If you're looking for a bargain on an all-wheel-drive car, the 2017 Mitsubishi Lancer might be the one for you.
For $21,130 — the starting manufacturer's suggested retail price for a base Lancer ES, including the destination charge — buyers get a five-seat sedan that comes with a continuously variable transmission that operates like an automatic one.
The all-wheel-drive system is noteworthy because it has three settings the driver activates via a button in the center console.
In its two-wheel-drive setting, the Lancer travels as a front-wheel-drive car to maximize fuel economy. In four-wheel-drive automatic, the car monitors the road and tire grip and automatically adjusts power among the wheels when a slip is detected.
When traveling in heavy snow, mud or icy conditions, the driver can select four-wheel-drive lock that can direct up to 70 percent of the available power to the electronic control coupling that manages the rear wheels.
The only all-wheel-drive sedan that's priced lower than the Lancer is the 2017 Subaru Impreza 2.0i four door. Its MSRP plus destination charge is $20,215 with a CVT and $19,215 with a manual transmission. But this Impreza doesn't have selectable four-wheel-drive settings or the Lancer's standard long-length warranty of five years/60,000 miles of basic, limited car coverage and 10 years/100,000 miles of powertrain coverage.
Mitsubishi has given the its only sedan nicer-looking wheels for 2017, and all models finally come equipped with a rearview camera. But the Lancer is starting to show its age. While its exterior styling remains attractive, its interior appears basic and its noisy ride and lack of a telescoping steering wheel are among the glaring contrasts to more modern competitors.
Furthermore, the 2017 Lancer earned four out of five stars in frontal and side government crash tests, but major competitors such as the 2017 Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla earned a full five stars. Consumer Reports magazine lists the Lancer's reliability as average.
The Lancer, which is sold in other countries, particularly Asia, hasn't sold well in the U.S. in recent years, with sales dropping by 19 percent from 2015 to 2016, to less than 15,000 models sold. In the first quarter of 2017, U.S. sales are down from last year by 4.2 percent.
Two four-cylinder engines are available in the 2017 Lancer. Neither is turbocharged, though turbos are becoming more commonplace in other small sedans because they can provide good four-cylinder performance.
The test-driven 2017 Lancer, an SEL 2.4 AWC, felt light, at just over 3,100 pounds. It had a 2.4-liter, double overhead cam four-cylinder engine that produced 168 horsepower and 167 foot-pounds of torque at 4,100 rpm. The car had decent power, but the continuously variable transmission caused droning engine sounds at higher engine revs.
With a lack of sound insulation, road noise and passing vehicles could be easily heard.
Unfortunately, even with the fuel-optimizing transmission, the test-driven Lancer managed only to meet the federal government's 26 mpg mileage rating for combined city and highway travel. That is far below the 36 mpg city/highway rating for the 2017 Civic sedan, which is the class leader.
The Lancer impresses with its nimble handling. Steering in the SEL, which had hydraulic power assist, not electric, had a good feel and decent response. The car can easily do U-turns on even narrow streets, as the turning circle is only 32.8 feet.
But the ride can feel stiff and unrefined. The plastics in the car and the trunk lining look cheap.
But the addition of the standard rearview camera means every Lancer model now has a 6.1-inch display screen in the dashboard. Other standard features are seven air bags, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, steering wheel-mounted controls for audio and cruise control, keyless entry and power windows, door locks and outside mirrors.
As with many compact sedans, seating three adults in the back seat is a close fit, though the backseat legroom is an acceptable 36.1 inches.
The trunk space ranges from 12.3 cubic feet to 11.8 cubic feet with the optional 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system with subwoofer in the trunk.
This story has been corrected to reflect that the government city/highway rating for the 2017 Civic sedan is 36 mpg, not 3 mpg.