Mitsubishi Lancer car reviews

Notes: 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS (stick) lexus LS460 with automatic parking

Personality Somewhat buzzy economy car that can take turns and do sprints with good speed
Why we’d buy it Decent mileage, good power when you rev high, good cornering, great features for the price
Why we wouldn’t Low power off the line, a bit noisy, cheap looking interior
Gas mileage 21/29 (2008 standards, 5-speed)
22/29 (2008 standards, CVT)
25/31 (2007 standards, 5-speed or CVT)

The Mitsubishi Lancer slots in between the economy Colt and the grown-up Galant, providing a sporty alternative to the Corolla, Civic, and other medium-sized sedans.

The prior generation Lancer was surprisingly civilized, but its interior has been visited by the cost-cutters. The instrument panel is trendier but less upscale, and the masses of black plastic are relieved in the GTS by dull metal trim here and there, and blank-and-silver faux carbon fiber trim. On the lighter side, the Lancer is inexpensive (around $14,500), quick, and fun to drive; and the exterior makes it seem as though Mitsubishi hired Chris Bangle from BMW. From the outside, the Lancer looks as though it costs ten grand more than it does.

The instrument panel has two huge gauges, one for vehicle speed and one for engine speed, with a trip computer between them, doubling as a gas gauge. The trip computer, operated by an Info button to the left of the gauges (where the passenger can't reach it), cycles through average and instant gas mileage and speed (all three displayed simultaneously and clearly), the preferences menu, the odometer and trip odometer, the cruising range (with odometer), a temperature gauge, and the maintenance menu; when starting, if maintenance is due, a large yellow wrench appears momentarily. The outside temparature is always shown; the coolant temperature is not. Instrument panel preferences were set with a single button - holding it down selects an item, pressing once changes it - but there weren't many preferences to set.

Overall, we liked the trip computer, but not the hidden temp gauge; the electronic fuel gauge was easy to get used to, and it's detailed enough to be as useful as a normal meter. As with most cars, the speedometer and tachometer go higher than needed, the former topping out at 140 mph and the latter at 8,000 rpm (about 1,500 above redline), but the gauges were large enough to be useful.

Backlighting was always on for the gauges; at night, gauges and buttons had a soft amber backlight that was easy on the eyes, with a diffused light shining gently and helpfully upon the center console bins. The center information display was a bit bright compared with the rest of the gauges, and could not be separately adjusted. Rather than using a rheostat, interior lighting was brightened or dimmed by pressing a button repeatedly.

Our test car had but two options: a Rockford Fosgate speaker system, and a hard-drive-based sound/navigation system. The combination cost $3,500, which is about 20% of the car’s list price, but the sound was superb; the clarity was excellent, bass was as boomy or clear as desired, and there was no shortage of power. Recording CDs on the hard drive was as easy as putting them in; any CD would be immediately recorded, with song and artist titles taken from the CDDB. They could be deleted if not desired afterwards, and if the CDDB made a mistake, it could be overridden with a virtual keyboard on the touch screen. Recording was fast and the CD was played as it was recorded.

The system looked and sounded great, but it took a while to find certain controls that should have been easy to locate, and changing setting took attention from the road. To change bass or treble, for example, the sequence is SET button; Sound Control; Audio Control; and then fiddle with various buttons. Bass, midrange, treble, and the subwoofer could all be controlled separately with a fancy display. A digital sound processor allowed for stage, live, and hall settings as well as “normal.” We did miss having a volume and tuning knob; and the system seemed to take a long time to boot and get a CD running from vehicle start. It was clever enough, at least, to fade sound in rather than blast out at full volume immediately.

The navigation system was also feature-laden, but after we finally figured out how to get to the destination entry, it was easier than most. State, city, street, and house number could be entered in any order using on-screen keyboards, and it remembered the last five cities and states, saving time. The system also allowed searches for points of interest, and had a simple “return trip” feature. Guidance seemed good and the map was clear, with the usual features like breadcrumbs and North up vs. Heading up. Choosing routes was noticeably faster than it was with DVD-based systems.

The stereo/nav system included an information section, to provide us with our height relative to sea level, a barometer reading, and outside temperature; the vehicle position with locations of the GPS satellites; detailed trip data as a table or graph; vehicle support info; a calendar and maintenance dates; and mobile phone data. The system worked with the Bluetooth telephone integration to provide information, dialing services, and hands-free operation.

Included in the navigation system was one of the best preference-setting systems we've seen, because it used the full functionality of the touch screen to provide good descriptions and an easy interface. You could set the behavior of the power locks, the wipers (intermittent operation could be speed sensitive, for example), and numerous other systems, easily and without doubt. The system was also tied into the climate control, so that it showed the status of the climate control when the knobs were turned.

The heat/air controls were simple and easy to use; thermostatic heating was standard on the GTS, controlled from a simple easily used dial. Fan speed and vent position were on the other two dials, with push-in faces for recirculation, air conditioner activation, and rear defroster. They didn't feel particularly upscale, and the affectation of multiple indents was a bit confusing; only the red one was a pointer. The air conditioning wasn't especially powerful, but at least the fan was quiet. Our only real complaint with the controls was that the off position for the fan wasn't at the end of the dial's travel, as one might expect; that's where the automatic setting was. Off was one position away.

The steering wheel included stereo controls on the left, cruise controls on the right, and phone controls underneath, with small feelers to make it easier to use the buttons accurately and by touch alone. The tilt wheel allowed any position within its range, rather than making the driver hit one or another detent. Seats were fairly comfortable, very supportive, and height-adjustable with a manual adjuster.

Storage spaces included deep, plain cupholders between the seats with extra-large cupholders in the front doors; map pockets on all four doors; small bins between the seats and a small covered console with a power outlet (there was also a cigarette lighter and ashtray; and a glove compartment mostly taken up by the owner's manual. Rear passengers had a drop-down armrest with dual cupholders. The trunk is massive, with a lid that seems to open straight up and out of the way, and good access; the rear seats have good room for the class.

The Lancer uses an engine whose basic design is shared with Hyundai and Chrysler, two companies it has worked with in the past - the Hyundai Excel was a modified Mitsubishi Precis, and the current Dodge Caliber shares some underpinnings with the Lancer. There is some similarity in feel, with both cars having a fairly close-to-the-road feeling that is a far cry from the previous-generation Lancer’s soft, well-insulated ride. The engine on both cars is peaky, providing little power off the line and building steam rapidly as it approaches redline; in the Lancer the 2.0 liter version produces 152 horsepower and 146 foot-pounds of torque, leading to a surprisingly good 0-60 time of 7.7 seconds. That’s far better than the 172 horsepower version used in Dodge and Jeep vehicles, thanks partly to aggressive gearing and partly to lower weight; but it’s also noisy and doesn’t have much power at lower revolutions. The result is a fairly quick vehicle which, unless you’re running it over 3,500 rpm or so, feels sluggish. This Lancer is faster if you work the stick aggressively. Gas mileage with the stick is rated - using 2008 numbers, which are tougher than 2007 numbers - at 21 city, 29 highway.

The manual transmission was a five-speed, with reverse in the place sometimes given to sixth gear; the clutch activated high up in its travel, but was easy to shift smoothly (though going to another car again takes getting used to.) The shifter was smooth and never balked or resisted a shift. Gearing is aggressive, with the engine revving fairly high at highway speeds to squeeze out power, which brings gas mileage down a bit. There is also a CVT version which we did not test; like the Chrysler Corporation CVT, it can be manually shifted with a simulated six speeds, but Mitsubishi uses more-convenient paddle shifters. Gas mileage with the CVT is similar and might even be better.

Cornering with the Lancer is good, if not as exciting as the Mitsubishi Web site would lead us to believe; the Lancer GTS went around turns quite well and stuck with a firm grip, but was a far cry from, say, the Volkswagen GTI. Nevertheless, the GTS lives up to its sporty exterior, but it does so at the cost of some ride quality, as it rides on very low-profile tires (215/45R18). While the Lancer does a good job at toning down rough streets and keeping the tires to the ground over potholes and rocks, the interior gets a lot of vibration (the buzzy engine doesn't help) and the ride is definitely firm. Standard Lancers most likely have a more-insulated, more comfortable feel than the performance-tuned GTS.

One odd option is a special remote, popularized by the Toyota Prius years ago, which allows starting of the car without the key. Just carry it on you and touch the door, and it unlocks; if you touch the passenger door (or double-touch the driver’s door), every door unlocks. To lock the doors you can push a button on the front doors; to unlock the trunk you can hold in the trunk button. Or you can use the normal key-fob controls. Once inside, pushing and turning a plastic cap on the ignition switch starts the car if you have the key near you (for example, in a cupholder.) The system is nice in winter, when you can keep the keys in your pocket, but it responds a little slowly, so you have to touch the door handle, wait, then pull. Overall, it seems like a “gadget for the sake of gadgets,” especially without a pushbutton starter. On the lighter side, a metal key is inside the fob, and it can be used to start the car directly if you take off the plastic cap from the ignition switch; so there is a fallback when the battery dies (you wouldn't want to do this all the time as the key has little leverage.) This is called the Fast Key Entry System, though it isn't faster than using a pushbutton unlocker.

The base price on the Lancer is $14,500, including destination, but the GTS comes in at $18,105. That includes a huge amount of equipment, including everything we discussed in this article except for the stereo, Fast Key, and navigation systems: the automatic climate control, trip computer/information display, tilt wheel, power locks, wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls, and Bluetooth hands-free phone system. There are also numerous other standard features we did not mention. In the field of cornering and performance, the Lancer GTS includes a multi-link rear suspension, four wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake distribution, front and rear stabilizer bars, and 18-inch wheels with 215/45R18 tires.

For safety, the Lancer GTS includes side front airbags and a driver’s knee airbag, along with tire pressure monitoring. Comfort features include an air filter, six-speaker CD player, six-way adjustable driver’s seat, power locks, windows, and mirrors, rear heater ducts, floor mats, fog lights, rear spoiler, and Eurostyle side turn signals.

The excellent sound system in our test car ran to $1,500, for the 650 watt Rockford-Fosgate nine-speaker sound system (including ten inch subwoofer), Sirius satellite radio, six-disc CD player, auxiliary audio jack (not included in our upgraded version), and, included in this group for no apparent reason, the sunroof. In addition, we had the $2,000 package which included the Fast Key and navigation system with 30-gigabyte hard-drive music storage system and DVD capability.

The Mitsubishi Lancer is surprisingly well priced, and comes with a hard to beat warranty: 5 years or 60,000 miles bumper to bumper, 10 years or 100,000 miles on the powertrain, and five years for roadside assistance. Nearly every component is made in Japan, where the Lancer is built. The GTS is well-equipped, and even the base model is surprisingly fast for the price, as long as you’re not caught in too high a gear. Overall, we’d gladly take a Lancer over a Civic or Focus, but we have to admit we’d find it hard to decide between a smooth base model and a well-equipped, hard-cornering GTS.