2013 Mitsubishi Lancer SE review:

Four-wheel drive on the cheap

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The only transmission available for the Lancer SE is continuously variable (CVT), which makes for smooth acceleration but also felt rubbery as it changed drive ratios to match engine speed.

2013 Mitsubishi Lancer
This shifter controls a continuously variable transmission, the only transmission available on the Lancer SE. Josh Miller/CNET

The combination of engine and CVT leads to fuel economy of 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway in EPA tests. I found mid-20s fuel economy was realistic, especially with plenty of freeway driving thrown in.

Anyone who learned to drive in the preceding millennium will find the feel of the steering familiar, as Mitsubishi still uses hydraulic power assist. The wheel showed more resistance than those in new cars that use electric power steering.

In typical circumstances, the CVT made the Lancer SE an easy car to drive, although the lack of a hill-hold feature led to rollback when stopped on San Francisco's inclined streets. The CVT gave the Lancer SE linear acceleration with no power dips for gear changes. The engine, while of middling power, moved the car around adequately.

The suspension gave the Lancer SE a smooth ride, but the grind of engine noise invading the cabin made the experience less than delightful.

I had only dry roads to work with during this review, but I have seen some impressive demonstrations of Mitsubishi's AWC system. Take, for example, a fast start with one side of the car on a slippery surface. The car still managed to take off evenly instead of letting its grippy side turn it around. That demonstration helps make the case for the Lancer SE, at least for drivers of economy cars in northerly climes

2013 Mitsubishi Lancer
This instrument cluster display shows a nice graphic image of the AWC setting. Josh Miller/CNET

Knowing that some Lancers grow up to be Evos, I resolved to get down and dirty with the SE. Finding a twisty road, I put the rocker switch in its four-wheel-drive auto mode, where it would shunt torque to the axle that needed it most. I pulled the shifter down to the CVT's Low mode to see what I could get out of the engine.

In Low, the CVT kept the engine wailing at 5,000rpm, with peak power going straight to the wheels. It wasn't doing anything for the fuel economy, but it turned the gas pedal into a tool of instant acceleration.

Taking turns at speed, I could feel the AWC system help the tires grab the pavement, helping the Lancer SE power through. Unlike its more capable siblings, this version of AWC does not vector torque across the rear wheels, but it still felt like it made a difference.

I began to wonder how the Lancer SE would do on an autocross course.

When I checked my speed in a turn, I saw the car was not going all that fast. Mark that down to its biggest drawback for this type of driving, the suspension. The body leaned out in the corners, ruining any chance for flat cornering and keeping the speed necessarily lower than a car with a more sport-tuned suspension could manage.

Few selling points
The highlight of the 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer SE's available tech would be the Fuse system, which brings in good device integration through Bluetooth and the USB port. Voice command included with that system works very well. The Rockford Fosgate stands out for its power and bass production, but it won't appeal to fans of classical music.

As for its performance gear, the AWC system is the Lancer SE's only real dog in the fight against other economy cars. The system's flexible modes might be the deciding factor for some, but that gives it only a slight edge over the Subaru Impreza, the Lancer's constant rival. The CVT is interesting as fuel-saving tech, but it did not feel as refined as some others on the market.

Tech specs
Model 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer
Trim SE
Power train 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, continuously variable transmission
EPA fuel economy 22 mpg city/29 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 25.5 mpg
Navigation Optional hard-drive-based system with traffic data
Bluetooth phone support Optional
Digital audio sources Onboard hard drive, USB port, iOS integration, auxiliary input, satellite radio
Audio system Rockford Fosgate 710-watt system
Driver aids None
Base price $20,295
Price as tested $22,640

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