First Drive: 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer
This 2008 review is representative of model years 2008 to 2012.
By Andrew Bornhop of Road & Track
The ninth-generation Lancer arrives in late March, based on a new platform shared with the Dodge Caliber. As such, it's taller than the Lancer it replaces, and you can see in the body's attractive character lines why the European-market Alfa Romeo 156 was cited as an influence on the car's styling. More significant, the new chassis is much stronger in both bending and torsion, and it makes for a slightly shorter Lancer with a 1.4-in.-longer wheelbase and a track that has grown by more than 2 in. front and rear.
And this new Japan-built Lancer is safer, with seven standard airbags: a pair in front for the driver and front passenger, a side-impact bag in each of the front seats, curtain bags that deploy from each side of the headliner, and a single knee bag that prevents the driver from sliding beneath the dash in a frontal collision.
Under the hood of all Lancers is Mitsubishi's new 4B11 powerplant, an aluminum-block 16-valve 2.0-liter inline-4 that benefits from MIVEC variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust camshafts. The transverse engine — developed in conjunction with Hyundai and DaimlerChrysler but with Mitsu-specific camshafts and cylinder head — puts out 152 bhp at 6000 rpm, or 26 percent more power than the previous iron-block 2.0-liter, which weighs nearly 60 lb. more than the new engine. Of note, the 4B11 has chain-driven overhead camshafts, and its exhaust is on the back side of the engine leaving plenty of room for a turbo and allowing Mitsubishi to employ a flat front crossmember.
As expected, the Lancer's standard gearbox is a 5-speed manual, now with shorter throws and triple-cone synchronizers on 1st and 2nd gears. This transmission works well, aided by an easy-to-modulate light-effort clutch. Not so expected is the Lancer's optional gearbox, a CVT said to enhance fuel economy. That, however, is about the only good thing to say about this continuously variable transmission, which is expected in perhaps 85 percent of all new Lancers.
For some reason, when the engine's at idle, it sounds much louder and has a grumbly character when it's mated to the CVT, and the powertrain also exhibits the disconcerting motorboat syndrome of having engine rpm totally unrelated to vehicle speed. Although the CVT in the Lancer GTS model benefits from magnesium paddle shifters that allow the driver to select six separate steps with the CVT, the standard manual box is by far the wiser Lancer choice.
Mitsubishi has done good work with the suspension. The tuning of the MacPherson-strut front/multilink rear arrangement (with toe links) is a good blend of comfort and sport, and the GTS in particular works well on a twisty road, aided by firmer tuning and a strut tower brace. Excellent damping helps the GTS, and the 4-wheel disc brakes from the heavier Outlander SUV are up to the task. Although the steering feel is excellent, the view into corners is hampered by the thick pillars of the Lancer's more steeply raked windscreen.
Model offerings include the base DE (approximately $14,000), which is reasonably well equipped with power windows, a CD audio system and a tilt steering wheel. The ES ($17,000), the expected volume leader, has air conditioning, ABS, a height-adjustable driver's seat, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat and 16-in. alloy wheels. Opting for the GTS ($19,000) gets you 18-in. alloy wheels, the firmer suspension and sport seats covered in a grippy suede-like material. Additionally, the GTS has Bluetooth, a body kit with a rear spoiler, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. Best of all, it's available with a package that has keyless entry/ignition and satellite navigation with a large 7.5-in. screen, plus a 30-gig hard drive on which your favorite tunes and photos can be stored.
While we eagerly await the arrival of the new Evolution X early next year (see coverage of the Prototype X concept car in Ampersand), we're happy to report that its foundation, this new Lancer, is a solid car. It's a few hundred pounds heavier than the model it replaces, but it clearly has moved up a notch in the quality of interior materials. Over the next few years look for several Lancer variants, including an all-wheel-drive turbo model (the Ralliart?) that slots in below the almighty Lancer Evolution.