Mitsubishi Lancer finds itself back in the race

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

If the previous standard-issue Mitsubishi Lancer is completely off your automotive radar there’s a good reason. It was a very average car that was offered in a plain vanilla wrapping.

With so many good compacts in stores over the last few years including the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and Ford Focus, it’s no wonder you may be scratching your head trying to figure out just what the eighth-generation Lancer was all about. It was easy to miss and dismiss.

The previous Lancer was highlighted by the special edition Evolution with a monster turbocharged four-cylinder engine that by the 2006 model year had grown to 286 horsepower. That’s the car that’s remembered, even if it was sold in small numbers.
The Evolution carries about a 10 grand premium over the standard Lancer.

An all-new 2008 every man’s Lancer — there isn’t a 2007 version — was introduced last spring with cutting-edge styling that more resembles a small Acura than the previous standard-issue Mitsubishi. Its attractive wedge shape is highlighted by striking character lines along the doors that resemble several new models, and an aggressive front end.

It offers agile handling, a full compliment of safety features, a classy-looking interior and an attractive list of optional equipment generally not found on a car in this segment.

It should gain attention and it deserves to gain the attention of compact sedan shoppers.
And it’s good enough to compete with the new Civic, the upcoming 2009 Corolla and all the other excellent cars in this competitive segment. The new Lancer provides driveway pride in the crowded suburban neighborhoods of America filled with compact cars.

And for the “Wow” factor the Evolution will return around the first of the year.

The last-generation Lancer was introduced in 2002 and enjoyed 69,000 sales that year, but sales slowly eroded over the years and only 23,000 Lancers left showrooms in 2006. In the first nine months of this year the new model has already achieved 26,212 sales, up over 51-percent year over year.

It will take time but we think the new Mitsubishi will pick up the pace and eventually move toward the lofty 2002 numbers.

The Lancer actually shares platform architecture with the Dodge Caliber and Jeep Compass, as well as the Mitsubishi Outlander sport utility, but there are few similarities between the DaimlerChrysler products and the Mitsubishi vehicles because the companies parted ways when their respective cars were still in early development.

If all wishes came true, we would wish for a slight uptick in the Lancer’s horsepower, but that being said, our test vehicle outfitted with a five-speed manual transmission proved ambitious enough in all traffic situations. It can also be purchased with a CVT (continuously variable transmission). Both are mated to a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that generates 152 horsepower.

In California, the Lancer is a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) with horsepower downgraded to 143, but still enough to make the Lancer a peppy mover.

Most people, we figure, will opt for the CVT, which is a couple ticks slower than the manual. For those who desire more off-the-line gusto, the CVT can be purchased with steering-wheel-mounted paddles for manual shifting.

The Lancer comes in three trim levels, DE, ES and GTS starting at $14,624 including destination charge. While all trim levels bring considerable safety including front side airbags, head curtain airbags and tire-pressure monitoring, you will have to move to the ES starting at $16,615 to get four-wheel disc antilock brakes.

The DE offers power windows and locks and a standard stereo with a CD/MP3 player, but again a step up to the ES is necessary to get standard air conditioning and several desirable options.

The top-of-the-line GTS beginning at $18,115 brings such good things as 18-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, automatic climate control, sport front bucket seats, a rear spoiler and upgraded stereo with Bluetooth phone connectivity.

Unfortunately, the GTS does not come with an increase in horsepower, something we would have found more then mildly entertaining since the suspension and the steering made the car a hoot to race though our favorite back-road twists and turns.

More power, more fun, we figure. And it may be on the way in the form of a 2.4-liter engine in an upcoming Ralliart edition.

But with the 2.0-liter engine you should be able to wring sub-eight-second 0-60 times out of the manually shifted version and around nine seconds out of the CVT.

We don’t recommend pedal-to-the-floor launches to get the best gas mileage, which is rated at 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway with the manual and 22/29 with the CVT. While that mileage does not lead the compact class by any stretch, remember before dismissing the Lancer as too thirsty that the mileage is based on the more rigorous 2008 EPA standards.

The interior is a pleasant place to reside. The dashboard is attractive and laid out well with good fit and finish. Plastics and other materials including aluminum-like trim pieces are of good quality.

Two large ovals house the speedometer and tachometer with an information center between the two dispensing such news as the gas consumption, odometer reading and outside temperature. Climate control knobs are easy to read and operate.

We were not enthralled by the radio information display housed in a recessed center compartment that was nearly impossible to read in bright sunlight and became a black hole with sunglasses on.

Rear seat space is adequate for two adults, something that’s not always the case in a compact sedan.

Some pricey options normally reserved for more expensive vehicles are available including DVD navigation with 30 GB hard drive, keyless start and a 650-watt Rockford-Fosgate sound system. Our test car was endowed with the bass-enhanced sound system, which came with Sirius satellite radio and a power glass sunroof, for $1,500.

One thing that may make the deal for fence riders is Mitsubishi’s five-year, 60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

The new Lancer makes Mitsubishi viable again in the highly competitive compact sedan segment. We say, give this new car a look before making a final buying decision.


Base price, $14,624; as driven, $19,615

Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder

Horsepower: 152 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 146 pound-feet @ 4,250 rpm

Transmission: 5-speed manual

Drive: front wheel

Seating: 2/3

Wheelbase: 103.7 inches

Length: 180 inches

Curb weight: 3,032 pounds

Turning circle: 32.8 feet

Luggage capacity: 11.6 cubic feet

Fuel capacity: 15.3 gallons (regular)

EPA mileage: (2008) 29 highway, 21 city

0-60: 8.0 seconds (AutoWeek)

Also consider: Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus

The Good

• Sleek new styling

• Fun-to-drive demeanor in GTS trim

• Long-term warranties

The Bad

Only one engine currently available

The Ugly

• Mitsubishi has a big hill to climb to regain competitiveness in the compact sedan segment