2008 Mitsubishi Lancer is new-generation model
Friday, May 11, 2007
Just in time for shoppers looking for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, Mitsubishi's Lancer debuts as an early-for-2008 sedan with sharp styling, improved ride and handling and a pleasingly peppy, new four-cylinder engine.
The new-generation Lancer also offers technology features, including optional 30-gigabyte hard drive in the dashboard, and seven air bags -- one more than usually found in small cars.
Besides the usual frontal bags, seat-mounted side air bags and head curtain bags, Mitsubishi installed a knee air bag to help keep the driver properly positioned during a frontal crash.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $14,615 for a Lancer DE with 152-horsepower, four-cylinder engine, manual transmission and no air conditioning. A Lancer with air and a continuously variable transmission starts at $16,515.
Competitors in the small sedan segment include the 2007 Honda Civic sedan, which starts at $15,605 with a manual transmission and no air conditioning, and the 2007 Mazda3 starts at $14,490 with manual transmission and no air.
The Lancer's four-cylinder engine has more horsepower than the 140 horses in the base Civic and the 148 horses in the base Mazda3 sedan.
And Lancer comes with a more generous warranty than most other small cars. Mitsubishi provides five years/60,000-mile limited, bumper-to-bumper coverage and 10 years/100,000-mile limited powertrain coverage.
So, why is the Lancer such a slow seller?
In each of the last two calendar years, fewer than 28,000 Lancers were sold in the United States, compared with more than 316,000 Civic sales in calendar 2006 alone.
Blame it on the tired looks of the old Lancer, for one thing. Financial problems at Japan-based Mitsubishi Motor Corp. have reduced advertising and marketing efforts in the States, too, so many consumers aren't aware of the Lancer. Mitsubishi also remains below industry average in the annual J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study, and the Lancer hasn't been a recommended car of Consumer Reports.
Thankfully, the 2008 Lancer does a good job of setting itself apart from its predecessor.
The exterior design is one of the best on a compact sedan. It's sporty, but not exaggerated, well-proportioned, not weird. And in the midlevel ES trim that was the test car, the Lancer adds fine-looking, five-spoke, 16-inch wheels and chrome grille surround for a little more style.
Using the modern platform that's under the Mitsubishi Outlander crossover sport utility vehicle, the Lancer rides and handles well.
There's a new front, MacPherson strut suspension, so passengers in the test ES weren't punished with constant hard drumming of road bumps even as the car felt firmer and more controlled in its ride than earlier Lancers. Rear suspension is a multi-link design, and there's a sport-tuned suspension and larger, 18-inch tires available on the uplevel Lancer GTS for a sportier road feel.
The test Lancer ES had predictable motions as I drove through a slalom, and rack-and-pinion steering, with a rack larger than before, felt more accurate and smooth than that in earlier Lancers.
This new four door is about 2.5 inches wider than its predecessor and has a wider track, which added noticeably to the Lancer's feeling of stability on twisty mountain roads.
What I enjoyed most, though, was the 2-liter, double overhead cam four-cylinder engine with Mitsubishi's MIVEC valve timing system now operating both for intake and exhaust. The 152 horsepower is 26 percent more than the previous four cylinder, and yet the new, more powerful engine -- with a new, weight-saving, aluminum block -- weighs some 60 pounds less than last year's engine.
Also improved is that get up and go, or torque. The new Lancer gets 146 foot-pounds of torque peaking earlier than in the old engine -- at 4,250 rpm.
Shifting the new, five-speed manual -- with syncros and a shorter shift mechanism -- I bolted from my garage in the light-feeling test car. I had to get accustomed to the eager, peppy response from this powerplant in a car that's just over 3,000 pounds in weight.
Fuel economy is rated at 21 miles a gallon in city driving and 29 mpg on the highway. These are derived from new, less lenient government mileage calculations.
Passengers hear road noise about all the time in the Lancer, but engine sounds are surprisingly pleasant.
I appreciated that all three riders in the back seat have height-adjustable head restraints. Just be aware it can be a tight fit for three adults back there. In all but the base Lancer DE, the rear seatback splits 60/40 and folds down to make room for long items to extend inside from the trunk.
The dashboard hard drive -- part of the optional, $2,190 navigation and technology package -- has many nifty features, including a fuel economy graph, barometer and altimeter.
The Lancer did not do as well as many small sedans in federal government crash tests. In side crash testing, a rear door unlatched and swung open, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And in frontal crash testing, while driver protection got the top five stars, front passenger protection was rated at four out of five stars.