Here is it, folks: The perfect car

It’s clearly time to consider Mitsubishi a worthy contender


A recent trip to Michigan afforded me the opportunity to test drive the new Mitsubishi Lancer 2.4 SEL AWC 4-door sedan, and I couldn’t have been luckier.

It neatly combines, more than any other vehicle I have driven in years, all the elements I personally would put in the perfect car: price value, comfort, a little luxury, economy, and all-wheel-drive. While there are quite a few all-wheel-drive vehicles on the market that have many of these qualities, none other I have come across do so at this price point. If I was in the market for a car right now, this would be my choice.

Mitsubishi is something of an off-brand. It trails the Japanese pack – Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Mazda – in sales and popularity, but it’s not as though it is a Johnny-come-lately. Mitsubishi has been around since the 19th Century as a Japanese heavy industry, starting with shipping manufacturing, and it has been an international auto manufacturer since the late 1940s.

It’s clearly time to consider Mitsubishi as a worthy contender along with those other popular Japanese brands (a) because the firm makes quality, even exciting cars (like this one), and (b) since it hasn’t been the kind of marquee brand like its Japanese brethren, Mitsubishis haven’t experienced the price balloon that goes along with heightened name recognition.

First of all, this Lancer is quite handsome, even sporty, inside and out. And you can tell the minute you get in the car that it is well made – the fit and finishes are superb, and the interior design, including the technology for Bluetooth, apps, the radio and climate control, is intelligent and easy to use. It has a nice-size trunk, plenty of room in the rear seat, nice accommodating doors for easy entry and egress, and it is very comfortable. The front bucket seats offer great support that really starts to shine when you take it for a long drive; I know, I did.

To be honest, I was a little worried when I picked it up at the Detroit airport that the 2.4-liter 4-banger, with just 168 horsepower, wouldn’t be up to the performance task of hitting the highway. I was wrong. It felt as though it had half again as much horsepower. I never once lacked for power, even in some tight merging spots when I needed a burst, and the Lancer never blinked; it didn’t even surge like so many small engines do when you ask them to hit it. One smooth operator.

And then, when you consider that it carries a mileage rating of 23 mpg city/30 mpg highway (26 mpg combined) you wonder how they do it. Engineering, I suppose. Here is great fuel economy without ever sacrificing performance. I should also mention that they do all of this with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) which in many other cars lacks punch. Oh, yes, here there is more than enough punch.

In this model, they call the all-wheel-drive system All Wheel Control (AWC), and you can see why. There is a button on the console the select 2-wheel-drive, 4-wheel-drive auto (which varies the drive to the conditions), and 4-wheel lock (when you need the grip in low-speed conditions). An AWD system of this type is usually only available in much more expensive vehicles, usually SUVs and trucks, so it was a (pleasant) surprise to see it here in a sporty sedan.

I didn’t hit any conditions requiring AWD, but given all of the other attention to detail displayed by Mitsubishi in this model, I have no reason to believe that it would do anything other than perform as advertised. For my money, AWD is the top safety feature that any vehicle can have, and it’s nice to see over the last several years that its use has migrated from near SUV/truck exclusivity to the sedan and wagon market, and it is especially nice to see that it has done so in this Lancer at a price point that elicits “wows.” My wife and I – both schooled in car pricing from test-driving so many – guessed at the price of this Lancer before looking at the sticker, and we were off by several thousands of dollars.

Okay, so on to the fun stuff – pricing.

There are a few models in the Lancer lineup, beginning with the front-wheel-drive, manual transmission ES model with a 2.0-liter 4 that carries a base price of $17,795; for $20,295 you can upgrade the ES to AWC with CVT. Then there’s the slightly upgraded SE model, with the 2.4 and CVT that starts at $21,095.

The base price on my test-drive SEL model – with the AWC – is $22,095, and this includes many standards: hydraulic assist power steering, MacPherson strut front suspension with stabilizer bar (the car is very stable and handles like a dream), 8” color touchscreen, halogen headlamps, fog lights, LED running lights, keyless entry, leather searing, heated front seats, power front seats, rear heater floor ducts, adjustable steering wheel, Bluetooth, USB port, rear-view camera, anti-lock brakes (wonderful brakes), stability control, traction control, anti-theft security control with engine immobilizer – there’s more, so just trust me that it is quite loaded.

For an additional $1,500 they added the SEL Sun and Sound Package, which includes a power glass sunroof, and a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate Premium Audio with 9 speakers. I have to say that the stereo here, with AM/FM and satellite SiriusXM radio, coupled with how quiet the car is, is amazing. Great sound, whether from the radio or piped in over a smartphone.

So then they add $835 for destination/handling charges, and the bottom line is $24,430. I guessed $30,000. I couldn’t believe the price. I haven’t driven a car this nice with all-wheel-drive at this price point in a long time, and when you consider all that is offered here – value, comfort, luxury, economy, AWD – this just may be the perfect car.

It’s as close to perfection than I have seen. If I could, I would buy it in a heartbeat.


Categories: Industry Trends, Transportation