We consider miscible displacement between parallel plates in the absence of diffusion, with a concentration-dependent viscosity. By selecting a piecewise viscosity function, this can also be considered as ‘three-fluid’ flow in the same geometry. Assuming symmetry across the gap and based on the lubrication (‘equilibrium’) approximation, a description in terms of two quasi-linear hyperbolic equations is obtained. We find that the system is hyperbolic and can be solved analytically, when the mobility profile is monotonic, or when the mobility of the middle phase is smaller than its neighbours. When the mobility of the middle phase is larger, a change of type is displayed, an elliptic region developing in the composition space. Numerical solutions of Riemann problems of the hyperbolic system spanning the elliptic region, with small diffusion added, show good agreement with the analytical outside, but an unstable behaviour inside the elliptic region. In these problems, the elliptic region arises precisely at the displacement front. Crossing the elliptic region requires the solution of essentially an eigenvalue problem of the full higher-dimensional model, obtained here using lattice BGK simulations. The hyperbolic-to-elliptic change-of-type reflects the failing of the lubrication approximation, underlying the quasi-linear hyperbolic formalism, to describe the problem uniformly. The obtained solution is analogous to non-classical shocks recently suggested in problems with change of type.