2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
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    2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Expert Review:Autoblog

    The following review is for a 2012 Model Year. There may be minor changes to current model you are looking at.

    Light Weight, Rear-Wheel Drive And Instant Torque Bubble Up

    2012 Mitsubishi i

    There are two simple truths about the Mitsubishi i that should help this funky little electric car sell well in the U.S. once it goes on sale later this year. First, it looks like absolutely nothing else on the road today. Second, the car is much more fun than its jellybean shape implies.

    The North American-spec i does share its look with versions on sale in Japan and Europe, but this EV is a different beast compared to those models. It's also completely different from the gas-powered kei-car sold only in Mitsubishi's home market, which was named the Japan Car of the Year by the Automotive Researchers' and Journalists' Conference in 2007. It's also completely different from the Japan or Euro-spec electric i-MiEVs (which are also slightly different from each other) that Mitsubishi has been showing off in the U.S. for the past few years. We've had a chance to drive these other models, and you can read our thoughts on the foreign i-MiEV here and here. At this point, though, it's best not to bother – this i is something new.

    That's part of the idea, since the i is meant to be distinctive. Love it or hate it, Mitsubishi thinks that this is what electric car buyers want: an electric vehicle that looks like an electric vehicle, even if it comes from gas roots.


    One of Mitsubishi's defining design parameters for this vehicle was a focus on simplicity. This is obvious as soon as you see the car and its sparse-feeling dashboard. Simplicity, however, means there has been some clever thinking done to improve the car for its U.S. introduction. Mitsubishi has beefed up the i's size and the performance of its all-electric powertrain. The car is 4.3 inches wider and 8 inches longer, for example, though the wheelbase is the same as other i models. The calibration of the electronic control unit is also specific to this market. And, not that EV buyers pick their plug-in vehicles based on safety concerns, but the U.S. i also adds side curtain airbags for the first time.

    These look like small changes on paper, but behind the wheel, they make a huge difference.

    2012 Mitsubishi i side view2012 Mitsubishi i front view2012 Mitsubishi i rear view

    In our first drive of the i-MiEV, all the way back at the 2008 New York Auto Show, we wrote, "Make no mistake: the i MiEV is not quick in any sense, but the power on tap is perfectly suited to city driving." Today, with all its various improvements, we can say the new i is, well, quick. It's not quick like a Tesla Roadster, but it'll do just fine zipping onto the highway and darting about in the city. We found this out after spending an afternoon with a pre-production model in Portland, Oregon.

    The i offers more fun than should be expected with a small EV.

    There is no official time for a trip from 0-60 just yet, but the electric motor is quicker and provides slightly more horsepower (three, to be exact, for a total of 66) than the Japanese Domestic Market version, enough to accelerate to 50-60 mph with spunk. Mitsubishi says that 30-35 mph is the "ideal speed" for electric cars and they're perfectly suited for urban environments, but when let loose in this venue, the i offers more fun than should be expected with a small EV – as long as you have its settings just right.

    The i's three drive modes – Eco, D and B – remain nominally the same as before, but they have been tweaked. Eco, as should be familiar to many plug-in and hybrid drivers, prioritizes efficiency and longer range over dynamic performance, while D operates the way a standard gas engine would and is suitable for going up hills. It's the B mode, though, that's been changed the most. It now has much more regenerative brake power to accommodate one-foot EV driving, if that's your thing. Interestingly, B mode is also the most fun, with the interaction between driver and car feeling a bit like the connection that some find in manual transmission cars. You can't directly dial-in the regen braking level, but you can approximate it by cycling through the three modes. We were happy to discover that you can also shift into Neutral on long downhills for regen-free coasting, and we like the slight parking lot creep as well.

    2012 Mitsubishi i headlight2012 Mitsubishi i taillight2012 Mitsubishi i wheel2012 Mitsubishi i graphics

    When you're not paying attention to the powertrain, you've got to watch the road for fun curves. For this, the i's wider stance helps with handling, but it's no mountain goat. Still, when you put all of the improvements together with the i's small size, low center of gravity (the 500-pound battery is part of the 600-pound penalty that the electric i has over the gas-powered version) and rear-wheel-drive powertrain, you've got an EV that's more fun than it should be, especially given its skinny tires. We'll call it "suitable fun."

    The 500-pound battery is the biggest part of the electric i's 600-pound penalty.

    One area where Mitsubishi has skimped on details – we could be generous by saying the beancounters and engineers have kept the car's simplicity ethos intact – is on the information-sparse dashboard. All you see is a battery state-of-charge meter, a gear indicator, the speedometer, the eco/regen indicator and the odometer. Serious EV fans will want to know more.

    For instance, the i has 16 bars in its battery state-of-charge gauge. When the gauge gets down to two bars, the low battery lights comes on. When there's five percent usable energy left, a turtle light comes on. At three percent, the car goes into limp mode, which gives the driver just a few miles of range left at low speeds to get to an outlet. Since the i only uses around 92 percent of its 300-volt, 16-kWh, 500-lb. battery to preserve the pack's life, when the car tells you it's at "zero," it's really at about eight percent from empty.

    2012 Mitsubishi i gauges2012 Mitsubishi i interior2012 Mitsubishi i climate controls2012 Mitsubishi i navigation system

    The spartan dashboard isn't completely useless, of course. It does have a digital speedometer surrounded by a charge/eco power meter. The goal, if you're going for efficiency, is to keep it in the "eco" range, since the white zone indicates when you're using more energy. Taking your foot off the pedal puts the car into the charge zone. How do you keep it in eco? By being sensible: Keep a consistent speed, let the car decelerate without hitting the brake whenever possible, use momentum to crest uphills when possible, preheat or precool the car when it's plugged into the grid (if you're already on the road, use the standard seat heater instead of heating the cabin) and so on.

    Speaking of plugging in, what about the battery? Made up of 88 3.7V cells arranged into 22 modules, the pack is waterproof and wrapped in a stainless steel case designed to protect the system in a crash. Using a standard 120-volt outlet, the pack will take a whopping 22.5 hours to charge from empty. However, this drops to just seven hours using a 240V EVSE, and i models equipped with CHAdeMO capability will take just 20-30 minutes to get to 80 percent full. No announcement has been made about possible car-to-home charging in the U.S., but we have to assume this technology will make the jump across the pond.

    2012 Mitsubishi i battery pack

    The pack is air-cooled using forced induction, which means that an exhaust fan pulls hot air through the pack. When the pack is above 68 degrees Fahrenheit, the fans blow ambient air through the battery. If that's not enough and the pack gets above 86 degrees, the car's air-con unit will automatically turn on and force cooled air through the pack. This won't happen very much, apparently, but quick-charging will often raise the temperature above 86 degrees – even if Mitsubish says that daily quick-charging is not a problem for this car.

    The rest of the powertrain is just as well sorted. The small, 101-pound maintenance-free motor is waterproof, has a dust-resistant casing and offers 9,900 maximum rpm along with that one joyous benefit of EVs: instant torque. The just-as-small transmission weighs only 42 pounds. The powertrain has a five-year, 60,000-mile warranty and the battery is warranted for eight years or 100,000 miles. All this technology gives Mitsubishi bragging rights to an EPA rating of 112 mpge, and it should be good for a maximum of 98 miles on a charge. Mitsubishi itself is being a bit more conservative, suggesting that drivers should expect around 85 miles out of a full pack, even though the Monroney is going to say this little bubble has a range of 62 miles.

    2012 Mitsubishi i charging2012 Mitsubishi i charging

    How does that work? Well, the EPA measures electric vehicles using a two-cycle (city/highway) test and then subtracts 30 percent from these numbers to approximate "real world" driving. 70 percent of the i's city range (98 miles) is 69 miles. 70 percent of the car's highway range (78 miles) is 55 miles. In calculating a combined (city/highway) driving range, the EPA weighs the formula slightly more in the favor of the city range (55 percent) versus the highway range (45 percent), thus: (98 miles at 55 percent) + (78 miles at 45 percent) x 70 percent = 62 miles. That may make some sort of regulatory sense, but there should no longer be any doubt that your mileage may vary when it comes to EV range estimates.

    Another simple solution Mitsubishi uses with the i is its bizarre remote key fob. This non-Internet-connected device can communicate wirelessly with the vehicle (if within range) to pre-heat or pre-cool the vehicle, as well as set the charging process. We think the fob is too big and does too little – and carrying another digital piece of plastic is annoying – but company spokesman Maurice Durand reminds AutoblogGreen that Mitsubishi is really dealing with a car that's three years old at this point, and the fob was the simplest solution without adding cost. We hope that a smart-phone solution will be coming at some point.

    2012 Mitsubishi i key fob

    There are some similarities with the original i and i-MiEV models. For instance, the interior is much bigger than you expect it to be, and tall passengers will fit comfortably in front or back. When the rear seats are folded down, the i offers over 50 cubic feet of cargo room, accessed through an expansive rear opening.

    There is one thing where the U.S.-spec i really, truly needs to be changed. The gear identifiers are on the right side of the shifter stalk, exactly opposite of where they should be. This is a holdover from the car's Japanese origin, but the small gear indicator on the dash is not easy enough to see to replace the big white letters on the shifter itself. Little quirks like these make you wonder, since you'd think that Mitsubishi would know what it's doing when it comes to EVs by now. The company's first EV was the Mini Cab EV, which was made way back in 1966. Mitsubishi also made the Minica EV in 1971. It was powered by heavy lead acid batteries, but it was followed by Mitsu's first li-ion battery car, the FTO EV, in 1999. Ah, well.

    2012 Mitsubishi i rear cargo area2012 Mitsubishi i shifter

    We'll know soon enough whether these minor problems keep buyers away from the i. The first deliveries will happen in four rollout states – California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii – in early 2012. While all 400 Mitsubishi dealers nationwide will get ads for their showrooms to highlight the differences between gas and electric vehicles in the third quarter of 2011, about 75 percent of the roughly 40 Mitsubishi dealers in the rollout states will be i certified (with more to come). On top of the information sent to everyone, certified dealers will get three vehicle chargers, a drop-down i sign and an Apple iPad loaded with i information. By the end of November or early December, all certified dealers will also get (read: have to purchase) two i vehicles, one for display and one for demo drives. So, that's 60 units sold right there. The i will be available nationwide by the end of 2012.

    Originally, the before-rebate cost for the entry-level ES version was going to be $27,990, but "unforeseen" changes (i.e., a stronger yen) caused this to climb up to $29,125 ($21,625 after tax credit). The top-of-the-line SE with Premium package, which includes CHAdeMO quick charging capability, will command $33,915 ($26,415 after tax credit). On top of the car's MSRP, Mitsubishi is partnering with Best Buy's Geek Squad to install $700 Eaton home chargers (plus installation fees).

    2012 Mitsubishi i rear 3/4 view

    As these prices imply, Mitsubishi is not trying to make a luxury electric car here. Instead, it is trying to make the most affordable EV in the U.S. – the opposite of the Tesla plan. Mitsubishi representatives tell us that the company feels low costs are important to encourage electric vehicle adoption, especially for the target demographic. Mitsubishi estimates sales of 1,500 in the first fiscal year (through March 31, 2012) and then 3,000 to 5,000 in the second fiscal year (April 2012 – March 2013). So far, Mitsubishi has gotten around 400 i pre-orders through its website.

    Mitsubishi may have a bit of a sleeper hit on its hands.

    If sales in Europe and Japan are anything to go by, the i should sell just fine in the States. The i-MiEV was introduced to the market in July of 2009 and has already sold around 11,000 units. It's important to note that that's just the Mitsubishi version, since both Peugeot and Citroën have been selling rebadged versions in Europe since 2010. Bryan Arnett, Mitsubishi Motors North America's manager of EV product strategy, said that the i is the "most-proven mass production electric vehicle available today. We feel very confident bringing the U.S.-spec version of the car to the United States."

    Mitsubishi may have a bit of a sleeper hit on its hands, too. We know that first-gen EVs are not for everyone, but the pace of change in this category means the EV that's right for you may be here sooner than you realize. In fact, if none of this sounds that exciting to you, but you really wanted to like the i, don't worry. Mitsubishi reps have told us that the next-gen model is not far away.

    The following review is for a 2012 Model Year. There may be minor changes to current model you are looking at.

    Lineup of sport compacts from sensible to sensational.

    Introduction

    The Mitsubishi Lancer offers an enticing range of compact cars from practical economy to sensible all-wheel-drive sedan to sporty liftback to rally rocket. The Lancer sports a tidy, sleekish shape with a bold and distinctive shark mouth. Its interior is clean, seating is comfortable, instrumentation is blessedly simple. 

    Good engines give it good value, with its base model bringing 26/34 miles per gallon City/Highway, according to the EPA. Seven airbags, including one for the driver's knee, help make it safe, in addition to anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, and the mandated tire pressure monitor. Lancer was last redesigned for the 2008 model year. 

    The 2012 Lancer SE is a new model. It uses Mitsubishi's all-wheel drive system called AWC (all-wheel control), with the proven 2.4-liter engine making 168 horsepower. Ready for the Snow Belt, the Lancer SE comes with heated seats and mirrors. 

    The base Lancer DE is not bare bones, with its power doors and windows, keyless entry and auto halogen headlamps, but it lacks air conditioning, folding rear seat, and cruise control. Lancer DE uses the good 148-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that features Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing Electronic Control system (MIVEC) with double overhead cams and 16 valves. 

    Driving gets more civilized with the Lancer ES with air conditioning and better seats, front and rear. For 2012, Lancer ES gets new interior fabric and instrument panel trim. The Lancer ES Sportback is a smooth-looking 5-door. We found the Lancer ES offers decent steering response and tracks well through corners, with no excessive body lean. 

    The 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer GT is last year's GTS model with a changed name. It uses Mitsubishi's excellent 2.4-liter engine, a gem of a powerplant, coupled with a sweet 5-speed gearbox or 6-step CVT (continuously variable transmission) with paddle shifters that's rated 23/30 mpg. We got good seat time in a Lancer Sportback GT 5-speed with front air dam and rear spoiler, looking sleek in Graphite Gray Pearl and 10-spoke alloy wheels. Lancer GT is compelling for its good looks, enjoyable driving characteristics and fuel economy. If you don't need all-wheel drive or turbocharged acceleration, the GT is the one, especially as a Sportback with its great cargo area. 

    The all-wheel-drive Lancer Ralliart moves into high-performance land with an intercooled and turbocharged 2.0-liter engine making 237 horsepower, and showcasing Mitsubishi's racy 6-speed twin-clutch automated manual transmission. The 2012 Lancer Ralliart is available only as a sedan, with flared fenders, hood scoop, vents like shark gills, optional Recaro seats. The sharkmouth gets a chrome ring that shines it up to make it look more like silver lipstick on a largemouth bass. 

    The Lancer Evolution, or Evo, pumps out 291 horsepower. Sedan only, with 5-speed Evolution GSR model, or with 6-speed twin-clutch Evolution MS, which adds Bilstein shocks and lighter brake rotors. Have fun at the track, your car is ready. 

    Lineup

    The 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer DE ($15,695) comes with a 2.0-liter engine with variable valve timing making 148 horsepower, cloth upholstery, AM/FM/CD/MP3 with four speakers, power doors and windows, halogen headlamps. Air conditioning is optional. (All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)

    Lancer ES ($16,995) comes with a 5-speed gearbox, and ES Sportback ($18,395) comes with a 6-step CVT with paddle shifters. Standard equipment includes premium fabric upholstery, air conditioning, cruise control with steering wheel-mounted controls, power door locks with keyless remote, 16-inch wheels, rear stabilizer bar, six-way adjustable driver seat, 60/40-split folding rear seatback with folding center armrest, front map lights, floor mats, the auto-up driver-side window, silver interior accents, body-color outside mirror housings and door handles, anti-theft security alarm and pre-wired Bluetooth. ES options include a power sunroof and 710-watt, nine-speaker, Rockford-Fosgate premium audio system. The Sport Aero Package ($850), Rear Lip Spoiler ($290) and Sport Accent ($295) give it an Evo look. 

    Lancer SE ($20,195) is the new model for 2012. It uses Mitsubishi's all-wheel drive system called AWC (all-wheel control), with the proven 2.4-liter engine making 168 horsepower. It adds heated seats and mirrors to the ES equipment. 

    Lancer GT ($19,845) and GT Sportback ($21,345) feature a 2.4-liter four-cylinder making 168 horsepower, rear disc brakes replacing the drums in the ES, a 5-speed manual gearbox or optional CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) using Sportronic manual shifting with steering-wheel paddles. Only the CVT comes with the Sportback. A 140-watt 6-speaker sound system is standard, along with sport bucket seats. The sport-tuned suspension is tied to 18-inch alloy wheels. 

    Lancer Ralliart ($27,995), sedan only, gets a 237-hp 2.0-liter intercooled turbocharged engine, while its suspension and brakes are upgraded from the GTS. It uses a six-speed twin-clutch automated manual called the TC-SST, with Normal and Sport modes. Automatic climate control is standard, along with sport bucket seats with unique fabric surfaces, and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. Also standard: six-speaker audio, aero package with front air dam, lower side air dams and rear spoiler, factory-installed fog lights, P215/45R18 tires on alloy wheels. Options include a Navigation & Technology package with GPS-based navigation system storing mapping data on a 40GB hard disk drive, with 10GB set aside for personally recorded audio files, to be played on the optional 710-watt 9-speaker Rockford-Fosgate audio system with Sirius satellite radio. 

    Lancer Evolution comes in two models, the GSR ($34,495) with 5-speed gearbox or the MR ($37,695) with 6-speed twin-clutch, plus BBS forged alloy wheels, Bilstein shocks, Eibach springs and big rear spoiler. Evo standard equipment includes automatic climate control, Recaro seats, 140-watt six-speaker audio system, power windows and locks and keyless entry, and Yokohama performance tires on 18-inch alloy wheels. Options include navigation, Bluetooth, 710-watt 9-speaker Rockford-Fosgate sound system, and HID headlamps. 

    Safety features for all Lancer models include front air bags, side airbags in front, side curtain air bags, a driver's knee air bag, and tire pressure monitor. Anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution is also standard, along with Active Stability Control. Front seatbelts have pretensioners and force limiters to help position users for maximum protection from airbags in crashes. Rear seats incorporate child safety seat anchors and tethers (LATCH). Available all-wheel control enhances safety in slippery conditions. The 2012 Lancer earns the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Pick, with its best rating in high-speed frontal impact, high-speed side impact, and rear impact. 

    Walkaround

    The Mitsubishi Lancer is a lovely car, whether you see its snout as being wicked like a shark, or just gaping like a largemouth bass. The body-colored front bumper perfectly splits it up and minimizes its extreme. Angular headlamps top off the look with exoticism. 

    The GT used to be cleaner than the Ralliart, which outlines the grille with a chrome ring, like silver lipstick on a fish. But in 2012 the GT gets the Ralliart grille. Although not the Ralliart's cool aluminum hood with an inset scoop for the turbocharger intercooler, and two functional vents that do resemble shark gills. The Ralliart also has flared fenders that house low profile tires. Its 18-inch alloy wheels are a new design for 2012, and, to us at least, aren't as pretty as the previous 10-spoke wagon-wheel wheels. 

    The angular taillamps have that same exotic-eyes look as the headlights, wrapping around the edges of the car. The rear deck is quite short, and clean on the ES and SE sedans; while the GT and Ralliart have a spoiler wing that's so big it nearly fills up the trunk lid. It's not unattractive, but it is overkill. The GT has one chrome tailpipe, the Ralliart two. 

    The Sportback body style has a properly discreet spoiler over the liftgate. Among the Lancer's 5-door rivals, namely Mazda3, Subaru Impreza, and VW Golf, the Sportback has the best and least boxy lines. Its silhouette is sharp and tidy, and the overall lines are sweet, maybe less edgy. It looks good in Graphite Gray Pearl, and Octane Blue Pearl catches the eye. 

    As for the Evo, the nose borders on brutish, with a deep spoiler that does double duty, shoving the onrushing air out of the way to keep the front tires firmly planted while forcing cooling air past a sporty black mesh into the intercooler and radiator. Shark headlamps curl around the fenders in a stylistic optical illusion masking the longish front overhang. Ducts in the hood serve dual purposes (like the chin spoiler), vacuuming hot air out of the engine compartment to cool the engine and reducing lift. 

    Interior

    There's nothing not to like about the interior of the Mitsubishi Lancer, starting with the upholstery and trim that are new for 2012. The overall feel for the driver in each model is just right. The sport bucket seats on the Lancer GT are comfortable, afford an excellent seating position, and are made of a handsome rugged cloth (one reason the GT gets our bang for the buck nod). Same can be said on a smaller scale about the more pedestrian seats in the Lancer SE. The optional Recaro seats in the Ralliart are too tight for everyday comfort unless you're small; however on the track they're terrific, so we like them on the Evo. 

    The leather wrap on the GT steering wheel is sweet, and the wheel is perfectly sized for sporty driving. The GT interior is trimmed in faux carbon fiber, titanium plastic that's stylish and clean, although not expensive looking. There's good rearward visibility, although the big rear wing on winged models blocks visibility out the rear window. Cubbies and console compartments are good and plentiful, including big ones in front of the shift lever. There are cupholders between the front seats and in the front door pockets, which are good but not especially deep. 

    The dash is graceful. The gauges are tasteful, white-on-black with silver rims. The tach and speedo have eaves, a double-hump visor on the dash that provides shade for the rectangular digital readout that's between them, so you can read its red letters in the sun. It offers the usual information, miles traveled and distance to empty and such, but, in the Ralliart with the 6-speed twin-clutch transmission, it's most immediately useful to show the gear you're in, clearly and always correctly. 

    Both the Ralliart twin-clutch and the CVT are shifted with butterfly paddles behind the steering wheel, which are big enough to reach without moving your hands when you're holding the wheel in the 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock position. The CVT in the SE is one of the sharpest we've felt. Some are awful (e.g. the Scion iQ) and some are acceptable; the Lancer is on the high end of acceptable. 

    Rear-seat room is adequate, relative to other cars this size. There isn't much knee room in the otherwise comfortable rear seat, although ingress and egress is good. The fold-down, center armrest in the Lancer ES and GT is more stable than it looks, meaning everyday driving isn't likely to spill the kids' drinks out of their cupholders. The console is deep under the armrest. In terms of roominess, the Lancer is comparable to that of the other cars in its class. Trunk space is also mid-pack. We would have liked a catch to open the trunk, not just the remote with keyless access. 

    The navigation system is easy to operate. Our 2012 Lancer SE had the optional $2295 navigation package, using a 4x8 screen that also displayed other information. We fell in love with its operational ease, the simplicity of finding things like fuel mileage (27.1 mpg at a steady 75 mph) and distance to empty. It offers some things we weren't sure we needed, such as a maintenance calendar and the car's rolling latitude and longitude, and Trip Environment offers you a graph showing outside temperature every five minutes, which is a bit much; but there's also an altimeter in there, and that's kind of cool. We never did figure out the icon with floating figures like a whole team of happy astronauts on a spacewalk. 

    One thing we didn't like was the lack of knobs to tune the radio. Carmakers haven't figured out yet that buttons are not safe like knobs because they require more concentration, time, and your eyes. You can't grab a button, so your tuning finger bounces unless the pavement is perfectly smooth. However, the Lancer uses simple old-fashioned climate control knobs, hooray. 

    The optional 710-watt 9-speaker Rockford Fosgate sound system sounds terrific, with crisp highs. 

    Driving Impression

    The Lancer DE and ES 2.0-liter engine with variable valve timing is a good one, and so is the 5-speed manual transmission, so it's a very fun car. Although with just 148 horsepower, you have to stay on top of it because ample acceleration isn't always there. The CVT seems to rob some punch, but with the magnesium-alloy paddles working the 6-step CVT in manual mode, it still feels lively enough. 

    We found the Lancer ES smooth, spirited and sporty. Around-town handling is nimble, and cornering is taut at speeds inside the box. The ride is comfortable. Although the Honda Civic feels smoother and the Mazda3 more challenging. 

    The Lancer GT and SE use a 2.4-liter engine with 20 more horsepower, and it's a big difference. It revs to a sweet 6500 rpm. You can relax at the throttle, because when you boot it, it will catch right back up and then some. We'd even say the acceleration is great, for a car like this. The torque is strong. 

    The brakes are nicely sensitive, and the pedal has excellent feel. The 5-speed gearbox is positive, easy to shift with solid clutch action. With the larger 2.4 there's enough power that you can definitely feel front-wheel torque steer under hard acceleration. The Lancer ES is quiet and smooth on the freeway, where 80 mph feels like 70, and that's saying something for a small car with a four-cylinder engine. The eye-catching 10-spoke alloy wheels are shod with P215/45R18 Dunlop all-season tires. 

    Handling is tight and quick enough, and the ride offers no jolts or surprises. We enjoyed driving both the GT and SE in every situation we encountered, including some light snow with the all-wheel-drive SE. Mitsubishi calls it AWC, or All Wheel Control, because it incorporates their traction control. New for 2012, the Lancer SE is intended for buyers in winter climes. The AWC can be adjusted by the driver, for 2WD, 4WD and lock. So you can stay in 2WD for better mileage, as we did to achieve a 27.1 mpg average. 

    The Ralliart brings performance all-wheel drive, and ups the horsepower ante. It uses the GT suspension and brakes, upgraded a bit, with speed-rated Yokohama tires. It takes on an all-aluminum 2.0-liter intercooled turbocharged engine making 237 horsepower. There's only one transmission, the 6-speed Twin Clutch Sportronic Shift Transmission. The TC-SST is essentially a manual transmission without a clutch pedal. This twin clutch design now prevails as the method for shifting manual transmissions without a clutch pedal, either automatically or with paddles. Many are built by the German company Getrag, but Mitsubishi builds its own. 

    The Ralliart's ride can sometimes feel too firm on the street and wear on you, especially when equipped with the optional Recaro seats. 

    The Ralliart's electronic all-wheel-drive system, or AWC, can be set for Gravel, Snow or Tarmac, but the system is not as encompassing as the Evo's Super All-Wheel Control. The Ralliart also lacks the Evo's track-ready suspension. So it doesn't handle like an Evo. When driven hard in slower corners, the Ralliart will understeer and even lurch as its tires try to bite the asphalt. This happens before the electronic stability control kicks in. The difference is apparently in the simple All-Wheel Control versus Super All-Wheel control in the Evo, plus the softer GT suspension. 

    On the road with the Ralliart in Washington's Cascade Mountains, we found the Sport Manual mode worked exceptionally well in the TC-SST, providing sharper downshifts and quicker upshifts; and Normal Drive works so smoothly you can scarcely feel the relaxed upshifts. But Sport Drive confuses the transmission; it upshifts and downshifts at inconvenient times, inconsistently. The fourth possible mode, Normal Manual, is pretty much a contradiction, unless you just like to play with the paddles. So we preferred Sport Manual for sporty driving, Normal Drive for around town. We found that it takes a couple blocks on cold mornings for the transmission to shake off some sluggishness. 

    As for the 291-hp Evo, we think it's simply the best. The Evo X (as in 10) is heavier and has a bit less horsepower than its main rival, the Subaru WRX STI, but it feels more precise and nimble. You won't find a car that's more at home on the track than the Evo, especially not for less than $40,000. It's very easy to drive the Evo very hard. 

    More serious than the Ralliart, the Evo uses forged aluminum control arms, a quick steering ratio, and big brakes with four-piston front calipers, plus that higher level of stability control. The Super All-Wheel Control integrates all of the electronic dynamic controls, including Active Center Differential and Active Yaw Control in the rear differential. 

    Its TC-SST has an extra mode, called Sport Plus, for the track. You can turn the stability control entirely off, and it still feels balanced on the track, in this case Pacific Raceways near Seattle. We hit 140 on the sweeping bend on the front straight, and the Evo tracked steady where a lot of race cars do a scary twitch. The four-piston Brembos slowed it down to 70 for the turn at the end of the straight, quickly and without drama. And repeatedly, without fading. 

    Summary

    Mitsubishi has everyone covered in the compact class with the 148-hp Lancer ES for those wanting economy; the 168-hp GT for those with spirit; the all-wheel-drive SE for those in snowy places; the 237-hp Ralliart for those feeling bold; and the 291-hp Evo for those with a need for speed. The GT is especially compelling for its price, fuel mileage, driving characteristics, and good looks. If you don't need all-wheel drive, turbocharged acceleration or rigid cornering, the GT has the style of the Evo for half as much. And if you do need all-wheel drive but not high performance, the SE is for you. 

    NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses drove the Lancer GT and SE in the Pacific Northwest and the Ralliart and Evo at Pacific Raceways near Seattle; Tom Lankard drove the Lancer ES in Santa Monica and Evo in Phoenix; Mitch McCullough drove the Evo at Firebird Raceway near Phoenix. 

    Model Lineup

    Mitsubishi Lancer DE ($15,695), ES ($16,995), ES Sportback ($18,395), GT ($19,845), GT Sportback ($21,345), SE ($20,195), Ralliart ($27,995), Evolution GSR ($34,495), Evolution MS ($37,695). 

    Assembled In

    Japan. 

    Options As Tested

    Navigation package with music server ($2295). 

    Model Tested

    Mitsubishi Lancer SE Sedan ($20,195). 

    *The data and content on this web site is subject to change without notice. Neither AOL nor any of its data or content providers shall be liable for errors in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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