Mitsubishi did a clever thing last year by introducing the SE AWC – All Wheel Control – model, adding this bit of techno-sizzle for winter-road-leery Canadians to extend the appeal of its compact Lancer lineup, and the company stretches its availability further with the more feature-laden GT AWC for 2013.
Mitsubishi, which celebrates its first decade in Canada this year, ranks as our second-smallest car company (ahead of Suzuki), its sales throttled back over the last few years by a lack of new models that generated any serious showroom excitement.
That promises to be resolved this year with the arrival of a third-generation Outlander crossover in the summer, and still-unnamed subcompact introduced at the Montreal International Auto Show that will be in showrooms this fall.
But this still leaves the current-generation Lancer, introduced for 2008, to carry the weight in the company’s volume segment, something it’s managed to accomplish with modest success. It’s a decent car, and the Ralliart and EVO versions provide high-performance halos and street cred. But it’s definitely, in marketing terms, overdue for a replacement.
Rumour has it an all-new Lancer will arrive in 2014, but Mitsubishi Canada will only confirm a new one is in the works. When it does make it here, Canadian Mitsubishi dealers will have a lineup that should help kick sales numbers up a notch, with the mainstream Lancer backed up by a still-fairly-fresh RVR and larger new Outlander crossovers, the new subcompact and, helping to promote its new green-tinged outlook, the i-MiEV electric car.
The new GT AWC model tops the Lancer sedan lineup (there’s also a pair of five-door Sportbacks), if you leave the low-volume Ralliart and Evo out of the equation. Lancer prices start with the DE at $15,498, step up to the SE at $19,198 and then the GT at $23,998, all equipped with 2.0-litre, 148-hp engines. Mitsubishi marks its first decade here with a 10th Anniversary edition Lancer, priced at $19,998. The bigger-engined and all-wheel-drive equipped SE AWC can be had for $23,098 and the more feature-laden GT AWC goes for $27,998.
Despite having been around for a while, in nuts and bolts terms the Lancer GT AWC can hardly be considered geriatric. It has a stiff structure – designed to be crash-safe– to which is bolted a MacPherson strut front and a multi-link rear suspension, and comes with hydraulic steering versus the electric power system the other versions get.
All this lives up to the sporty flavour suggested by its GT initials, with steering that has enough weight to feel right, and handling that only needs something better than the P205/60R16 all-season tires it comes with (on alloy wheels) to be really quite good. It steers nicely, goes around back road corners competently and rides compliantly.
It also doesn’t lack in performance with its 2.4-litre engine producing 168 hp and 167 lb-ft of torque, which is translated into momentum by a Sportronic continuously variable transmission that the driver can shift through half a dozen fixed ratios with column-mounted magnesium paddle shifters.
If you don’t mind CVT transmissions, well, you won’t mind this one – which is good as it’s the only one you can get with the GT AWC. It delivers decent around-town drive-ability and class-competitive levels of acceleration, along with snap-quick shifts in manual mode.
Mitsubishi developed its AWC all-wheel-drive system from lessons learned in half a century of rally racing, and it’s designed to not simply provide four-wheel-drive traction but actively improve handling. The driver can select from four modes, 2WD/4WD/auto/4WD lock, to suit driving conditions.
Fuel economy ratings are 9.2 litres/100 km city and 6.9 highway; I averaged 9.5 in a week, and 7.9 on a highway trip of a couple of hundred kilometres.
It’s not exactly over-the-hill in mechanical terms, although fuel economy could be better. But is the automotive fashion statement it makes too “yesterday” to still cut it, and does the interior live up to current expectations?
I thought the test car, in its Rally Red Metallic paintwork, looked pretty good, if perhaps a little “boy-racer-ish” with its black mesh grille, front splitter, aero-side-skirts and big rear deck spoiler.
The interior is another matter. Not exactly low-rent, but not posh either, with a lot of hard plastic in evidence, relieved by some patterned, metallic-look trim and touches of chrome. The GT AWC comes with leather-wrapped wheel (with cruise and audio controls) and leather upholstery. The heated front seats have medium-firm bolsters and proved comfortable, while the rear seat area is roomy enough and headroom okay.
Instruments are big and readable, the control layout sensible and uncomplicated and the audio system is a Rockford Fosgate system, whose speakers cut trunk space to 334 litres.
Additional equipment includes auto climate control, Bluetooth, USB input, information display, keyless entry and ignition, sunroof, and a 60/40 split rear seatback.
Good overall performance, the benefits of all-wheel-drive, attractive-if-you-like-it styling and an interior that’s pleasant if not fancy makes the Lancer GT AWC worth a look.
2013 Mitsubishi Lancer GT AWC
Type: Compact sedan
Base Price: $27,998; as tested, $29,348
Engine: 2.4-litre, SOHC, inline-four
Horsepower/torque: 168 hp/167 lb-ft
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.2 city/6.9 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze, Toyota Corolla, Kia Forte, Nissan Sentra