One of the more common pieces of advice you’re going to get as you begin car shopping is “do your homework.”
Today, that means spending lots of time at your computer on the Internet as well as scouring other sources of information like magazines and newspapers.
And it’s good to do that, no doubt.
But ... what if one source says one thing and another pretty much the opposite? What then, Mr. PCB (Potential Car Buyer)?
For instance, Edmunds on its website lists “The 17 worst cars you can buy,” among them being the 2014 Mitsubishi Lancer. According to the well-respected website, the “regular Lancer’s small steel wheels, less aggressive styling and single exhaust transform this compact sedan from rally champ to rental chump.”
Not a good review.
Yet readers of the USAA magazine, in the summer issue, were treated to a list of “USAA’s ‘Best Value’ Autos for 2013.
You guessed. The “best value” among small sedans was -- drum roll here, please -- the Mitsubishi Lancer.
Now some caveats need to mentioned.
First, USAA was citing the 2013 model and Edmunds the 2014, but the likelihood the Lancer would go from the top of one list to the bottom of another in just one model year, save for a major redesign, which wasn’t the case here, isn’t very likely.
Second, Edmunds makes the very valid point that “worst” is not the same as “worst” was back in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. The Lancer, even in base form, likely would contend as a class winner in past decades, but the bar has been risen much higher, and by today’s standards, even a car -- in Edmunds’ words -- that is safe and reliant can end up as worst in its class.
The quality of today’s cars (taking into account there are occasional lemons) is simply quite remarkable.
But, if the Lancer’s status with Edmunds still causes you concern, there is a very easy way around it.
Go for one of the higher trim models in the lineup, like the 2014 Lancer GT 2.4L.
Yes, you’ll pay more. The base Lancer starts at $17,990 (including the destination and delivery charge) while the GT version goes for $21,240.
But you get so much more.
First, there is bigger engine. A 2.0-liter four-cylinder is standard in the base (or ES). It’s rated at 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque with fuel economy of 25 miles-per-gallon city, 34 highway when mated with a five-speed manual transmission.
The GT gets a 2.4-liter that adds 20 horsepower and 22 pound-feet of torque at a cost of only three miles-per-gallon when equipped with the manual transmission.
The GT comes with 18-inch alloy wheels as standard over the 16s on the ES, and a new for 2014 touchscreen display audio system and rearview camera are both standard on the GT, not on the ES. Same with Sirius satellite radio -- standard on the GT, an extra option on the ES.
More optional packages, like a factory-installed navigation system, also are available on the GT than on the base.
In addition to the five-speed manual transmission, a CVT (continuously variable transmission) also is available in the Lancer. That adds another $1,000 to the MSRP for the GT. CVTs can be boring to drive, but paddle shifters with the Lancer GT allow the driver to select one of six “gears,” which helps.
Shifts when using manual mode are smooth and quick with no noticeable clunks or jerks, and even when the console shifter is in manual mode, the CVT downshifts to “first gear” when the car comes to a stop.
Don’t expect sports car-like performance from the Lancer (if that’s your desire, check the Ralliart version and its 237 hp), but it’s not bad for its class. The overall ride is comfortable enough but there is a bit of extra road noise on the highway, perhaps compensated for by the fact the 2.4-liter engine is up to handling more challenges without extra exertion and thus is on the quiet side.
Passenger room is more than adequate, even in the backseat, and the trunk offers 12.3 cubic feet of cargo space. Not huge, but this is a compact. One complaint is that there is no telescoping steering wheel, which could create some adjustment problems for taller drivers who have to move their seat back to accommodate the pedals.
So is the Lancer a “value” buy or “worst” in its class? You may be able to make a case either way, as both USAA and Edmunds have. But at least in the GT version, the Lancer comes down more on the “value” side.