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Every Mitsubishi dealer has a schizophrenic showroom. On one side of the room are the American-built Mitsus – the Galant sedan, Eclipse coupe, and Endeavor crossover. All three are based on the “Project
Meanwhile on the other side are the Japanese-made products – the Outlander compact crossover, the Montero large SUV, the amazing Lancer Evolution performance car and, our subject here, the all-new 2008 Lancer compact sedan. The Japanese products are a dimensionally diverse lot with more interesting engineering and direct appeal to enthusiasts. The dealers sell more from the American side of the dealership, but the good stuff is on the Japanese side.
I skipped over the Dodge-built Raider pickup, because no self-respecting Mitsu dealer would actually put one in his showroom. Plus it would interfere with the thesis of my convoluted introduction.
Mitsubishi is selling this newest
Lancer as a “compact sport sedan” and so it must be taken on those terms. And on
those terms, it’s pretty good. And it’s another indication that Mitsubishi is
better off when it sends the best of what it builds in
All new, all familiar
Virtually nothing in the new Lancer carries over from the outgoing model, but virtually everything about this new car is familiar. The basic structure, for instance, is the same platform that underpins the Dodge Caliber, Jeep Compass, and Mitsu’s own Outlander small crossover. And there’s nothing revolutionary about this front- or all-wheel drive platform either; it’s a standard concoction of unitary steel body construction, transverse engine location, MacPherson strut front suspension, a multi-link rear suspension, and rack-and-pinion steering. In short, it’s the same basic genetic soup out of which every reasonably priced sedan from Asia, Europe,
SLK 2 shot
Since it shares platforms with the Caliber it’s no surprise that many dimensions are similar. The Lancer rides on the same 103.7-inch wheelbase as the Caliber, has a very slightly wider track, is slightly wider overall and, at 180.0 inches long is 6.3 inches longer than that Dodge. And all those dimensions are close to those of competitors like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and the Koreans. Dimensionally at least, there’s not much to distinguish the Lancer in the marketplace.
The engine powering all versions –
base DE, mainstream ES, and sportier GTS – of the new Lancer is an all-aluminum
2.0-liter DOHC four with 16 valves and Mitsubishi’s MIVEC variable valve timing
scheme along to manage combustion. It’s a version of the same 2.0-liter that is
available in the Caliber and it carries a rating of 152-horsepower (down six
from the Dodge’s rating) when calibrated to Federal emissions standards and just
143 horsepower for the stricter
The standard transmission in all models is a five-speed manual and a continuously variable automatic is optional. In the GTS that automatic also carries a “Sportronic” shifting scheme with six simulated forward gears.
The DE comes wearing steel 16-inch wheels, P205/60R16 and drum rear brakes with ABS optional. Step up to the ES and the wheels are the same diameter but done in alloy, the tires are the same and ABS is standard. Finally going for the GTS means the four ABS-equipped disc brakes are bumped up in size a bit along with the wheels that grow to 18-inches in diameter and the tires slightly wider P215/45R18s. Both the ES and GTS have front and rear stabilizer bars (the GTS’ are slightly thicker), while the DE makes do with just a front one.
The basic mechanical packages of cars in this class are all so similar that I could just mark the Lancer as engineered to the Universal Japanese Sedan (UJS) standard and leave it at that.
Good looking, good feeling
What does distinguish the new Lancer is how neatly drawn its exterior styling is and how neatly the interior has been arranged. Since the sheetmetal and many of the interior bits are destined to carryover to the next Evo this is good news on so many levels.
Buyers love bronto-sized SUVs like the Ford Excursion now, but what happens at $3 a gallon?
By now it’s a cliché to use a term like “taut lines” to describe the styling of a car, but the Lancer’s lines are taut. While the sedan benefits from a side profile that has a pronounced wedge shape, the most aggressive element is the car’s nose with headlights shaped like machetes and a trapezoidal grille that looks like the air intake on an old F-100 Super Sabre fighter jet. The aggressiveness is further exaggerated on the GTS with a deep front air dam, side skirts, and a rear deck spoiler that looks worthy of an EVO.
The interior is just as successful as the exterior. The dash manages the neat trick of looking futuristic without resorting to the two-tiered weirdness of the current Honda Civic or sacrificing ease of operation. The hood over the two main gauges is in itself a sweet piece of sculpture and the instruments it covers are easily read and intuitively marked. The arching dash shape thrusts the sound system forward while the ventilation controls under it are effective and simple. Even the fake metal finishes trimming the dash are attractive and of high quality (by fake metal standards).
Throw in decently shaped seats, good space utilization, and a leap forward in material quality for Mitsubishi, and the Lancer interior is probably the most impressively executed in the company’s history. Particularly appreciated is the thick-rimmed steering wheel in the GTS that also elegantly incorporates redundant audio controls.
Slightly disappointing is the GTS’ optional navigation system that includes a 30-gigabyte hard drive that acts as a music server. The music server is a great idea, but the only way to load music onto it is by loading CDs individually through the head unit. There’s no way to dump the music collection from your laptop directly onto the on-board hard drive. It’s very frustrating. But at least the 650-watt Rockford-Fosgate sound system sounds spectacular.
To put it succinctly: This is the first small Mitsu with an interior that doesn’t feel like a penalty box.
Pretty good driving
Like virtually all front-drivers, the Lancer GTS’s chassis tends to understeer when pressed. But those limit are relatively high in this car with communicative steering, easily modulated braking and a well-controlled ride that’s neither harsh nor fluffy. It still lacks the ultimate refinement of the Civic’s chassis (particularly the Civic Si’s), or the eager reflexes of the Mazda3, but it’s a solid effort helped by a noticeably solid structure (Mitsu says it’s 56 percent more resistant to torsional twisting than the previous Lancer).
Less impressive is the engine response. Neither very powerful nor very refined, the 2.0-liter four just seems to thrash as the revs rise rather than produce a lot of thrust. The standard five-speed manual transmission shifts easily, but there just never seems to be enough meat in the powerband to satisfy the driver. The paddle-shifted CVT with its six simulated forward gears actually works surprisingly well, but it can’t make up for the lackluster engine.
Considering the chassis overall competence and the drivetrain’s modest talents, the new Lancer isn’t a car likely to wind up winning a lot of showroom stock titles. But it is a pleasant commuter and there is some fun to be had. Just don’t go looking for glory.
Sure Mitsubishi would love to sell hundreds of thousands of Lancers to the vast hordes of unenthusiastic drivers that buy most of the world’s cars. But what those of us who actually care about cars are most excited to see how this car transmogrifies into the rabidly anticipated Evo X.
This new Lancer’s structure, basic suspension, and generally improved design all promise that the next Evo should be a fine successor to the super-awesome Evo IX. In short, it should be nothing less than super-mega-ultra-awesome.
And once the Evo X is out, you’re not likely to read another road test of this generation Lancer for the rest of its production life.
Base price: $20,000 (est.)
Engine: 2.0-liter in-line four, 152 hp
Drivetrain: Five-speed manual transmission, front-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 180.0 x 69.4 x 58.7 in
Wheelbase: 103.7 in
Curb weight: 3032 lb
EPA city/hwy: 21/29 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front, side and curtain airbags; four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes
Major standard equipment: Power windows/locks/mirrors; cruise control
Warranty: Five years/60,000 miles