Mitsubishi has offered compact hatchbacks and sedans in the United States for a long time. In a hypercompetitive market, Mitsubishi has aimed to distinguish itself by delivering value, which translates into more for your money.
That's the 2008 Lancer's mission as well. An all-new, slightly larger sedan, it is thoroughly up-to-date. Its sharp, taut, design evokes the company's "Concept X" concept car, with a sharklike face and narrow headlamp "eyes." Aiming for excitement over beauty, the Lancer is meant to capture the attention of youth. Many of the young target buyers lust after the Lancer Evolution, a potent rally car that instills desirability on the entire Mitsubishi line.
My tester was an ES-the middle model of a three-flavor lineup. In Electric Blue, it was no shrinking violet on driveway or in traffic-some younger folks even noticed it. The overall impression is good inside and out. The updates bring the car back into strong competition with Honda's Civic, Toyota's Corolla, and VW's Rabbit, among other cars.
The DE model is the entry point, and it comes with a generous package of features. This includes 16-inch wheels with "sporty" covers, power windows and mirrors, a Multi-Information Monitor, and an anti-theft system. The power windows have 30 seconds of retained power-a handy touch. The friendly Multi-Information Monitor says "Welcome" and "Goodbye" when you start and turn off the car. When the temperature dropped to 34 degrees, it announced "Possibly Icy Roads" as a thoughtful warning. The DE features its own grade of upholstery and trim inside.
The ES model, likely the volume seller, adds many items that most buyers want. The list includes antilock brakes and a rear stabilizer bar for safer and tighter handling. The interior receives snazzier trim and upholstery, power locks, remote keyless entry, cruise control, split folding rear seatbacks, map lights, steering wheel audio controls, and more. The 16-inch wheels move up from pressed steel to alloy.
The top level GTS gets sport seats with thicker bolsters and even nicer upholstery. It boasts leather on the steering wheel and shift knob. As the top dog, it comes with automatic climate control, two extra audio speakers, and dual visor vanity mirrors. To inch visually closer to the Evolution model, the GTS also receives standard 18-inch, 10-spoke alloy wheels, front and side air dams, fog lights, a rear spoiler, and a chrome tailpipe finisher. Zoom!
The bowed-out dash panel is a friendly nod to BMW, although the materials at this price point are not as luxurious. Although the engine turns over at 3000 rpm at 65 mph, the cabin remains quiet, which is nice in a compact, value-oriented vehicle. The doors and trunk required surprising hard slams to close properly and the heater controls felt cheap, but otherwise, driving the Lancer was pleasant.
The front-wheel-drive Lancer uses a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 152 horsepower. That's a big bump over last year's 120-horsepower mill and makes it one of the more robust engines in the segment. California cars get a version with a PZEV (Partial Zero Emission Vehicle) rating, which drops the horsepower to 143, but delivers great EPA green vehicle numbers-an Air Pollution score of 9.5 and a Greenhouse Gas score of 7. Without the PZEV, the Air Pollution score drops to 6.
My tester listed EPA fuel economy numbers of 21 City, 29 Highway. The CVT-equipped model actually scores slightly better - 22/29.
The ES had the standard five-speed manual transmission, which gave it a little more fun factor. All Lancers can be ordered with an optional continuously variable transmission (CVT). CVTs are designed to get maximum power out of an engine thanks to their infinite selection of gear ratios. With the Lancer, you also get Sportronic magnesium paddles on the steering wheel to manually control shifts.
My ES had the "Sun & Sound Package," which, for $1,500, featured an ear-tickling 650-watt premium sound system from Rockford-Fosgate. It boasts nine speakers, including a 10-inch subwoofer, a six-CD/MP3 in-dash unit, and auxiliary audio jacks. The package also delivers Sirius Satellite Radio with six months of service. The "Sun" part is represented by a power glass sunroof.
Prices are quite reasonable. My ES tester came to just $18,115, including shipping charges. The DE with five-speed manual starts at $14,615 and the GTS with the CVT tops out at $19,105. Those are all attractive numbers.
With fresh styling, loads of content, and a generous warranty, the new Lancer offers a fine choice in the compact sedan field. And if you turn up the stereo and squint, you can imagine you're piloting the turbocharged, 291-horsepower Evolution.