The lower-level trims, however, don't see much head-to-head action. But now, Mitsubishi has added an all-wheel-drive version of the Lancer SE to the lineup for 2012. In a country that faces snow, slush and freezing rain in most of its areas and for several months a year, that's not a bad move.
On the other hand, that's the only change the car gets this year, a car that's still a competent performer but is starting to feel dated.
The Lancer SE AWC, which stands for All Wheel Control, is now the only trim to get the bigger, 2.4L 4-cylinder engine that used to be offered in GT versions. It develops 168 hp and 167 lb-ft of torque, and offsets the added weight of the drivetrain - just under 200 lbs.
Too bad the only transmission choice for the SE AWC model is a continuously variable automatic; that's right, the 5-speed manual would've made the car a little more entertaining in the white stuff, but Mitsubishi says no. The Impreza offers a stick with its AWD system, you know.
Nevertheless, this Lancer's got muscle and uses it wisely, with swift take-offs and lots of torque for speeding up or passing. Of course, full-throttle acceleration with the CVT makes the engine noisy near its redline.
The Lancer SE AWC is rated at 9.1/6.8L/100km city/highway; it's a little higher than the 2012 Subaru Impreza with its smaller, less-powerful engine. We're averaging 10.2 in the Mitsubishi during a snowy and particularly cold week.
It helps that the AWC system can be switched off when you don't need it, with the help of a centre console-mounted toggle switch. You can choose 2WD (front), 4WD Auto or 4WD Lock.
I always liked the way Mitsubishi calibrates their suspensions. The Lancer benefits from a setup that provides a composed ride when you're cruising, yet firms up nicely when you're barrelling down that 270-degree highway on-ramp.
The car's steering is also entertaining; it feels dynamic and allows the driver to precisely plant the Lancer's nose in the desired direction, even at high speeds. In addition, the 10-metre turning circle is the narrowest among compact cars, making parking manoeuvres and U-turns a cinch.
Dated looks inside and out
The Lancer boasts comfortable seats front and back, with sturdy seat material and plenty of space; in fact, the Lancer has one of the most accommodating rear-seat areas in its class.
The SE AWC gets standard Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port for the sound system that's awkwardly located in the glove box, and heated front seats. On the other hand, both the trip computer and stereo displays feature '80s-vintage monochrome graphics and lettering, which looks, well, old.
The general design of the dash and door panels isn't bad, but some shiny plastic bits, such as the top of the driver instrument panel, look and feel cheap. It's not a big deal until you start comparing it to a Ford Focus or a Mazda3.
Frankly, Mitsubishi could've freshened up the Lancer's exterior design a bit since the current generation's launch back in 2007. There's nothing wrong with the styling, mind you, as the car's angry snout still looks good. If you bought a 2008 Lancer and are willing to trade in this year, wouldn't you like to buy something that looks, well, newer?
Lancer SE AWC vs. Impreza 2.0i Touring
The all-wheel drive Lancer SE retails for $23,098 before taxes, freight and delivery charges, and there are no available options besides a $160 charge for pearlescent paint. In comparison, a 4-door Subaru Impreza Touring with the CVT goes for $22,995. Yep, the difference in price between the two is a C-note.
Which one's better? The Lancer has more guts, but uses a bit more fuel. The Impreza's AWD system is arguably better in snow and the car is, well, newer.
By the way, Mitsubishi could probably do itself a big favour by adding air conditioning on the base Lancer DE, or at least offer it as a $1,000 option. I'm sure they'd sell more cars, as the least-expensive Mitsubishi with A/C is the Lancer SE at $19,398.
Despite its age, the Lancer is holding up well. It's still one of the best-handling cars in its category, it still looks good, and I agree with the idea of adding an AWD version that's much more affordable than the Ralliart. A manual transmission would've been nice in this car, but otherwise, there isn't much else to complain about.