Review: 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer
This 2008 review is representative of model years 2008 to 2013.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Just in time for shoppers looking for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, Mitsubishi's Lancer debuts as a 2008 sedan with sharp styling, improved ride and handling and a pleasingly peppy, new four-cylinder engine.
The new-generation Lancer also offers technology features, including optional 30-gigabyte hard drive in the dashboard, and seven airbags—one more than typically found in small cars.
Besides the usual frontal bags in the front seat, seat-mounted side airbags and head curtain bags, Mitsubishi installs a knee airbag for the driver. It's to help keep a driver properly positioned during a frontal crash.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price at introduction is around $14,000 for a base Lancer DE with 152-horsepower 4-cylinder engine and manual transmission. All Lancers include 16-inch wheels, anti-theft engine immobilizer, automatic on/off headlights and an audio system with at least 140 watts of power and CD/MP3 playback.
Just don't look for air conditioning in the base Lancer. Buyers wanting air conditioning must move up to a Lancer with a continuously variable transmission for a starting price around $16,000.
Some competitive highlights
Note, though, that the Lancer comes with a more generous warranty than most other small cars.
Mitsubishi provides five years/60,000-mile limited, bumper-to-bumper coverage and 10 years/100,000-mile limited powertrain coverage.
In addition, the Lancer's 4 cylinder has more horsepower than the 140 horses in the base Civic and the 148 horses in the base Mazda3 sedan.
Still, the Lancer is a relatively slow seller. In calendar 2005 and 2006, fewer than 28,000 Lancers were sold in the U.S. per annum, while 76,000 Lancers sold here in calendar 2002 alone. And this contrasts with more than 316,000 Civic sales in calendar 2006.
There's also the fact that Mitsubishi remains below industry average in the annual J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study, and the Lancer hasn't been a recommended car of Consumer Reports.
A clean break from the old Lancer
The exterior design is one of the best out there on a compact sedan. It's sporty, but not exaggerated, well-proportioned, not weird.
And in mid-level ES trim that was the test car, the Lancer adds fine-looking, five-spoke wheels and chrome grille surround for a little more style.
Using the modern platform that's under the Mitsubishi Outlander crossover sport-utility vehicle, the Lancer rides and handles well.
There's a new front, MacPherson strut suspension, so passengers in the test ES weren't punished with constant hard drumming of road bumps even as the car felt firmer and more controlled in its ride than earlier Lancers.
Rear suspension is a multi-link design, and there's a sport-tuned suspension and larger, 18-inch tires available on the up-level Lancer GTS for buyers who want a sportier road feel.
The test Lancer ES had predictable motions as I drove through a slalom, and rack-and-pinion steering, with a rack larger than before, felt more accurate and smooth than that in earlier Lancers.
This new four door is about 2.5 inches wider than its predecessor and has a wider track, which added noticeably to the Lancer's feeling of stability on twisty mountain roads.
Four cylinder with good response
The 152 horsepower is 26 percent more than the previous 4 cylinder, and yet the new, more powerful engine—with a new, weight-saving, aluminum block—weighs some 60 pounds less than last year's engine.
Also improved is that get up and go, or torque. The new Lancer gets 146 lb-ft of torque peaking earlier than in the old engine—at 4250 rpm.
Shifting the new, 5-speed manual—with syncros and a shorter shift mechanism—I bolted from my garage in the light-feeling test car. I had to get accustomed to the eager, peppy response from this powerplant in a car that's just over 3,000 pounds in weight.
The 2008 fuel economy rating is 21 miles a gallon in city driving and 29 mpg on the highway.
Odds and ends
I appreciated that all three riders in the back seat have height-adjustable head restraints. Just be aware it can be a tight fit for three adults back there.
In all but the base Lancer DE, the rear seatback splits 60/40 and folds down to make room for long items to extend inside from the trunk.
The test car had the optional, 650-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system that's one of the most powerful factory-installed systems in a car in this price segment. The enveloping sounds can put a driver into his or her own world.
Also noteworthy: The dashboard hard drive—part of the optional, $2,190 navigation and technology package—was developed by Mitsubishi Electronics and has many nifty features, including a fuel economy graph, barometer and altimeter.
In side crash testing, a rear door unlatched and swung open, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Mitsubishi officials swiftly made changes to the Lancer to prevent this from occurring in real-world crashes.
Additionally, in frontal crash testing, while Lancer driver protection got the top five stars, front passenger protection was rated at four out of five stars.
There is a cult following that has grown up around the top Lancer—the Evolution.
High-powered, performance versions, they're celebrated in rally racing around the world and have been in popular video games.
With no new Evo in the States right now, the new one is breathlessly awaited in calendar 2008.
Like the 2008 "regular" Lancers, it will be built on the Outlander platform, which has to bode well for the coming Evo.