Mitsubishi has fired a warning shot across the bow of more conservative rivals with the newly redesigned 2008 Lancer compact. The new Lancer, which closely resembles the wild “Concept X” that bowed at the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show, has a high beltline, a sculpted shark’s nose, and a high, short rear deck. It’s slightly Mazda 3-esque, but it has more aggressive styling than anything this segment has ever seen, including the rakish new Civic.
Our test car came in “Apex Silver” with a black interior. The seats were upholstered in Honda-style faux suede, which is an up-market step that everyone is eventually going to have to take to keep up. Interior trim and accoutrements were tasteful, if not totally fine to the touch. Door storage is above average, and there are four cup holders within reach of the front-seat occupants. Rear passengers get two in the fold-down armrest. The Lancer is relatively roomy; Mitsubishi obviously made that a priority when eschewing thick, showy door panels that rob interior space.
Our GTS test car represents the top of the heap. It came with a front and side bodykit, a large yet tasteful rear spoiler, and side-mounted turn indicators. It also wore 18-inch alloy wheels, with a small fender gap for added sportiness.
Words fail when describing the Lancer’s visual impact. Mitsubishi has foregone the trendy bug-eye headlight housings and clear rear lenses currently in vogue, opting for more tapered housings, giving the sheetmetal a muscular appearance akin to a BMW. The Lancer also has a classic profile (short deck, long hood, short overhangs), sticking out of the conformist jellybean crowd like a sore thumb.
So does it measure up to its Bavarian looks on the road? For the most part, yes. The Lancer weighs nearly 3,000 pounds, which gives it a feeling of solidity but does compromise acceleration a bit. It’s still quick enough, scooting to 60mph in less than nine seconds. But don’t expect the top-end rush of a true Autobahn burner. The Lancer’s 2.0 inline four with MIVEC (Mitsubishi’s version of variable valve timing) is tuned for maximum mid-range drivability. With 153 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 146 lb-ft. of torque at 4250, the Lancer is perfect for scooting around town. It’s torquey and the gearing is long, so high-speed cruising (90 mph and above) is effortless, and very easy on the ears. Mitsubishi sent us a manual transmission, which worked well. Shifts are relatively smooth, and the clutch action is very sedate considering the car’s sporty intentions.
Our GTS test car was heavily equipped. It had Bluetooth, rear heating ducts, and keyless entry. It also had the marvelous, intuitive fuel economy monitor we experienced in the Outlander we liked so much. The LCD monitor is displayed as a bar, with increments of 0, 25, 50, and 75. The indicator resembles a battery bar for an electronic device, and oscillates wildly from mostly dark when accelerating to completely orange when cruising and achieving maximum fuel efficiency. Fuel economy figures for the Lancer are 21 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway, but the monitor offers you a challenging opportunity to best those numbers.
The only option our Lancer had was the “Sun and Sound Package,” a Mitsubishi hallmark that combines a power glass sunroof with a nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system with 650 watts and a ten-inch subwoofer. The subwoofer is enclosed in a trunk-mounted box with a metal guard, and robs very little cargo space. The system also includes an MP3-compatible, six-CD changer head unit, and auxiliary input audio jacks. Figuring the auxiliary function out was a little hard, since there’s no “AUX” button, but a quick consultation of the owner’s manual had the iPod working in no time (simply press the “CD” button for 2 seconds). At $1,500 this package is a steal, since power sunroofs on their own usually carry a sticker of $800 or more.
Including the audio package and a $625 destination charge, our Lancer GTS carried an as-tested price of $19,615 (base MSRP is $17,490). This undercuts the class-leading Civic in price (base MSRP of $18,710 for an EX sedan with manual transmission), yet the Lancer has a bigger, more powerful engine.
The 2008 Lancer is a giant leap forward for Mitsubishi’s small cars, and it’s easily their best compact ever. It’s not quite as polished as some other offerings in its class, but it’s a lot more exciting. And as far as looks, nothing else even comes close. This is a car for a buyer that values style and an overall experience that is sporty, yet economical. There’s certainly enough of those buyers out there to make the new Lancer a success.