2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
June 27, 2008

The 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer is a basic but sporty sedan with some tech features not often offered in this class.

In order to produce this comprehensive review on the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer, TheCarConnection.com’s experts combed through the available review information. Then the experienced reviewers at TheCarConnection.com incorporated their experience driving the new Lancer.

The Lancer is Mitsubishi's smallest sedan and lowest-priced car in the U.S. lineup. The automaker is selling the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer not as an economy car but as a "compact sport sedan," and its appearance and equipment--especially for the top GTS model--take a decidedly sporty direction. The high-performance Evolution model is based on the Lancer, but it's covered in a separate review.

All 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer models get a 152-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, paired with either a very precise-shifting five-speed manual or a "gearless" CVT automatic. The CVT includes a so-called Sportronic mode, with six simulated gears. With the manual especially, the engine has reasonably perky performance, though the engine is loud and booming when revved or under hard acceleration.

In sporty GTS models notably, though there isn't an abundance of power, very crisp steering response and good handling, along with nice, firm braking, make the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer a lot of fun to drive.

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The Lancer has exterior styling that's very similar to that of the Evolution, including sporty interior themes and a mix of darker surfaces and matte-metallic trim that looks sporty and attractive from a few feet away but somewhat dull and cheap up close. The interior of the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer is well designed, with generous space in front for the driver and passenger, as well as a very nice, upright driving position--made even better by the sport seats added in the GTS. Space in back is tight, but not as bad as some other vehicles its size. The Lancer rides quite hard, however, with plenty of road noise entering the cabin from coarse pavement.

At the low end of the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer lineup, there's a base DE model, and it's equipped modestly but is very cheaply priced. Steel wheels are standard, and there are only drum rear brakes with optional anti-lock, but power windows and a CD sound system are among the standard features. Midlevel ES models add stabilizer bars, ventilated disc brakes, a split-folding backseat, steering-wheel audio controls, keyless entry, and air conditioning. At the top of the range, the GTS brings a range of features that reaches toward the Evo, including a sport suspension, fog lamps, rear spoiler, air dams, sport seats, a Bluetooth calling interface, and automatic climate control.

Top options on the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer include a 650-watt Rockford-Fosgate sound system, a sunroof, and a navigation system that includes a 30GB hard-drive music server.

The Lancer has done quite well in crash tests, with four- and five-star ratings in the federal tests for frontal and side impact, and Good ratings for both frontal impact and rear impact from the IIHS. Standard safety features in the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer include front side airbags, side-curtain bags, and a driver's knee airbag. Anti-lock brakes are standard on the ES and GTS but not offered on the DE, and electronic stability control is not available on the Lancer.

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2008 Mitsubishi Lancer

Styling

The appeal of the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer’s styling lies more outside than inside.

The Mitsubishi Lancer has emerged from a recent redesign with a nicely tailored shape that appeals to reviewers across the Web, including those at TheCarConnection.com.

The exterior styling on the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer is aggressive and certainly stands out among its rivals, without seeming too far-fetched like, say, the Honda Civic. Cars.com reviewers write that they rarely test "a sub-$20,000 car that gets stares, but the Lancer GTS" does just that and had "plenty of heads turning in its direction." The Auto Channel raves about the "huge upside-down trapezoid grille, bisected by the bumper" that dominates the Lancer 2008's front end and combines with "faux brake ducts for a scowlingly aggressive look." Reviewers at The Detroit News add that, aside from the front-end restyling, the "wedge-shaped body" and "raised beltline add to its speedy character," while "even the spoiler doesn't look out of place, appearing more tasteful than gaudy." That spoiler is available only on the "top-level GTS," according to Kelley Blue Book, and they note that other styling differences among the three available trim levels (DE, ES, and GTS) include "black door handles, black mirrors and 16-inch covered wheels" on the "base Lancer DE." Kelley Blue Book adds that the "Lancer ES projects a far more polished appearance, with 16-inch alloy wheels, color-keyed door handles and mirrors and a chrome grille surround."

Although reviews read by TheCarConnection.com contained nothing but praise for the exterior of the new Mitsubishi Lancer, the interior didn't fare as well. Kelley Blue Book feels that, despite the "contemporary, minimalist styling" inside the cabin of the new Mitsubishi Lancer, it "falls short of the category's best in terms of richness and refinement," especially on the DE and ES. However, Car and Driver reserved higher praise for the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer, writing that the interior "features clean, stylish aesthetics" and even describing it as "chic." Unfortunately for designers at Mitsubishi, reviews of this sort definitely seemed to be in the minority, as more often than not, reviewers sided with ConsumerGuide's assessment that some controls can be "an uncomfortable reach and its dashboard screen hard to read in sunny conditions." Edmunds adds that the "dashboard is not nearly as exciting as the Lancer's sporty, shark-nosed exterior," though they praise the "clean, straightforward design." Reviewers at The Detroit News summarized the interior by saying that "when you sit inside, you don't feel inspired to take on the highway, you feel like taking a nap."

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2008 Mitsubishi Lancer

Performance

It’s not exceptionally quick, but the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer offers a brisk driving experience with fun, responsive handling.

For a car with an MSRP as low as $13,990, the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer provides pretty good performance. Mitsubishi's sole engine offering keeps the buying decision simple, as the performance choice basically rests on which transmission to choose.

All 2008 Mitsubishi Lancers, whether DE, ES, or GTS trim, are motivated by the same engine. Cars.com says that the "152-hp four-cylinder engine produces plenty of power to move the Lancer at highway speeds," though Edmunds writes that the Mitsubishi Lancer "doesn't feel especially quick with the 2.0-liter engine." Car and Driver feels that while the Lancer's 2008 engine is "a bit weak on the low end, the 2.0-liter comes to life with plenty of power around 3500 rpm." Motor Trend reviewers say that the Mitsubishi Lancer's "engine is smooth enough, although not as sweet sounding as the" Honda Civic's.

Regardless of which trim level you're interested in, Mitsubishi offers either a "five-speed manual transmission or an optional continuously variable transmission (CVT)," according to Car and Driver. Reviews of both transmissions vary widely, with The Auto Channel claiming that "the standard five-speed manual gearbox has well-matched gear rations and quick, positive shift linkage," and The Detroit News adding that "CVT calibration makes this an excellent around-town racer." Moderating the enthusiasm of some reviewers when it comes to performance is ConsumerGuide, which finds that Mitsubishi's Lancers have only "adequate pickup with manual transmission, and they're borderline sluggish with the CVT." One notable difference between the trim levels in terms of transmissions is that, "when equipped with the CVT," the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer in GTS trim "features a six-step manumatic mode using steering wheel paddle shifters," according to Car and Driver.

Unfortunately, one feature of the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer that suffers when compared to its competitors is fuel economy. For a small car with a small engine, you would probably expect higher fuel economy numbers than the EPA estimates of 22/29 mpg for the automatic and 21/29 mpg for the manual. Just for comparison's sake, the 2008 Honda Civic with a five-speed manual returns an EPA-estimated 26/34 mpg.

Theoretically, it shouldn't be hard to turn small cars like the Mitsubishi Lancer into sporty handlers. Sometimes automakers choose not to do so simply for practical reasons, but with the Lancer's 2008 edition, Mitsubishi has crafted a small sedan that boasts excellent handling. Reviewers at The Auto Channel write that the new Mitsubishi Lancer sports "precise handling and steering for a fun-to-drive character," which is especially true on the GTS trim. Car and Driver writes that steering is "good, not great, with nice off-center precision but not much feedback," but "roadholding, however, is absolutely stellar." ConsumerGuide chimes in by saying that "the DE and ES exhibit decent grip," and "the tauter GTS is more agile and fun." One benefit of the slightly reduced grip and handling on the DE and ES models is that, according to ConsumerGuide, they "are absorbent and capable" when it comes to offering smooth rides, while "the GTS rides a bit harsher due to its firmer suspension and 18-inch tires."

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2008 Mitsubishi Lancer

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer has good interior room, but some finishes inside are less than stellar.

Reviewers found that the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer’s compact dimensions belied a spacious interior, but that its bargain price tag led to inevitable trade-offs in materials.

The 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer offers seating room for five in its redesigned cabin, and it makes good use of its available space. Up front, Consumer Guide finds that "leg space is sufficient for six-footers, but taller folks are likely to want more head clearance." Reviewers at Cars.com felt that those front seats "are comfortable and keep occupants firmly in place," though ConsumerGuide warns that the standard seats on the DE and ES trims "are unexceptional for shape and support." In the back, The Auto Channel writes that "rear space is good for the car's size," a sentiment affirmed by Edmunds, which says, "the Lancer's interior is spacious, particularly in the rear seating area."

An added benefit of the spacious interior is that it provides decent amounts of cargo and storage space on the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer. The Auto Channel reviewers find that "there are useful storage spaces in the doors, console, and glove box"; they do warn that for the Lancer, 2008 brings an optional subwoofer that can "take up some trunk space," though the "trunk is large enough so that will not present any major compromise." ConsumerGuide is slightly more critical, claiming that the trunk "lack[s] height for taller cargo, as does the trunk opening," although they approve of the "useful cabin storage" that "includes large front-door map pockets with bottle holders."

One potential sore spot on the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer is cabin build and materials quality. Some reviews read by TheCarConnection.com lamented the interior materials and some of the "cheap elements, like the grab handles on the doors and the trip computer button beside the gauges," as Cars.com reviewers did. Others, however, sided with Motor Trend, which points out that the cabin "appears well assembled, and is trimmed in plastics and surfaces of appropriate quality," which makes the Mitsubishi Lancer "at least competitive" with its rivals. Kelley Blue Book reviewers feel that the "otherwise attractive passenger cabin falls short" of the Mitsubishi Lancer's main competitors. Coming down particularly harshly on the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer is The Detroit News, which writes that the knobs and switches feel "like they might snap off" if they are "pushed or twisted too hard."

In terms of road noise, the Mitsubishi Lancer 2008 version is rather unremarkable. ConsumerGuide feels that the "wind noise is well-checked, but coarse-surface tire thrum is fairly high in all models" and the "crude engine note is a sore point." Kelley Blue Book adds that the ES model and its base setup offer a "less noisy--but still not quiet--ride."

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2008 Mitsubishi Lancer

Safety

The 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer performs well in crash tests, but base versions have optional anti-lock brakes.

The 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer boasts a solid frame and all the expected safety features, which help make the Mitsubishi Lancer a safe choice for daily drivers.

In crash tests by both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Mitsubishi Lancer holds up well. The Auto Channel points out that the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer uses "Mitsubishi's Reinforced Impact Safety Evolution (RISE) unibody construction to disperse impact energy," and it shows in crash-test results. After putting the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer through its full battery of tests, the NHTSA awarded it a full five stars for front and side impact driver protection, and four out of five stars for front and side impact passenger protection. IIHS tests affirm these results, as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety bestowed its highest rating, "good," on the Lancer 2008 for frontal offset collisions.

Drivers of the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer can take comfort in more than just strong crash-test ratings; for the Lancer, 2008 brings a full complement of safety features. Edmunds writes that the 2008 Lancer features a "solid array of airbags, including front-seat side airbags, full-length head curtain airbags and a driver's knee airbag." Cars.com adds that "ABS is optional on the DE base trim and standard on the ES and GTS," a disparity that leads Kelley Blue Book to "recommend taking that step up" to the ES if you have the means.

One important safety characteristic that is hard to incorporate into crash-test ratings is driver visibility, and unfortunately, visibility from within the Mitsubishi Lancer isn't all that great. ConsumerGuide finds that "outward visibility aft and to the right-rear isn't great, and it's made worse by the available rear spoiler" on the GTS trim.

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2008 Mitsubishi Lancer

Features

With standard audio and power features, the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer scores with drivers—and some high-tech options unexpected in the class.

Even in its most basic DE trim, the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer comes loaded with a respectable list of standard features. Moving up trim levels or adding options to the Mitsubishi Lancer allows you to create a very impressive economy car.

In reviews read by TheCarConnection.com, the standard features on every 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer left reviewers very impressed. The Auto Channel writes that "the standard equipment level is high--even the DE has an AM/FM/CD audio system with MP3CD capability, and power windows." ConsumerGuide adds that moving up to the Mitsubishi Lancer ES brings standard "air conditioning," along with "cruise control, split folding rear seat, power door locks, remote keyless entry, [and] steering wheel radio controls." The top-end Mitsubishi Lancer "GTS interior upgrades the audio system and the front seats," according to The Auto Channel.

While the standard features are impressive for a car with the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer's price tag, the real treat lies in the options. Kelley Blue Book claims that "some of the Lancer's most desirable options include a Bluetooth hands-free phone interface, hard drive-based navigation and audio system." Motor Trend adds to the praise of the Lancer 2008 by saying that "one extra-cost feature not to be missed is the 650-watt Rockford-Fosgate Premium Audio system, which may be best in class." Edmunds rounds out the optional features list by pointing out options on the Lancer's 2008 ES and GTS trims "includes a sunroof" and "30GB hard drive capable of storing MP3 music files."

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