2009 Mitsubishi Lancer

2009 Mitsubishi Lancer

The Basics:

TheCarConnection.com's editors drove the new Mitsubishi Lancer in order to give you an expert opinion. Experts at TheCarConnection.com have also researched available road tests on the new Mitsubishi Lancer to produce this conclusive review and to help you find the truth where other reviews might differ.

The Mitsubishi Lancer is a basic but sporty sedan with some tech features not often offered in this class. It's Mitsubishi's smallest sedan and lowest-priced car in the U.S. lineup. The high-performance Evolution model is based on the Lancer, but it's covered in a separate review.

The 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart is essentially the daily-driving Evo, with every bit the racy look but not the jarring ride and peaky powertrain.

The Lancer’s exterior styling is 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.

A 152-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is standard on Lancer DE and ES models; it delivers acceptable performance with either the standard five-speed manual or continuously variable automatic. For 2009, the sporty Lancer GTS model, known for its crisp steering response, good handling, and firm braking, receives a new 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 168 horsepower. The GTS can be equipped with the optional "gearless" continuously variable transmission (CVT). The CVT includes a so-called Sportronic mode, with six simulated gears and magnesium steering wheel paddle shifters.

While DE and ES models have a suspension that's tuned for a good mix of ride quality and responsiveness, the GTS has much firmer settings that some might find to be too harsh over potholes. Also, across the lineup, engine noise is greater than in most rivals, especially in the CVT models, which rev to a raucous drone on hard acceleration.

The interior of the 2009 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 to match the engine noise.

Standard safety features in the 2009 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 is not available on the Lancer. The Lancer does 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.

The 2009 GTS is now also equipped with standard high-contrast gauges and a Bluetooth interface system with voice recognition for hands-free calling (available for the ES). A new component of the optional Sun and Sound Package, available for both the GTS and ES, is the Freehand Advanced Security Transmitter. The FAST Key entry system allows the driver to unlock the Lancer via an in-pocket remote and by simply grasping the handle on either of the front doors.

Equipped modestly, the 2009 base DE model is very inexpensive. 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. Mid-level 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 gamut of features that reaches toward the Evo, including sport suspension, fog lamps, rear spoiler, air dams, sport seats, a Bluetooth calling interface, and automatic climate control.

Top options on the 2009 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 appeal of the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer’s styling lies more outside than inside.

Reviewers at The Detroit News say 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." The exterior styling on the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer is aggressive and certainly stands out among its rivals, without seeming too far-fetched like, say, the Honda Civic. Cars.com reviewers report that they rarely test "a sub-$20,000 car that gets stares, but the Lancer GTS" does just that and has "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 2009's front end and combines with "faux brake ducts for a scowlingly aggressive look."

The 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart is essentially the daily-driving Evo, with every bit the racy look but not the jarring ride and peaky powertrain.

The Lancer’s interior, however, doesn't fare as well. Car and Driver gives the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer higher praise than other reviewers, asserting that the interior "features clean, stylish aesthetics" and even describing it as "chic." Unfortunately for designers at Mitsubishi, reviews of this sort seem to be in the minority, as more often than not, reviewers side 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 summarize 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." 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.

It’s not exceptionally quick, but the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer offers a brisk driving experience with fun, responsive handling. For 2009, the Lancer GTS model receives a new 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 168 horsepower.

Car and Driver feels that while the Lancer's 2009 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. Cars.com attests that the "152-hp four-cylinder engine produces plenty of power to move the Lancer at highway speeds," though Edmunds warns that the Mitsubishi Lancer "doesn't feel especially quick with the 2.0-liter engine."

When it comes to performance, ConsumerGuide 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 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer in GTS trim "features a six-step manumatic mode using steering wheel paddle shifters," according to Car and Driver. The Auto Channel claims that "the standard five-speed manual gearbox has well-matched gear rations and quick, positive shift linkage," and The Detroit News adds that "CVT calibration makes this an excellent around-town racer."

Reviewers at The Auto Channel comment 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 states that steering is "good, not great, with nice off-center precision but not much feedback"; they note "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." 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 2009 edition, Mitsubishi has crafted a small sedan that boasts excellent handling.

For a small car with a small engine, you would probably expect higher fuel economy numbers than the EPA estimates of 22 mpg city, 29 highway for the automatic and 21/29 mpg for the manual. Comparatively, the 2009 Honda Civic with a five-speed manual returns an EPA-estimated 26/34 mpg.

The 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer has good interior room, but some finishes inside are less than stellar.

Reviewers at Cars.com feel that the 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." ConsumerGuide finds that "leg space is sufficient for six-footers, but taller folks are likely to want more head clearance." In the back, The Auto Channel reports 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."

The efficient interior design of the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer also provides ample room for cargo and storage space. Reviewers at The Auto Channel cite "useful storage spaces in the doors, console, and glove box"; they do warn that for the Lancer, 2009 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."

When attention is focused on the quality of interior materials, some reviewers side with Motor Trend, which points out that the cabin "appears well assembled, and is trimmed in plastics and surfaces of appropriate quality," making 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. Other reviewers, such as those from Cars.com, lament the interior materials and some of the "cheap elements, like the grab handles on the doors and the trip computer button beside the gauges." Coming down particularly harshly on the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer is The Detroit News, which remarks that the knobs and switches feel "like they might snap off" if "pushed or twisted too hard."

In regard to road noise, the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer is unremarkable. ConsumerGuide feels "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."

The 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer performs well in crash tests, but base versions have optional anti-lock brakes—a feature that today is standard in many of the cheapest cars.

After putting the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer through its full battery of tests, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awards 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. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests affirm these results, as the IIHS bestows its highest rating, "good," on the Lancer 2009 for frontal offset collisions.

The Auto Channel points out that the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer uses "Mitsubishi's Reinforced Impact Safety Evolution (RISE) unibody construction to disperse impact energy," and it shows in crash-test results. 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.

The 2009 Lancer also brings a full complement of safety features. Edmunds observes that the 2009 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.

With standard audio and power features, as well as some high-tech options unexpected in the class, the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer scores with drivers.

The 2009 GTS is now equipped with standard high-contrast gauges and a Bluetooth interface system with voice recognition for hands-free calling (available for the ES). A new component of the optional Sun and Sound Package, available for both the GTS and ES, is the Freehand Advanced Security Transmitter. The FAST Key entry system allows the driver to unlock the Lancer via an in-pocket remote and by simply grasping the handle on either of the front doors.

The Auto Channel reports 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.

Regarding options, Edmunds points out available features on the Lancer's 2009 ES and GTS trims "includes a sunroof" and "30GB hard drive capable of storing MP3 music files." Motor Trend adds to the praise of the Lancer 2009 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." 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."

Buying Tips:

For those who like the look of the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS but want a little more power, there's now the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, which gets a 237-hp, turbocharged engine.

Other Choices:

  • 2008 Nissan Sentra
  • 2004 Honda Civic
  • 2001 Volkswagen Jetta

Reason Why:

The base Jetta comes with a long list of standard features and stands out for its torquey five-cylinder engine, available electronic stability control, and rear side airbags. The Impreza is another sporty sedan that might be considered; it isn't quite as fuel-efficient as the Civic or Sentra, but its torquey flat-four engine provides good performance, and it comes standard with all-wheel drive. The Sentra is one of the cheapest models; although it starts at a price substantially higher than the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer's, the base Sentra S comes a lot better equipped, with a six-speed manual, anti-lock brakes, and conveniences like steering-wheel controls, air conditioning, and keyless entry. However, the Sentra's interior doesn't feel as inviting and sporty as the Lancer's. The Honda Civic is also a bit more expensive, but it includes a much more refined, more rev-happy, and more fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine, along with an equally slick-shifting manual transmission. Each of these rivals is considerably quieter and more refined inside than the Lancer.

The Bottom Line:

Mitsubishi refers to the 2009 Lancer not as an economy car but as a "compact sport sedan," and its appearance and equipment—especially for the top GTS model—support this designation.

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