Wheel time with an all-wheel drive Mitsubishi Lancer got us thinking about its similarities with the AMC Eagles of yore.
Mitsubishi’s evergreen Lancer enters 2017 with minimal changes, like standard backup cameras on all trims. In keeping with company practice of equipping its vehicles with spiffy wheels, the base ES trim can be ordered with 16-inch rims that are two-toned, and the tested SEL came with 18-inch wheels that are also standard on the mid-level SE trim.
The introduced-for-1980 AMC Eagle came to mind as I drove the Lancer through its week of evaluation, because they share a couple of similarities.
First, the Eagle was based on the AMC Concord, which was a rigorously average and rapidly aging compact sedan.
That’s the case with the Lancer. Now in this generation’s tenth year of service, the Lancer feels solid and sturdy, as do most Mitsubishis – even the flawed Mirage has a stoutness that seems to welcome hard use. The Lancer feels like it will last as long as you can stand it, and then a bit longer.
And the Lancer is powerful, with a torquey 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine cranking out fuss-free takeoffs and confident passing.
It’s the Lancer’s advancing competitors that hold up an unflattering mirror. The Toyota Corolla is also an aged design in some ways, but it has a silkiness to its operation that lends a premium feeling. The Mazda3 has elegant styling and a harmonious balance of ride and handling.
In comparison, the decade-old Lancer couldn’t help but come up short. Inside, the coal-black plastics were unattractively generic. The seats had noncommittal support, and the steering column in our top-line SEL didn’t telescope toward the driver.
Over the road, the Lancer’s torquey engine roared loudly, and the typical touchstones of a fun-to-drive car were largely absent.
Much the same could have been said about the Concord. But as the Eagle grew from the Concord, the Lancer has a trick up its weathered sleeve – affordable all-wheel drive.
The tested Lancer 2.4 SEL AWC checked in at an out-the-door retail price of $24,430, which included the $1,500 “Sun & Sound Package” – a power glass sunroof and a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate nine-speaker audio system. So for less than $25K, you could have a new car with a five-year/60,000-mile warranty that has the traction to get you home in a snowstorm. Skip the roof and the stereo, and you’re in the all-wheel drive Lancer for even less.
Not coincidentally, the Lancer 2.4 SEL AWD’s base price of $22,095 runs right alongside the 1980 AMC Eagle Limited sedan’s $7,646 base, which adjusts to $22,270 in today’s dollars. Just goes to show that all-wheel drive can do more than get you through the snow; it can also get a compact car through its senior years on the market.