’s dynamics are comparable to other fun-to-drive mid-price compacts such as the Ford Focus and Mazda3.

My biggest complaint about the Lancer is its rear suspension, which, to my (perhaps overly sensitive) ear thuds over broken pavement.  Others may not find this objectionable.

Overall, the Lancer SE AWC is viable contender in the all-wheel-drive compact class.  It impresses with one of the largest cabins in class (easily accommodating four 6-foot-plus adults), being an IIHS top safety pick, having one of the longest warranties available, and at $23,098 is attractively priced.  For comparison, the Subaru Impreza Touring sedan (also with CVT automatic) is $22,295 (with less horsepower – 148, but better fuel economy – 7.5/5.5 l/100 km city/highway.)

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