In previous reviews of the Mitsubishi Lancer I have definitely been one of its staunchest supporters even as other critics bemoaned trivialities like a dearth of soft touch interior plastics or the fact that you have to slam the otherwise feather light doors to get them to close properly. Seriously people, how often do you feel up your soft touch dashboard for pleasure? Don’t answer that.
No, when I tested a 2010 Lancer GTS sedan and a 2010 Lancer Ralliart Sportback I saw that reviewers were selling these “lesser than EVO” trim levels short. But in my desire to see everything that the Lancer lineup had to offer I unearthed the inevitable duffer—this 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer ES.
Don’t get me wrong, this car is perfectly passable economy transportation except for the fact that there are better Civic, Mazda3, VW Golf and higher spec used Lancer models at this price. The 2011 Lancer GTS may start at over $19,000 but the 2.4 liter MIVEC motor along with the superior handling and feature count means that I would recommend you buy one used in lieu of a new ES.
So what didn’t I care for in regards to the ES especially considering the fact that I loved my time with the GTS and Sportback Ralliart? Read on to find out.
The Lancer’s handsome EVO-style front end is still present on this ES model but I found that without the visual interest of the Sportback Ralliart model’s oddball hatch or the spoiler from the GTS that the rest of the design lacked imagination. While I am by no means young enough to be a “boy racer,” the Lancer looks odd without any of those design elements.
Considering the fact that the Lancer will soon have models like the 2011 Hyundai Elantra, 2011 Chevy Cruze and the upcoming 2012 Focus to deal with, a lack of style will soon be a deal killer in the compact economy class. Adding insult to injury was my biggest visual pet peeve on any new car—standard plastic wheel covers. Nothing says “cheap” quite like plastic wheel covers.
Interior Design and Features
For $17,000 there are new cars with nicer interior designs and higher quality materials but there are no glaring ergonomic faults with the layout inside the 2011 Lancer. It is simple, uncluttered and to be quite frank it’s also looking a bit dated. But if you like three knobs for your air conditioning controls and plenty of blank switches located where the options you didn’t select usually go then you might be happier than a pig in a sloppy trough.
Okay, I am being a bit hard on the interior of the ES but in all truth the seat fabric appeared sturdy and hardwearing while nothing squeaked or rattled during my time with the car. It is just a whole lot easier to look past the Lancer’s uninspiring interior when the driving experience is inspiring.
There was no Bluetooth in my test model but Mitsubishi includes the buttons for it on the steering wheel of all ES models. I actually had to go look at the window sticker to make sure that this wasn’t a mistake but all of them come prewired for Bluetooth but it is only set up when you buy the $1,150 Deluxe Package which also gives you keyless start, a power moonroof, a leather wrapped steering wheel and a USB port.
Another option package is the $500 alloy wheel package which nets you 16-inch rims as well as rear disc brakes and a rear stabilizer bar for better handling. Please note that all of those options as well as a sport suspension and front strut brace bar are standard on GTS models. Are you beginning to understand why the price difference between ES and GTS is money very well spent?
Pricing and Economy
The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer ES starts at $17,155 (with destination charges) and comes standard with air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, keyless entry, an alarm system, a 140-watt AM/FM/CD 4-speaker audio system, cruise control, an aux-input jack, 7-airbags, a 2.0 liter 143 horsepower/143 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder and a five-speed manual transmission.
My test vehicle came equipped with no optional extras and besides the two option packages I already mentioned you can also order you 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer ES with a CVT automatic transmission. My five-speed manual equipped tester returned only 16.1 miles per gallon during its week with me despite EPA fuel economy ratings of 24 city/33 highway.
First off, let’s address the engine situation. The 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine is coarse, underpowered and it sends vibrations through the cabin that you never experience in the GTS model with its smoother, more powerful and (in my hands anyway) more fuel efficient 2.4 liter engine. The five-speed manual was pleasingly mechanical in feel and had a deliberately notchy shift action which made not wanting to strain the noisy 2.0 liter engine all the more distressing.
But to get decent passing power or to go up a hill you have to shift a lot and this need to rev the heck out of this harsh sounding motor probably accounted for the bad fuel economy readings. It actually makes sense that a larger, less stressed engine will make for a more efficient machine, doesn’t it?
If you think having less advanced drum brakes in the rear doesn’t matter you would be wrong in at least this case. I could tell that braking distances were longer and emergency stops felt less stable. I didn’t push the car hard enough to find out how well they would stand up to repeated usage and fading.
The increased stopping distances may have also been attributable to the smaller patches of rubber afforded by the 16-inch tires. There is no question in my mind that they are part of what turned an otherwise tossable, sharp handling econo-car into a boring penalty box.
Lastly, the steering was truly the low point if only for the fact that the Lancer Sportback Ralliart had the most linear, precise and communicative set-up I have ever experienced. Sure, the steering wheel in the 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer ES turns the front wheels but it definitely won’t turn you into an excited driver.
How Dog and Family Friendly Is It?
The 12.3 cubic foot trunk isn’t huge but it is nice and square for easier loading of, um, square objects. If you want real utility, however, I would recommend the Lancer Sportback variant which has a huge cargo hold with a low lift-in height. The Sportback’s cargo hold is large enough even for a midsized dog crate.
Otherwise, this Lancer ES sedan proved adequate as a dog and people hauler. It holds no trump cards over competing Civics, Corollas or Mazda3 models, however, so there isn’t a whole lot to recommend. The interior plastics are admittedly sturdy but look like they would be prone to scratching so think about that if you are a dog owner.
The Mitsubishi Lancer, in its current guise at least, is never going to be a mainstream econo-sedan player against the crushing superiority of the Civic, Corolla, newly decontented Jetta or newly upscale Chevy Cruze. The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer ES is basic transportation and unfortunately it trails the pack in too many key areas to be recommendable.
The Lancer works best in its different nefarious guises where the company lets loose with the wacky (Sportback), the wicked (Ralliart) or the perfectly balanced (GTS). I try to look at the glass as half-full, however, as this proves that Mitsubishi is capable of engineering even the most mediocre vehicle into a fun to drive smile machine. Even if that original vehicle is of their own creation.
Vehicle Tested: 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer ES
Base Price: $17,155 (including destination)
Price as Tested: $17,155
Options on Tester: None
Engine: 2.0 liter 4-cylinder
Power: 143 horsepower/143 lb. feet of torque
0-60: 8.8 seconds
Transmission: 5-speed manual
EPA Fuel Economy: 24 city/33 highway
Economy as Tested: 16.1 miles per gallon
Gas Tank Size: 15.6 gallons
Runs on: Regular Unleaded
Trunk Size: 12.3 cubic feet
Crash Test Ratings: IIHS “Top Safety Pick”
Warranty: 5 year/60,000 mile bumper to bumper
10 year/100,000 mile powertrain (transferrable)
Assembled in: Japan (91% Japanese parts content)
Vehicle Provided by: Mitsubishi Motors