• Dec 26th 2007 at 11:57AM
  • 34

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer – Click above for high-res image gallery

As any kid learns on Christmas morning, expectations are a bitch. And once you've made the transition to adulthood, things don't change. It's widely accepted that most of us who pray at the altar of the car Gods are simply eight-year olds with a bit more expendable income... and for the most part, that's true. There are a few synapses that get fired when we overcook a particular corner in our daily rides, the same ones that were triggered when we yanked up on the makeshift e-brake of our Big Wheels. So when we took delivery of a 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer ES, we were expecting handling and motivation to match the new Lancer's aggressive styling, even in this just-better-than-base model. After seven days of merciless flogging, we were left with a sport compact-sized hole in our hearts, just like when Santa didn't leave the Super Nintendo underneath our tree.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Damon Lavrinc/Weblogs, Inc.

Our 2008 tester came in ES trim, slotting in between the base DE and the current range-topping GTS. Like all three models, the ES comes equipped with the 2.0-liter MIVEC-equipped inline four making 152 hp at 6,000 rpm and 146 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,250 rpm. Thankfully (sort of) our Electric Blue loaner was fitted with a five-speed manual, saving us from the drudgery of dealing with Mitsubishi's CVT.

Viewed from afar, the new Mitsubishi Lancer is a pretty stunning piece of kit, particularly when compared to some of the other moribund offerings available in the segment (we're looking at you Corolla). The aggressive shark snout, raked and reversed Audi/VW grille and angry eyes flanking the sides of the fascia, all give potential owners something to look forward to when leaving home in the morning. As it's been pointed out before, the Lancer's tail lamps are a not-so-subtle rip from the Alfa Romeo 156, but we could think of worse design cues to ape.

Unfortunately for us, the majority of the press shots we've seen, and the only Lancer that's graced Mitsubishi's show stand, has been the body-kit equipped GTS model. That includes 18-inch ten-spoke wheels (versus our model's 16-inch rolling stock), front and lower air dam extenders and a rear spoiler, all of which adds considerably more visual weight to the Lancer's look. The lack of a spoiler wasn't much of an issue, but the prominent proboscis wasn't as attractive without the lower body extensions for balance.

Lifting on the color-keyed door handle and making our way inward reveals that Mom was right; it's what's on the inside that counts. Just like the high school heartthrob whose waist size was equivalent to her IQ, the Lancer's interior immediately confirms that serious concessions were made on materials, despite the sleek body that surrounds them. While the steering wheel is perfectly sized both in dimension and girth, everything else is a considerable let down. The seats are sorely lacking in lateral support, feeling like they were made of left over cardboard, cut-rate cloth and ball-point springs, while the quality of the door and dash material is the same as dollar store Christmas ornaments. An even lower grade of craptastic plastic is affixed to the stereo, window and climate control switchgear, providing about as much tactile feedback as pressing "C-12" on a vending machine for a Snickers.

The few shining pearls found amidst the detritus include the clean gauge cluster and accompanying multi-function LCD nestled between the speedo and tach. The 650-watt Rockford-Fosgate sound system, with its ten-inch subwoofer mounted in the trunk (optional with the "Sun and Sound" pack) lets your mind temporarily escape the Lancer's penalty box, but even those few highlights weren't without their detractors. The read-out on the dash and the stereo was all but invisible in anything but low light, and the auxiliary input jack mounted in the very back of the center console only accepts RCA plugs (red and white) versus the industry standard 1/8-inch adapter.

Once underway we were ready to accept the Lancer's interior material foibles as standard economy car fair, but things simply didn't click – primarily with the manual transmission. Think back to the first driving arcade game you played that had a shifter. Remember the sensation of rowing through four gears feeling absolutely no attachment to anything mechanical? Add a fifth cog and even less feedback and you're driving the Lancer. It's that bad and it left us (gulp) wanting to at least experience the six faux ratios on Mitsubishi's CVT.

Motivation from the 2.0-liter four-pot is adequate most of the time, but isn't up to snuff when partnered with the ton-and-a-half body. Merging onto the freeway is best done with no one barreling down the right lane or traffic crawling along at morning commute speeds. Since this will be the natural environment for Mitsubishi's entry-level econobox, we were somewhat disappointed, but there was only nominal doubt that the Lancer could put up with most daily slogs, assuming that passing maneuvers could be performed with plenty of pre-planning.

While getting down and dirty on a few back roads is likely to be out of the average Lancer owner's purview, we still had to see how this new chassis could cope with the twisties. After all, it does serve as the basis for the Evolution X and the forthcoming Ralliart, so a quick look over the spec sheet shows that everything seems to be in order. A MacPherson strut setup keeps things suspended in the front, while a multi-link rear arrangement handles the bounce and rebound duties out back. The chassis itself is incredibly well sorted. Bending resistance and torsional rigidity have both been increased by over 50-percent from the outgoing model and it shows, but everything Mitsubishi shoved into the wheel wells is pure trash. The springs may as well be made of red licorice rope and the struts filled with marshmallow fluff. The body roll is unbearable and when coupled with the all-season rubber, taking a corner at speed makes for a sphincter-straining, full-body workout.

The brakes do an admirable job of hauling down the Lancer in a straight line – once. But after repeated bursts to scrub off speed before reaching a corner, things got mushy quick. The Power Package-equipped ES came with ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), but blessed are those that left-foot brake. After a particularly spirited jaunt through a series of tight bends, we rolled to a stop on the side of the road and found that not only was smoke billowing from within the front wheels, but the engine was stuck at 4,000 rpm. We're unsure as to what may have caused this temporary electronic confusion, but after about ten seconds, all was well and we trundled along, content that we wouldn't be testing the Lancer's boundaries any further.

And that may be the biggest issue with the 2008 Lancer; it's a vehicle that doesn't really want to be driven. Granted, a commuter car is strictly an appliance, but that doesn't mean that some measure of engagement should be left out of the equation. For a nominal premium over our Lancer's price ($18,115) you could avoid the dread of the daily grind behind the wheel of a Honda Civic or Mazda3. Both are more composed, more focused and ultimately, more rewarding. And until Mitsubishi recognizes that there's a middle ground between the magnificent (Evo) and the mundane (Lancer), then budget-minded drivers would do best to look elsewhere when shopping for their next sub-$20k run about.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Damon Lavrinc/Weblogs, Inc.

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      From reading the comments, only the people who actually bought the car would defend it. The people who test drove different cars, feel money is better spent on a civic or mazda3. This coincides with many magazine comparisons, so across the board, the general opinion your money is better spent on a civic or mazda3. It is common knowledge once you buy a car you would defend your investment and justify it. However, it's also important to remember this is just an opinion, as all reviews are. The most important thing is if you like your purchase.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I think it has to do with expectations. As a corolla, this thing is passable. But for a car with that exterior and the EVO heritage, one expects a little more and this really doesnt deliver. When I dirst saw it on the show circuit last year, I was pumped. I saw my next car.

      When it hit the dealers, I stopped by on a Sunday (when they were closed) and there were a couple open. I was not impressed with the interior or the hollow door sound when closing. Came back for a test drive just in case. it didnt get better. I'm not sure where Mitsu fell off track but it must have been shortly after they finished the exterior. Unlike Autoblog and others, I dont find the ES body that bad (I do like the GTS better) but the rest gets a thumbs down.
      • 7 Years Ago
      " It is common knowledge once you buy a car you would defend your investment and justify it."
      On a message board?
      I guess all Toyota buyers are lairs?

      And the rest that make comments have never even seen one or compare it with a more expensive model. Most reviews put it around the middle of the class before the new engine or new Ralliart model is out.

      People don't even go look at Mitsubishi these days because of stupid reviews like this. The Lancer and Outlander have been rated well by owners and for their quality.

      • 7 Years Ago
      I must say, Autoblog, if, with this review, you intended to convey an acute, penetrating sense of sadness and despair, well, mission accomplished. I have always disliked the base Lancer but now I will have to pop a Zoloft every time I see one.
      • 7 Years Ago
      This is the most negative review I've seen on Autoblog. Wow. You sound like my ex-wife when she was on her period -- nothing was good enough or done right.

      Good thing Mitsubishi knows no Evo review will read like this; they'll know the reviewer is either on crack or trying to get fired.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Clearly they are still mad at Santa for forgetting their Super Nintendo and needed to take it out on the Lancer.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I drove a fully loaded Lexus ES300 around back streets of Pittsburgh once. When I got done the brakes were smoking and there was terrible body roll. The thing is any normal car would fail in those conditions. I drove my %u201989 RX-7 on the same roads and it was a blast.

      A good reviewer needs to put a car into its proper perspective. If you've been driving a superior car everyday or testing 35k full size sedans and then drop into a base model compact car from any company you are going to be disappointed. If you have a hopped up Nissan 240 you take drift racing every weekend a 152hp engine is going to feel anemic. Mitsubishi, Toyota, and the others could put a stiffer suspension in base model cars but the general public would hate it. Americans want a fluffy ride even if it means less control. It is true that you don%u2019t feel anything between shifts, but you do feel the gears engage when you shift into the slot. I don%u2019t want a transmission that I feel like I have to fight to get into gear.

      I think what a lot of people that are commenting against this review are saying is that it sounds like a very biased review without really saying why. It seems like it was written by someone who has never spent any real time behind the wheel of an economy car.

      The only real negative of the Lancer is that the interior materials are very hard plastic. The panels are thin and will deform slightly if you push on them hard, but they look nice and how often do you push the panel covering the passenger airbag during daily driving. The interior is no way close to being as bad as an Aveo, seriously. I had to drive one of those as a rental car and I thought I would die if I hit a bump in the road. Hell the Malibu/Impala had far worse plastics. How about the Monte Carlo that costs $35k.

        • 7 Years Ago
        We all drive a number of vehicles ranging in price and spec. As for what I drive normally, it unfortunately has one of the nastiest interiors I've been exposed to -- so at least I have a frame of reference.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I actually test drove an ES with the CVT when the Lancer came out, and can say that I was just as unimpressed as AutoBlog. The interior quality was very bad. Some people have commented that it is just as bad as other economy cars, but I test drove a 2007 Toyota Corolla CE (the lowest model) and the interior materials were much nicer. I also test drove a 2007 Mazda 3 with the 2.0, and found that it was nicer as well. The Lancer was loud at any speed, the CTV was terrible, and the engine sounded like it was going to fall apart when accelerating. Not much can be expected from the driving dynamics of cars in this price range but for what its worth I found that both the Corolla and the Mazda composed themselves far better during normal and semi-spirited driving. Sorry, but Mitsubishi needs to go back to the drawing boards with this one.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I've heard the GTS was fun to drive... was that wrong, or is the ES really a full 180 from the GTS? That seems hard to do between trim levels.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I don't see how this car can't be adequate for merging. I'm assuming the 0-60 acceleration of this car is about ~8s (the number for a 150hp Cobalt). I drive a pickup with ~8sec 0-60 and its more than adequate for merging onto a highway and I never floor it and usually merge running up to 2800rpms in each gear. 2nd gear will take me all the way to 70mph if I floor it. I never have issues passing whenever I feel like it even when pulling a boat or some ATVs.

      I've never driven a 4cyl for any extensive amount of time, do they die off that quickly at highway speeds that 152hp isn't plenty powerful for merging/passing?
      • 7 Years Ago
      Now, ive been into this car thing for a while now, and ive
      realised that the hardness/softness of the plastics are one
      characteristic that appear in every review.....and more often than
      not they are ' not up to scratch'. even with numerous re-designes,
      various automakers ignore the reviews and put them back in the new
      car anyway. this made we wonder..when have i ever touched the
      plastics in any car ive been in??? ive touched the leather,..but the
      plastic?? does anyone really care? Or is it just something to
      complain about?...clearly most automakers don't.

      Also, i have google-alerts for new cars and the industy on a
      whole, and i can say without a doubt this is the worst review any
      lancer has gotten in any trim. Shame on you Autoblog for this
      demeaning review, as 100:1 ratio indicates that you, being the 1, are
      WRONG. Not only is the lancer's worst review, but its one of the worst
      ive ever read! ive explored the lancer,civic,mazda3, and from an
      exterior point of view, the lancer's sesational stylyling is more
      than enough compensation for its interior short-commings...this is
      where its development money went...safety and style....not plastic.

      I'm glad i have Motor Trend to keep me educated from such stupidity
      that this review has now shown me Autoblog is capable of
      • 5 Years Ago
      My friend had the GTS model and he had constant tire wear issues... I opted for the 2008 Lancer SE (ES + GTS Body kit), and mines been great. 0-60 time is under 9 seconds, its very well equipped for the money... and very fun to drive. I can't say the same for our 2009 mazda 3. I wish we got a second Lancer instead.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Why didn't Mitsu stick the 2.4 liter engine in the GTS, it is above 3000 lbs?
      Or how about a 6 speed stick?
      or a CVT manumatic mode that uses the entire 6:1 ratio spread (add a 7th gear, it isn't that hard to do)
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