How The Mitsubishi Lancer GT Surprised Me

2014 Mitsubishi Lancer GT
2014 Mitsubishi Lancer GT.
If you live anywhere other than, oh, say...California...you could go a very long time without seeing a new Mitsubishi Lancer go by.  In the Golden State, however, there are a fair number on the roads, and not all wearing bar codes in the rear window identifying them as part of the inventory of a rental fleet.

In fact, 2013 was a good year for Lancer sales...up significantly. On its face, that seems puzzling, since Lancer is in its eighth year without major changes.  So what's going on?

Rear 3/4 view of 2014 Mitsubishi Lancer GT
The 2014 Mitsubishi Lancer GT.

The answer is subtle but significant refinement.  And it all comes together in the Lancer GT, two steps up from the base ES model.

With a base price of $21,445, the Lancer GT is well-equipped...a good audio system with a 6.1-inch color display screen and backup camera, Mitsubishi's FUSE hands-free system with Bluetooth and USB (one of the simplest and most reliable wireless infotainment systems we've used recently),  18-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and a rear-wing spoiler.

Interior view of 2014 Mitsubishi Lancer GT
2014 Mitsubishi Lancer GT interior.

Our tester was treated to two major options: A navigation system with a 7-inch color touchscreen, real-time traffic and 3D mapping ($1,850) and the Touring Package...which adds leather seating surfaces, a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate surround sound audio system with 9 speakers and a 10-inch subwoofer that was simply superb, automatic HID headlights, rain-sensing wipers, heated front seats, a power glass sunroof, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a rear lip spoiler ($3,300).

With destination charges, that brought the bottom line to a decidedly un-cheap $27,390.  And frankly, I thought that was overpriced.  But I hadn't driven it yet.

In day-to-day urban street and freeway driving, I was impressed.  The Lancer GT is quiet for its class, smooth and rock-solid.  The feedback from the steering wheel feels like that of a car several price classes higher.

And then, we took it on the road.

Map: Ukiah to Mendocino via US 101, CA 253, CA 128 and CA 1
US 101, CA 253, CA 128 and CA 1 from Ukiah to Mendocino (source: Google Maps).

It wasn't a pleasure trip...a memorial service in the pretty town of Ukiah, California for a close friend of my navigator.  But we worked in a day trip to decompress...a run to the breathtaking Northern California coast around Mendocino. And navigator knew the right road...or in this case, roads. A computer will tell you to take US 101 north to California 20 and straight over to the coast, but as a local, she knew the best drive was south out of town to CA 253 and Boonville, up CA 128 through the scenic Anderson Valley and out to Highway 1 for the final 11 miles into Mendocino. A marvelous mix of straights and twisties, of gentle valleys, majestic redwood canopies that blot out the sun above and finally the sheer power and majesty of the Pacific crashing against the cliffs of the coastline.  Like so:

Mendocino, California (photo credit: Nelson Minar)

And it was on these roads that the Lancer GT showed why it's such a credible base for the high-performance Lancer Evolution.  The bones of the car, especially with the refinement heaped upon it in the past few years, are excellent.  There wasn't a moment when it felt like the wrong choice for any given road or weather condition (yes, we were on the road during the three hours that are thus far the sum total of California's rainy season for 2014).

Quibbles?  Having put 650 miles on the car in a week, I'd like better, more supportive seats.  Even a lumbar adjustment would make a difference.  The Continuously Variable Transmission is better than I expected it to be, and it does a surprisingly good job of working with the 168-horsepower 2.4-liter four, but if the available manual had six gears instead of five, that'd be my pick instead (and I'd save $1,000 right off the bat).  However, the CVT gets big points for fuel economy.  The EPA estimates 23 city/30 highway/26 combined and we consistently beat each of those numbers.

And we should give props to Mitsubishi for a couple of other things too.  One, safety: The Lancer GT gets four and five-star crash ratings in all categories.  And two, warranty:  It's only fair...Kia and Hyundai get mentions for their generous warranties...Mitsu should too, for its 10 year/100,000 mile powertrain coverage, 7 year/100,000 mile anti-corrosion/perforation warranty, 5 year/60,000 mile new vehicle limited warranty and 5 year/unlimited mileage roadside assistance.

Life has taught me, especially recently, that sometimes great things are where you least expect to find them...and surprises abound.  That's the best way I can describe the Mitsubishi Lancer GT. The car you thought you knew, or maybe didn't even know still existed, is a great big delightful surprise.