Full 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Review
What's New for 2008
The 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer is completely redesigned. It hasn't grown much in size, but a sleek new exterior design, improved driving dynamics and a long list of features make the Lancer more appealing in the compact sedan class.
Saab has been pushing a "born from jets" theme recently for its vehicles. We're not sure if it's done the company any good, but Mitsubishi apparently took inspiration from its own significant aviation history when styling the completely redesigned 2008 Lancer sedan. The Lancer's aggressive front end, with its thin-slit grille, was inspired by a jet fighter's air intakes to create what Mitsubishi calls a "shark-nosed" effect. Regardless of whether it's reminiscent of sea- or sky-born objects, the Mitsubishi Lancer is certainly a more attractive car than its predecessor. On a vehicle that competes in the often youth-oriented compact car segment, these edgy new looks, along with options like Bluetooth and navigation, should attract those looking for a little flair in their personal transportation.
The 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer underwent more than just a face-lift, though. It's based on an all-new front-wheel-drive platform that bears some similarity to the one used for the Dodge Caliber and Jeep Compass, but Mitsubishi specified its own components and tuning. With a slightly longer wheelbase, 2.5 inches more width and a much stiffer body structure, the '08 Lancer offers a more solid ride and handling feel than its predecessor.
The 2.0-liter inline-4 engine is also new, boasting variable valve timing, a lighter aluminum block and most importantly, 32 more horses. Mitsubishi's first continuously variable transmission (CVT) replaces the old four-speed automatic and actually gets 1 mpg better on the highway than the standard five-speed manual. For now, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder is the only engine available, though a Lancer Ralliart model with a larger 2.4-liter motor will be offered later on. In addition, the famous, performance-oriented Evolution variant will once again be offered.
The 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer is further proof that economy sedans are no longer just "basic" transportation. Along with an increasing number of other models in the sub-$20,000 market, Mitsubishi's compact sedan is offered with an impressive array of high-tech features that up until recently were reserved for luxury automobiles. Keyless ignition, automatic climate control, a touchscreen navigation system, Bluetooth phone connectivity and a nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system are just some of the niceties standard or optional on the three trim levels. Also improved this year are the look of the interior and the quality of the interior materials.
Struggling Mitsubishi is desperate for a hit in this competitive price category, and its redesigned Lancer looks like it has the basic ingredients for success. As there's only one engine choice for now, the Lancer can't match key competitors like the Honda Civic, Mazda 3 or Nissan Sentra in terms of miserly fuel economy or straight-line performance. But it does have a better warranty than those cars, and its agile handling and edgy styling are bound to appeal to young hipsters — especially if they have an affection for jets or sharks.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer is a compact sedan available in DE, ES and GTS trim levels. The base DE comes with 16-inch steel wheels, rear drum brakes, tilt-only steering wheel, power windows and mirrors, tire-pressure monitor, a four-speaker CD/MP3 stereo and a trip computer. The A/C and Power Package adds ABS, air-conditioning and power door locks to the DE. The Lancer ES comes standard with the items in that package and adds 16-inch alloy wheels, rear disc brakes, upgraded upholstery, manual driver seat height adjustment, steering-wheel audio and cruise controls, keyless entry and a 60/40-split rear seat with center armrest. The top-level GTS ups the Lancer's luxury and sport repertoire with a mild body kit with rear spoiler; 18-inch alloy wheels; a sport-tuned suspension; automatic climate control; a leather steering wheel and shifter; sport bucket front seats with different fabric; six speakers for the CD/MP3 stereo and Bluetooth phone connectivity.
The Sun & Sound Package offered on the ES and GTS includes a sunroof and a nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate "Punch" sound system with a six-CD/MP3 in-dash changer, auxiliary input jack and satellite radio. When equipped with the Sun & Sound Package, the GTS is also eligible for a Navigation & Technology Package that adds keyless ignition and a navigation system that features a 30GB hard drive capable of storing MP3 music files.
Powertrains and Performance
All Lancers come with a new 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine that makes a respectable 152 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. In California, the Lancer is a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) with a downgraded 143 hp and 143 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual is standard, while Mitsubishi's first CVT is optional for those who'd rather not deal with a clutch (or gears). When equipped with the CVT, GTS models come with "Sportronic." This feature adds two paddles behind the steering wheel; tugging on them allows a driver to shift through six fixed ratios for optimum engine control. Fuel economy is average for this class of car. EPA estimates for 2008 are 21 mpg city, 29 mpg highway for the five-speed manual and 22 city, 29 highway for the CVT.
The 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer comes with a solid array of airbags, including front-seat side airbags, full-length head curtain airbags and a driver's knee airbag. A tire-pressure monitor is standard on all models, while ABS is standard on the ES and GTS, and optional on the base DE. The ES and GTS come standard with four-wheel disc brakes, while the DE has rear drums. Stability control is not offered.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Lancer's interior is spacious, particularly in the rear seating area. The dashboard is not nearly as exciting as the Lancer's sporty, shark-nosed exterior (or the Civic's futuristic space pod layout), but buyers should appreciate its clean, straightforward design and quality materials. The long list of standard and optional features on the ES and GTS create an environment consistent with the recent (and welcome) trend of including luxury trappings in a small, economical package. One item not available, however, is a telescoping steering column — a feature often standard on other models in this class.
While added weight is never a good thing for performance or fuel economy, the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer's additional 200 pounds over last year's model actually gives it a substantial, almost German sense of over-the-road confidence. The steering requires more effort than before, but it's not heavy and doesn't make the car feel cumbersome. This weightiness similarly describes the car's ride quality and chassis reactions, but in a good way. The Lancer can't be flung through corners like the top-handling cars in this segment, but its excellent grip should please buyers just looking for a sporty small sedan. Due to its weight, though, it doesn't feel especially quick with the 2.0-liter engine, so enthusiast-oriented buyers will likely want to wait for the Lancer Ralliart and its larger 2.4-liter motor.
Read our Mitsubishi Lancer Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test