2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Review
2008 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS
Mitsubishi raises the entry level.
If you mention the name Mitsubishi Lancer, thoughts of a fast, sinister, and sinfully funny car may come to mind, as long as the word “Evo” is there somewhere. Unfortunately, the Lancer family has so far been deeply divided in that minor models languished with standardized styling, legacy engineering, and few points of distinction. Considering the lack of brand recognition, it’s no wonder the Civic, Corolla, and Mazda 3 have thrown compact car dust in Mitsubishi’s face for six years in a row.
The 2008 Lancer represents a determined effort to spread excitement across the line. Under the hood of the Lancer is Mitsubishi’s most original and high-tech four-cylinder engine in years, and the company’s first continuously variable transmission (CVT) comes with it. The Lancer’s steering and suspension were tweaked, the packaging team unearthed additional human space in a lively new cockpit with more safety features, and new high-end electronics top the list of options. Lastly, the term “flame surface style” can be used, but the new body looks attractive nonetheless. Here in Lancer land, the minimum wage is now living.
Still, the interest in giving the best of oneself motivated Mitsubishi to give us a Lancer with the best GTS tuning. In addition to its updates on the mid-line ES model: 18-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension, front strut tower reinforcement, larger brakes, Sportronic manual transmission, fog lights, spoiler, chrome exhaust, sports seats, six speakers, leather steering wheel and gear knob, automatic climate control, and Bluetooth phone connectivity – our test car was equipped with the $ 1,500 Sun & Sound package (sunroof, Rockford-Fosgate stereo, 6-disc MP3 CD changer , MP3 input jack, Sirius satellite radio) and the $ 2,000 Navigation and Technology package (touchscreen navigation system, 30GB hard drive, digital music server, and FAST key input). Ahh, just the way we like them: spicy and rich.
Ride and drive
Mitsubishi has been promoting the “spicy” part lately, and a few minutes of time in the seat kind of backed it up. Low-flow power steering keeps the steering wheel nice and strong in the enthusiast tradition. The new 2.0-liter engine makes a 27% quantum leap over the first Lancer to make 152 horsepower, and its vocal nature means you’ll hear those horses charge. Release them as you wish; The shift paddles on the steering wheel allow your index finger to call up any of the six speeds at will. What an idea: a wraparound compact car.
And a capable one. Acceleration to 60 MPH takes 9 seconds (good); Braking to a stop requires 118 feet (great), and the tires hold for 0.86g of cornering grip (great). Precise steering and predictable tire breakage allow the confidence to push the Lancer to its limits, and the CVT nature of the transmission gives the paddles true trigger finger response.
However, the Lancer’s sports car aspirations feel half-baked, possibly because the chef mixed a few ingredients. Steering stiffness may be close at hand, but true road feel is kept at arm’s length and engineers mistakenly believed that the engine’s volume could make up for its sound like crap. Plus, the Lancer is the latest proof that Mitsubishi needs a new corporate diet plan. Our test model outperforms the next-gen Galant at 3,126 pounds, which explains why so many of those extra horses feel like they jumped the fence.
The Lancer also has quirks that make everyday enjoyment difficult. The CVT seems to allow for a rather whimsical relationship between engine and road speed, an issue compounded by the way your throttle response starts out dry and then lunges forward. Top it off with grippy braking action at low speeds and you have a daily driver with a fair amount of spikes, ups and downs. The GTS-specific high road noise level and sharp, agile handling don’t help impressions either.
Still, one feels the Lancer would ride comfortably on its sophisticated multi-link rear suspension with different wheels and tires. Feelings of solidity and stability are present at all speeds, possibly because the new body of the Lancer has been noticeably stiffened. Standard antilock disc brakes (except on DE models) are rare for the class and stop the car for reassuringly short distances. The ability to score 28 MPG despite the GTS’s aerodynamic add-ons and soft-compound tires is impressive (it scored 24 overall), and the new, large 15.3-gallon fuel tank allows for 350-mile runs before turning on the light. Low Fuel. The Lancer has its strengths; I just know that most of them don’t have much to do with sport.
In and out
However, Mitsubishi bets more on the sport on the inside. Like the Mazda 3, the Lancer dares to be different, filling the dash with all sorts of shapes and bumps while slipping into the black and metal look that’s so on trend. These eyes find the effect a bit jarring, but the amount of “great!” comments relegates me to the minority.
We all agree that the Lancer’s controls work fine. Most of the controls follow standard Mitsubishi logic, making them easy to reach and read; Lancer also does well in the storage space and cup holder department. A fairly high quality feel can be found on most items (except parasols, which feel like styrofoam-filled coat hangers), FAST Key makes it easy to access doors and trunk, and finally Mitsubishi deserves love for letting drivers paddle gears on their own via the steering wheel shift paddles and the standard transmission lever.
Navigation spearmen lose some ergonomic points. This is one of those touchscreen systems that encroaches on stereo controls, causing you to frequently search for the right menu and dig deep to make inputs. Its control and menu logic deviates a bit from most Japanese systems, and the decision to line up 12 shock buttons along the perimeter of the screen takes too long to look off-road.
But a slightly complicated interface does not in any way spoil the efficiency of any of the systems. The Lancer’s MP3-compatible 6-disc Rockford-Fosgate comes armed with no less than nine speakers and 650 watts, giving it great clarity, crisp highs, and thunderous enough bass for smaller ears. With a little more sonic “warmth” to go along with all this force, it could bring down the Scion tC Pioneers.
The navigation system could use a semester in grade school and a little more detail at any given magnification level, but it is pleasant enough to use and understand; its hard drive-based nature allows for quick calculations; and the rarest of rarities, it can be programmed while driving. Hurrah!
Comfort paints a similar picture: Despite a few minor footnotes, the Lancer has the basics covered. The steering wheel and armrest seem a bit far and a bit low, but the driver’s seat adjusts six ways, comes wrapped in a nice felt fabric, and feels good after five minutes or five hours. The rear seat is boxed in shades of blue that give the illusion of sitting in a hole, but rest assured, it feels better for the body than the mind. It has you covered with decent leg and foot room, even more hip room than in the front, and a cushion that is thankfully mounted higher than last year (could be even higher). The angle of the reclined backrest will be more for some tastes than others.
So when all is said and done, has the Lancer’s radical makeover changed its position in the crowded compact class? Among the sports pacts, we voted no. Compared to this Lancer GTS, the Mazda 3 s has more power while driving fewer pounds, a more polished engine and transmission, and just a more fun “feel” while scoring equally high in all practicalities. Strip two-door cars in the picture and the same can be said for the Scion tC.
Better to go for the mid-level ES model of the Lancer, whose comfort-oriented chassis is more closely matched to the car’s natural behavior. Yet even against the good Civic and Corolla, the Lancer’s unharmonious powertrain still counts against it in refinement, and its fuel economy falls short of both by a few MPG.
That leaves the Lancer to counterattack in other ways. First, he is the gadget guru. Currently, only Scion can match the Lancer in the audio department, and only Honda and Mazda have navigation systems. Next, Mitsubishi’s supreme warranty (5 years / 60,000 base miles, 10 years / 100,000 powertrain) outperforms everyone in the industry except Hyundai and Kia, and its track record suggests it will be more reliable than either. Finally, the Lancer is one of the most competitive prices in its class, with the ES model’s $ 17,515 decal being a thousand or two lower than that of the leaders in its class.
Add it all up and the Lancer might be a decent buy for those who buy cars for the cost and the amenities, but until Mitsubishi works on the Lancer’s polish, weight, and personality, that’s the best recommendation we can give.
MSRP (including destination), 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS: $ 19,115
Options in the test car: Sun & Sound Package: Power Sunroof, 650-Watt Rockford-Fosgate Stereo, 6-Disc MP3 CD Changer, MP3 Input Jack, Sirius Satellite Radio ($ 1,500), Navigation and Technology Package : navigation system, 30GB hard drive with digital music server, maintenance recorder, calendar, 7-inch touchscreen, and FAST key entry system ($ 2,000)
Price as tested: $ 22,615
Design: front engine / front wheel drive
Engine: 2.0 liter 4 cylinder
Horsepower: 152 to 6,000 RPM
Torque: 146 pound-feet at 4,250 RPM
Red line: 6,500 RPM
Features: DOHC, 16-valve, variable valve timing
Construction: all aluminum
Transmission: Continuously Variable Automatic Transmission with Manual Shift Mode
Front suspension: struts with 21mm stabilizer bar
Rear suspension: multilink with 20mm stabilizer bar
Steering: power rack and pinion
Steering ratio: 15.2: 1
Brakes: ventilated front disc / solid rear disc
Weight: 3,109 pounds
Length: 180 inches
Width: 69.4 inches
Height: 58.7 inches
Wheelbase: 103.7 inches
Front / Rear Track: 60.2 / 60.2 Inch
Cargo space: 11.6 cubic feet
Seating capacity: 5
Wheels: 18 inches
Tires: P215 / 45R18, Dunlop SP Sport 5000M
EPA City / Highway Gas Mileage: 22/29 MPG
Average Observed: 24 MPG
Recommended fuel: 87 octane
Fuel tank: 15.3 gallons