LA JOLLA, Calif., - You know a car is saying something when it looks good standing still and its sitting inside too boot. That was our first impression of the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer.
However, as we were reading some of the press materials before the program presentation began, what caught our eye was that the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer was powered by a 2.0- liter four cylinder engine that made 152 horsepower and 146 pounds- feet of torque.
It was the only engine available and a five- speed manual transmission was standard. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) was optional. Although it looked awfully good, on paper the front- wheel- drive Lancer just didn't seem like all that much.
In making that assumption, we forgot one of our major rules of the road: the proof is on the pavement.
As soon as we turned out of the Estancia Hotel & Spa and headed down North Torrey Pines Road here we recognized that indeed the Lancer lived up to its heritage
Sport doesn't necessarily have to mean gobs of horsepower. Performance is all about the power to weight ratio and at 2,922 to 3,109 lbs., depending on equipment, the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer was pretty light on its treads.
Our test vehicle was equipped with a CVT. We found the driving characteristics of this Lancer with this transmission to be smart, sporty, stable and funky.
Acceleration was better than average. The car responded handily to our input. And since it had the same brakes as the much heavier Mitsubishi Outlander crossover vehicle, stopping power was impressive.
The only quibble we found during our time with the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer was it was a bit snug getting through the back door into the rear seat. Once there though we found head and hip room adequate for a compact sedan.
We were particularly smitten by the Lancer's CVT, which is the first variable transmission that Mitsubishi has used in the U.S. It was quiet, handled the hills here well and it had paddle shifters. We set it on manual and shifted through its six gears while driving on the slalom- like Highly Valley Road.
This was mildly remarkable since a CVT is based on pulleys. In other words, it doesn't have gears. Mitsubishi has programmed the CVT well to respond like it was being manual shifted.
The 2008 Lancer's suspension was firm without being harsh. We pushed the vehicle through curves and through some very tight turns and it responded without a whimper.
We thought the CVT equipped Lancer was far more fun to drive that the model equipped with a five- speed manual gear box that we drove back to the hotel after lunch. In fairness, we got on I- 5 and headed north for a quick 15- minute drive back to the hotel. It wasn't a real apples- to- apples comparison.
As impressive as its driving characteristic was the 2008 Lancer's available equipment. What stood out was Bluetooth that turns compatible cell phones into hands free car phones.
The Lancer could also be equipped with satellite radio, a navigation system with a touch screen; a 30 gigabyte had drive that could store movies and music, and an in dash six disc CD player with MP3 capability. In addition to an auxiliary jack for an iPod in every model, the Lancer's premium audio system could also play movies off a video iPod.
When the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer goes on sale in April, there will be three models to choose from: the DE, the ES and the GTS. Mitsubishi told us that prices will start around $14,000. That's a little money for what seemed to us to be a lot of car.