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2008 Mitsubishi Lancer ES Review - VIDEO ENHANCED

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2008 Mitsubishi Lancer ES

SEE ALSO: Mitsubishi Buyers Guide


EDITOR'S NOTE: At the bottom of this page you'll find two embeded videos about the 2008 Lancer.

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer ES Review

With the exception of a small coterie of rabid Lancer Evo rally-replica fans, Mitsubishi has been notably absent from most people's notice in recent years. Times turned tough for the Japanese manufacturer, for a variety of reasons.

But, as has been shown by other automakers, the key to a successful turnaround is product. Preferably exciting, affordable product that can appeal to as many people as possible, not merely a dedicated few. And Mitsubishi is doing just that with its all-new 2008 Lancer.

While it has a slightly longer wheelbase and wider track than the old Lancer, benefitting both passenger space and driving characteristics, the new version is marginally shorter. It's currently offered in value-based DE, popularly-equipped ES, and sport-oriented GTS trim levels. Engine choices are simple - a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 152 horsepower (or 143 in PZEV tune for California-emissions states) matched to five-speed manual or continuously-variable (CVT) transmissions. All current models are front-wheel drive only, and yes, there will be an Evo, with some surprising new technology.

My first experience with the new Lancer was with a GTS at my local automotive journalist association ride and drive and track days. I got into the car during the street driving program with curiosity and an open mind, and within 30 seconds of turning the ignition key had a large grin on my face. A torquey engine, light clutch, slick shifter, and firm yet comfortable suspension will do that. The section of road for my stint in the car was perfect - tight, twisted, and indifferently paved. With no traffic. I didn't want to get out at the end of my alloted time, and managed to get back in later for the drive back to the event base, mostly freeway travel. It was fine there, too - not too firm for comfort. I made sure to get into the GTS at the track the next day, and was favorably impressed. It was quick and responsive enough to by unabated fun, and if not as powerful as an Evo, that just meant that I could use more of the car's potential. There is plenty of that.

I also had the opportunity at that event for a short stint in the Lancer ES. Other than a softer suspension tuning and a less-equipped interior (and lower price), it was little different from its upscale sibling. When it came time to schedule a test, only the ES was available, and that didn't depress me a bit. Why? It had basically the same fine vehicle dynamics, only slightly softer, the same lively, lovely engine and gearbox, and the same high level of fit and finish inside and out, making for a fine, well-integrated package competitive with anything in its class, and at the head of the class for an enjoyable driving experience.

APPEARANCE: Does someone at Mitsubishi have an obsession with the play "West Side Story"? The two main influences on the `08 Lancer's styling are given as sharks and jets.... In particular, jet intakes allegedly inspired the shark-nosed look. Okaaaay. But the styling, very little changed from that of the Concept-X show car of 2005, is unique in a class known for blandness. If the basic proportions are standard for a small sedan, and the sides and rear best described as "conservative in the European mold", the front makes a definite impression. The huge upside-down trapezoid grille, bisected by the bumper, is flanked by wide, low smoke-covered headlights and faux brake ducts for a scowlingly aggressive look. That's reinforced by the angular power-dome hood. Both the ES and GTS have alloy wheels, 16-inch for the ES and eighteens with low-profile performance tires for the GTS.

COMFORT: Inside, the Lancer is more conventional. As seems to be the standard in the small sporty car class, honest synthetics are the material of choice, with grippy nylon cloth covering the seats and matte-finished silvery plastic trim brightening the instrument panel, doors, and steering wheel. The instrument cluster is shaded from glare by an unusual "double-bubble" hood, and the center stack holds the audio and climate control systems. The standard equipment level is high - even the DE has an AM/FM/CD audio system with MP3CD capability, and power windows and (folding) mirrors. The ES adds a 60/40 split folding rear seat, air conditioning, a useful center console, and a height-adjustable driver's seat. The GTS interior upgrades the audio system and the front seats. Both the ES and GTS seats provide better comfort and support than expected of a small, low-priced car, and rear space is good for the car's size. There are useful storage spaces in the doors, console, and glove box. My test car was outfitted with the "Sun and Sound" option package, which consists of power glass sunroof and a 650-watt Rockford-Fosgate Punch audio system with MP3-capable 6-CD in-dash changer, Sirius satellite radio, and input for an auxiliary audio player - which is, strangely, by means of RCA jacks, not the usual mini-jack. The sound quality is very good, and while the subwoofer does take up some trunk space, the trunk is large enough so that will not present any major compromise.

SAFETY: The 2008 Lancer uses the latest iteration of Mitsubishi's Reinforced Impact Safety Evolution (RISE) unibody construction to disperse impact energy in a controlled manner. Advanced front airbags, with occupant sensors to control deployment, front seat-mounted side-impact bags, and a driver's knee bag are standard in all models, as is a tire-pressure monitoring system. ES and GTS models come with four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution.

RIDE AND HANDLING: There may not be an Evo model at the moment, but it's coming, and the 08 Lancer's unibody structure was designed and built to take all the punishment expected from serious Evo power and hard use. So the standard models could be considered to be somewhat overbuilt - which is not bad at all. The increased strength and rigidity of the RISE structure also provides a solid mounting for the fully-independent MacPherson strut / multilink suspension of the standard models, and allows a supple suspension tuning combined with precise handling and steering for a fun-to-drive character. The DE and ES share the base suspension calibration, which is soft and comfortable, although the ES has a rear anti-roll bar for added stability. Like European cars tuned in a similar manner, it's comfortable and well-controlled, and, if the car "corners on its door handles", it does so predictably and happily. The GTS gets firmer springs and shocks, stickier lower-profile tires, and larger brake discs. It still has a compliant ride, and handles exceptionally well, even when pushed beyond reasonable street limits on the track.

PERFORMANCE: If by reading the specs - 152 horsepower at 6000 rpm (or 143 in California emission PZEV trim) and 146 lb-ft of torque at 4250 (143 CA) - the Lancer doesn't seem all that exciting, its joy of driving is not in how much power there is, but in how it's delivered. Although of the same 2.0-liter capacity as earlier Lancer engines, it's an all-new powerplant, with a 26-percent power improvement over the old two-liter's 120 hp. Its block will be the base for the next Evo engine, and its twincam, 16-valve head with MIVEC variable cam phasing system, which "degrees" both intake and exhaust cams for maximum power and efficiency and minimum emissions in all operating conditions. The result is strong low- and mid-range torque for acceleration, with no dropoff of power at the top. The standard five-speed manual gearbox has well-matched gear ratios and quick, positive shift linkage for pleasurable performance. It made me smile whenever I drove it. I haven't driven a Lancer with the optional CVT, but it promises significant improvements in both performance and economy over the old four-speed torque-converter automatic.

CONCLUSIONS: With vehicles like the all-new 2008 Lancer, Mitsubishi is poised for a healthy comeback.


2008 Mitsubishi Lancer ES

Base Price			$ 15,990
Price As Tested			$ 18,115
Engine Type			Dual overhead cam, 16-valve aluminum
				 alloy inline 4-cylinder with variable
				 cam phasing
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.
Horsepower			152/143 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			146/143 @ 4250 rpm
Transmission			5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		103.7 in. / 180.0 in.
Curb Weight			approx 3,000 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		20
Fuel Capacity			15.3 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P205/60 HR 16 Yokohama Avid S34
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS and EBD standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		21 / 29 / 22
0 to 60 mph				8.8  sec

Sun & Sound Package - includes:
  650-watt (max) Rockford-Fosgate Punch premium
  sound system, 6-CD/MP3 in-dash head unit, aux
  audio input jacks, Sirius satellite radio, power
  glass sunroof						$ 1,500
Destination charge					$   625
Road Trip: 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer

Road Trip: Exclusive In-car Interview with Hidekazu Suzuki,
Manager, Function Testing of the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer.