Substance Over Style: 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer SE

Front 3/4 view of 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer SE
The 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer SE.
Nine years without major changes can transform just about any car into rolling wallpaper...with zero chance of sticking out from the crowd.  Factor in said car never having been a hot seller, and from a company that is a perennial favorite on the list of car companies that won't be doing business in the USA much longer, and you've got a recipe for invisibility.

Which, in the case of the 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer SE, is a shame.

Rear 3/4 view of 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer SE
2015 Mitsubishi Lancer SE.
No, it's not our favorite compact sedan, and it comes in a few rungs down from the Mazda 3, which is.  But as we discovered almost a year ago in our Northern California coastal roadtrip with last years' Lancer GT,the basic bones of the car, which provide the foundation for the fearsome Lancer Evolution, are quite good.

Skip the rental-spec Lancer ES, which comes with a 148-horsepower, 2-liter four. The one-rung-up SE gets the same 2.4-liter, 168 horsepower engine that's in the GT. And that 20 horsepower makes a big difference. You're running it through a Continuously Variable Transmission that is better than I expected.  Mileage is good, with an EPA estimated 22 city/29 highway.

And the price is competitive with other compact sedans...base of $20,995.

Interior view of 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer SE
2015 Mitsubishi Lancer SE interior.
That money buys you the aforementioned powertrain, not just all-wheel-drive, but all-wheel-control.  You can select two-wheel-drive with the flip of a switch. The Lancer's strong suit is handling.  The AWD/AWC system just enhances that.

Also standard for your $20,995: Auto-off halogen headlights, fog lamps, heated side-view mirrors with built-in turn indicators, variable intermittent wipers and washers, front map lights, a trunk light, heated front seats, air conditioning with micron air filtration, a 6.1-inch touchscreen  140-watt audio system with Sirius XM satellite and HDRadio, Bluetooth and USB, a backup camera, keyless entry, power windows and locks, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, active stability control, traction control logic, tire pressure monitoring and a full complement of airbags.

Our tester added the Premium Package, which for another $1,700, throws in a power glass sunroof, a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate premium 9-speaker surround audio system with a 10-inch subwoofer in the trunk, fast key entry system, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

Bottom line, with $810 destination and handling: $23,505.

In some ways, the Lancer is an old car.  But it's been upgraded and updated, like an older plane or boat. It's a ball to drive, especially on the twistiest road you can find.  My only real complaint (as with most Mitsus) is that the seats could be a lot better.  After a couple of hours, you realize that you're sitting on them, not in them, that there's not enough cushion, not enough support in the right places.  It's why the Evolution gets Recaros.

At the end of it all, the Lancer finishes mid-pack or worse among compact sedans.  But it still deserves acknowledgement for its reasonable price and brilliant handling.  It'd be fascinating to see what Mitsubishi could do if it had the development money for a truly new, fully up-to-date Lancer.