Often overshadowed by its showier Lancer Evolution rally car sibling, the Mitsubishi Lancer sedan is a nimble-handling, decently powered and competitive compact four door in its own right.
In fact, the 2013 Lancer SE, which many car shoppers don't realize comes standard with all-wheel drive, is a worthy contender in snowy locations and is the second lowest-priced all-wheel drive sedan in the U.S. market, after the Subaru Impreza.
With a starting retail price of $21,090, this all-wheel drive Lancer with standard continuously variable transmission (CVT) is priced just $1,425 more than a comparable and similarly sized 2013 Impreza sedan, which starts at $19,665 with CVT.
And, buyers of the Lancer SE AWC — for Mitsubishi's all-wheel control moniker — get a larger four-cylinder engine with 20 more horsepower and 22 more foot-pounds of torque than the Impreza.
Other pluses: The 2013 Lancer SE comes standard with heated seats and heated outside mirrors, good-sized, 16-inch wheels and tires, seven air bags, including one for the driver's knee, and outside door handles and mirror covers that match body paint and are not cheap-looking black plastic.
One downside: The Lancer SE's 168-horsepower, naturally aspirated four cylinder doesn't provide the higher fuel mileage that the 148-horsepower Subaru Impreza sedan does.
But a test Lancer SE easily got a bit more than the 25-miles-per-gallon average in combined city/highway travel that the federal government estimates for this model.
Top competitors in the lower-priced, compact sedan segment include cars that come only as front-wheel drive models and compete in price more directly with the base, front-wheel drive, 148-horsepower, 2013 Lancer DE, which starts at $16,790 with manual transmission.
As an example, the front-wheel drive, 2013 Toyota Corolla with 132-horsepower four cylinder has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $17,025 with manual transmission. The 2013 Hyundai Elantra sedan with manual transmission and 148-horsepower four cylinder starts at $17,590.
Rally car enthusiasts know all about the high-performance, turbocharged Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and its World Rally Championships. The starting price tag for the Evolution is $35,490.
But the plainer, affordable Lancer sedan has trouble breaking through to American buyers' shopping lists because, in part, it's not as well known as other cars in the small sedan segment.
Pictures of the 2013 Lancer don't do it justice, either. In real life, the exterior is stylishly upscale and unlike the more bland-looking Corolla and Honda Civic.
Inside, however, the Lancer can seem ho-hum, with plastics and other materials that come off as inexpensive.
Knobs and buttons in the test car worked fine but didn't provide the kind of quality feel noticed in some other small cars.
The Lancer interior was straightforward and unadorned in the test model, save for an optional, colorful, multi-function display that was liquid crystal.