2013 Mitsubishi Lancer SE review:

Four-wheel drive on the cheap

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Starting at $15,995
  • Engine 4 Cylinder Engine
  • Drivetrain Front Wheel Drive
  • MPG 28 MPG
  • Passenger Capacity 5
  • Body Type Sedans

Roadshow Editors' Rating

5.7 Overall
  • Cabin tech 5
  • Performance tech 7
  • Design 5

The Good The 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer SE features a four-wheel-drive system that can be switched through three modes. The Fuse option adds good device connectivity through Bluetooth and a USB port.

The Bad The cabin design falls below that of the competition; a CVT is the only transmission option; the navigation system looks a little rough for its price.

The Bottom Line Among the stiff economy car competition, the 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer SE sets itself apart only by its impressive all-wheel-drive system, a feature with limited appeal.

I figured it would be a slow week when Mitsubishi delivered to the CNET garage a 2013 Lancer with neither an Evo nor Ralliart badge. The rally star Lancer Evo is a glorious little street-fighter, while the Ralliart version is almost as good.

But this 2013 Lancer SE showed me a couple of tricks that ultimately made for some fun driving adventures.

Bargain four-wheel drive
Among Mitsubishi's limited line of vehicles, the Lancer is the stalwart -- an economy car offered in multiple trims, and with some tech options. The Lancer SE delivered to CNET was a midtrim model, above the DE and ES models, on par with the GT, but below the Ralliart and Evo.

The main feature setting the SE apart from the DE, ES, and GT Lancers is four-wheel drive, in the form of Mitsubishi's All-Wheel-Control (AWC) system. The SE includes a rocker switch on the console that allows the driver to select front-wheel-drive, all-wheel-drive, or differential-lock mode, which maintains power at all four wheels.

At a base price of $20,295, the Lancer SE is not the cheapest all-wheel-drive car you can get, as the Subaru Impreza undercuts it. But nothing else in this price range offers a differential lock.

Before you think of the Lancer SE as a budget Evo, however, note that its version of AWC is not as advanced as even the Ralliart's. The Ralliart and Evo also get limited-slip front and rear differentials, which are not available on the SE model.

Tech not included
Mitsubishi's option list for the Lancer SE includes a navigation system with a 40GB hard drive and something called Fuse Hands-Free Link. That latter option is equivalent to Ford's early Sync system, combining a Bluetooth hands-free phone system and a USB port for plugging in iOS devices and USB drives, all controllable through voice command.

However, the Lancer SE we received included neither of these options. I previously reviewed a Lancer GTS with the Fuse system, and we covered the navigation system in an earlier Lancer Ralliart review, so see those reviews for more information.

2013 Mitsubishi Lancer
Without the navigation option, this basic stereo occupies the center dashboard. It is, however, upgraded to a six-CD changer with the Premium package option. Josh Miller/CNET

The best that this Lancer SE could do for cabin electronics was its thumping, 710-watt Rockford Fosgate sound system. Without even Bluetooth for audio streaming, I had to rely on the stereo's auxiliary, inexplicably separate left- and right-channel RCA inputs rather than the more common 1/8-inch stereo port.

I liked the big bass sound from the Rockford Fosgate system, which includes a 10-inch subwoofer in the trunk, with a separate equalizer level. I could feel the boom-boom of the bass in my chest. And I could also hear it rattle the Lancer's door panels, punctuating the landscape of plastic panels covering the cabin.

The stereo made vocals and instruments that were not drums sound hollow, lacking the rich tonal quality of high-end reproduction. This Rockford Fosgate system is a one-trick pony; strong on bass but nothing else.

Along with the auxiliary input, the stereo played satellite radio, and its CD player could handle MP3 CDs.

2013 Mitsubishi Lancer
Buttons on the steering-wheel hub show the car is ready for Bluetooth, although they don't do anything on this particular car. Josh Miller/CNET

Despite the fact that the Lancer SE did not have the $395 Fuse option, dead buttons for the hands-free phone system stuck out from the steering-wheel hub, hinting at what could be.

Rubber band transmission
The Lancer SE sports a more powerful engine than its lesser siblings, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder producing 168 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of torque. Step up to the Ralliart version, and that engine becomes a 237-horsepower turbocharged 2-liter.

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