2008 Mitsubishi Lancer
2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Expert Review:Autoblog
Here's a revelation: being stuck in traffic sucks. And it's even more infuriating behind the wheel of an Evo.
Despite what some scribes might lead you to believe, the Evos of yore (VIII and IX) weren't deplorable daily drivers. Granted, Mitsu's engineers erred on the stiff side with the Evo's ride, and it didn't help that the tiller provided more feedback than a Metallica sound check. But the real reason jaded journos harped on the old Evo's workaday unfriendliness was because nothing is more frustrating than piloting concentrated adrenaline in a sea of buzzkill.
With the 2008 Evolution X, Mitsubishi attempted to rectify some of the Evo's (perceived) shortcomings by equipping the range-topping MR with more amenities, more sound-deadening material, a more compliant ride and a new twin-clutch transmission to balance back-road thrills with daily livability.
But all those extras have caused the Evo's curb weight to skyrocket, and its price tag has followed suit. For $42,000 – the sticker on our MR tester – you can get your hands on the new yardstick for high-end, entry-level performance: the BMW 335i. While that kind of wallet shock could ostracize the Evo's core demographic, Mitsubishi is quick to point out that the new MR is for the discerning enthusiast: a more sensible, mature owner. But does mature mean infirmed? Read on to find out.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Brad Wood / Weblogs, Inc.
Despite what you've seen plastered across the interwebs and on local newsstands, the new Evo is every bit as potent as its predecessors. But the MR takes a slightly different tack when it comes to serving up track attacks and tempered trips to pick up the kiddies.
At the heart of the Evolution experience are two elements that made the previous iterations a success with enthusiasts: a turbocharged four and a high-tech all-wheel-drive system. Both are present and accounted for, but they live up to the Evolution's namesake more than any other model in its 16-year history.
To begin with, Mitsubishi dropped its 4G63 workhorse in favor of the all-new 4B11 2.0-liter inline-four, originally equipped in the Lancer ES. But don't let its pedestrian origins deceive you. With a revised 9.0:1 compression ratio, a semi-closed deck, an aluminum block and a twin-scroll turbo, the new mill has proven to be incredibly capable and eminently tweakable. The turbo'd four is churning out 291 hp at 6,500 rpm, while peak torque – 300 lb.-ft. of the stuff – is available from 4,000 rpm. Those figures might not set the forums on fire, particularly when you consider the MR's 3,594-pound curb weight, but how that power reaches the ground speaks volumes about Mitsubishi's new dog and its trick tranny.
Mitsubishi has stepped up the dual-clutch plate with its TC-SST gearbox, the automaker's first foray into the world of automated manuals. Like the transmissions available in a variety of VW and Audi offerings, along with the Nissan GT-R and 2009 Porsche 911 PDK, Mitsubishi's 'box uses a duo of wet clutches to engage odd and even gears on two separate shafts. Six seamless gear changes are available at speed, with oil temps kept in check by an air-cooler.
Drivers can choose between three settings to meet their cog swapping needs: Normal, Sport and S-Sport. A button below the shifter allows you to choose your poison, with the Normal (default) mode putting a premium on fuel economy, slower shifts and a more tempered driving experience. Push up on the switch for Sport mode and the computer tightens throttle response, holds onto the revs towards the 7,000-rpm redline and provides the engine braking manual devotees require. For S-Sport, the Evo has to be stopped and the switch held forward for three seconds. This takes everything that's good about Sport and makes it great, but with the tach rarely dipping below 4,000 rpm to keep the turbo on boil, we found it's best left for the track. All three settings allow you to disregard the TCU's wiser-than-thou selection and choose your own ratio through either the steering wheel-mounted magnesium paddles or the central gear lever, but as we found later, there's no point – it's that good.
Driving around town and blasting down off-ramps, the TC-SST proves to be a remarkably competent and engaging gearbox. Up-shifts are virtually seamless without feeling artificial (ahem, CVT) and downshifts are dispatched with a quick pull and a computer-controlled blip. Even more impressive is the automatic mode, which takes tranny telepathy to an entirely different level. In Sport and S-Sport, gears and power are exactly where you want them, when you want them, whether you're braking into a bend or mashing on the throttle mid-corner.
In traffic, however, the TC-SST reveals that Mitsu's new toy is still a little wet behind the ears. In start-and-stop situations with the tranny set to Normal you can feel the clutch engaging and releasing, sometimes at inopportune times. Occasionally, when the packs loaded up quickly, we'd get a minor "clunk" from the rear differential as the plates locked and sent power to the wheels.* While not as refined as VAG's DSG, what the TC-SST lacks in finesse it makes up for in ferociousness – something that we had the chance to experience at Seattle's Pacific Raceway.
By sheer coincidence or act of car-God, a few weeks after our time with the MR we attended a "Mitsubishi Lancer Family" event allowing us to experience both the GSR and MR models on the track, along with the new Lancer Ralliart and an AMS-tuned Evo X (stand by for reviews).
With our helmet on, the TC-SST set to S-Sport and a race instructor to our right, we headed out onto the front straight of Pacific Raceway. The TC-SST ran through first, second, third, fourth and then fifth as we made our way into the first long, left hand bend.
Keen to see if the tranny's automatic mode would continue to impress, we braked hard before the turn, the gearbox shifting down from fifth to fourth to third just in time for us to apply power as we aimed for the apex. Mitsubishi's Super-All Wheel Control (S-AWC) system imperceptibly shuffled power to the appropriate wheels and the TC-SST shifted up into fourth – mid-corner – but did nothing to upset the Evo's balance through the bend.
Barreling down through the tree-lined back section, the wide straights and first few forgiving turns gave way to a tight and technical section of hairpins and elevation changes. The Active Center Differential (ACD) and Active Yaw Control (AYC) were now in their environment, delivering measured surges of power to the outside wheels while still retaining the subtle rear rotation we loved about the VIII and IX. Smooth, precise inputs may be the best way to lay down quick lap times, but with this much technology available to our extremities, we couldn't help chucking the steering wheel left to right and seeing how the electronics sorted things out. Powersliding bliss proved to be a few ham-fisted maneuvers away.
Just like the last two iterations of the Evo, the new MR (and GSR) allows almost anyone to channel their inner Makinen, and the Evolution is in its prime in a closed environment. On public roads, it's a similar situation. The MR does its best to coddle occupants with beautifully sculpted and supportive Recaros, responsive (and fade-free) Brembos and an intuitive touch-screen multi-media/sat-nav system, while the new dual-clutch transmission makes another compelling case to ditch the third pedal, yet still provides the engagement drivers crave.
But price may remain the sticking point for buyers cross-shopping in the $38,000+ range. The Evo MR's high-tech wizardry, rally roots, aggressive styling and driving dynamics are going to appeal to one subset of the population. Those more concerned with a badge, better interior materials (we're looking at you, dash and door panels) and rear-wheel-drive will win out with others. Just like the Z06 versus GT-R debate, it comes down to what you value in a vehicle and your proclivity for power delivery. Regardless of your choice, you're bound to have fun, and the MR is a sure bet to achieve it.
Mitsubishi provided the vehicle for testing, and arranged travel and lodging for our trip to Seattle. Special thanks to Concord Mitsubishi for allowing us to use one of their vehicles for another photo session.
* According to Mitsubishi spokesperson, Maurice Durand, the Evolution X MR we were driving still had a prototype tune on the transmission's computer. Mr. Durand tells us that some of these issues have been ironed out on the production model.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Brad Wood / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
All-new, improved styling, new engine.
One of the first 2008 models to land in dealer showrooms, the new Mitsubishi Lancer is a complete remake from the wheels up of the company's entry in the compact sedan class. This is not merely an exercise in dressing the previous model in a new set of threads. From sheetmetal to upholstery to mechanicals to interior trim, it's a new car.
The body has been re-styled, with a more aggressive fascia and a wedgier profile. The result, sadly, is mixed. It looks really sharp head on, a little dull going away. Overall proportions are balanced, though, so the final result is a plus.
The engine is new, albeit the same displacement as before, but now with a double overhead cam in place of the '06's single, and updated electronics. Horsepower is up by 32, torque by 16 pound-feet of torque (22 and 12, respectively, in states with California emission rules). A Continuously Variable Transmission replaces the '06's automatic, with a five-speed manual still the standard gearbox.
The 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer has gained weight over the '06, between 200 and 400 pounds, depending on model and trim. This, together with the more powerful engine, no doubt accounts at least in part to the lower fuel economy ratings for the 2008 model. Lower, also, than most of the competition, some of which better the Lancer by 5 miles per gallon or more in EPA City and Highway estimates.
Inside, there's roomy seating for five. Instruments and dash are pleasing to the eye and friendly to the fingers, with easy-to-use knobs and switches for the more important functions. Some details are less than ideal, but the Lancer is, after all, an economy car and not Mitsubishi's flagship.
The options list comprises value-adding packages. Disappointing is the need to pay extra for air conditioning and antilock brakes on the base Lancer. But a high-quality sound system is offered for the two upper trim levels. And impressive for this price level is a full-featured navigation-cum-music server system available on the top model.
Pricing wasn't announced as this review is written. Expect, however, the base model to start around $14,000.
The Mitsubishi Lancer returns for 2008 after skipping the 2007 model year. Now, just one engine is available: a 152-hp four-cylinder (143-hp in California emissions form). It comes with a choice of five-speed manual transmission or optional CVT automatic, a continuously variable transmission. Body style remains a four-door, five-passenger sedan.
The Mitsubishi Lancer DE is the base model. Standard features are sparse. There is no air conditioning, although the heater does have micron filtration. Shift knob and tilt steering wheel are wrapped in urethane. Most interior trim pieces and accents are black, as are side view mirror housings and inside and outside door handles. Driver and front passenger get four-way, manually adjustable seats. The audio system is a four-speaker, 140-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 unit, but it has DSP and vehicle speed-compensated volume and equalization and pre-wiring for Sirius satellite radio. Windows and outside mirrors are powered, but door locks are not. A driver information center hosts a trip meter, fuel economy data display and fuel and coolant warning lamps. Steel wheels wear P205/60R16 tires. There's an anti-theft engine immobilizer. One factory option is offered for the DE, a package consisting of antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, air conditioning, power door locks and auto-up on the driver side window. Dealers sell the fog lights and floor mats.
The Lancer ES comes with air conditioning, cruise control with steering wheel-mounted controls, power door locks with keyless remote, six-way adjustable driver seat, 60/40-split folding rear seatback with folding center armrest, front map lights, floor mats, the auto-up driver-side window, premium fabric upholstery, silver interior accents, body-color outside mirror housings and door handles, second power point, anti-theft security alarm and steering wheel-mounted redundant audio controls and pre-wired Bluetooth switch. Aluminum alloys replace the DE's steel wheels, and the rear suspension gets a stabilizer bar. The Sun & Sound package includes a 650-watt, nine-speaker, Rockford-Fosgate premium audio system; a six-month, pre-paid Sirius satellite radio subscription; a six-disc in-dash CD/MP3 changer; an auxiliary audio input jack; and a power, tilt-and-slide, glass sunroof. Fog lights are sold by dealers.
The Lancer GTS is the top of the line. Automatic climate control is standard. Leather wraps the steering wheel and shift knob. Driver and front passenger get sport bucket seats with unique fabric surfaces. Most interior accents get a geometric print. The stereo adds two speakers, for a total of six. An aero package with front air dam, lower side air dams and rear spoiler spruces up the exterior. The factory installs the fog lights. Tires are P215/45R18s on alloy wheels. The suspension gets sport-tuned shocks and springs and stiffened bushings. A cross-brace bar bolted to the tops of the front suspension towers boosts body stiffness. The Sportronic version of the CVT, exclusive to the GTS, lets the driver shift gears using steering wheel-mounted, magnesium paddles. Options include the same Sun & Sound package. The Navigation & Technology package includes a GPS-based navigation system storing mapping data on a 30GB hard disk drive (with 6GB set aside for personally recorded audio files). Integrated into the navigation system is the driver information center plus screens displaying, among other things, ambient temperature, barometric pressure and altimeter; vehicle maintenance reminder and calendar; controls for the underlying Rockford-Fosgate audio system and Sirius satellite radio; and customization settings for the Lancer's various interior electronics. Also in this package is Fast-Key, a keyless, proximity-activated, auto-unlock system.
Safety features include seven airbags, with a driver's knee airbag augmenting the usual collection of frontal airbags; front seat-mounted, upper body-protecting side airbags; and head-protecting, side-curtain airbags. Front seatbelts have pretensionsers and force limiters to help position users for maximum protection from airbags in crashes. Rear seats incorporate child safety seat anchors and tethers (LATCH).
Antilock brakes, which enable the driver to steer the car during panic stops, and electronic brake-force d.
Were it not for the trademark, three-diamond logo, little about the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer suggests it's related in any way to the 2006 model. In this instance, however, this is good. As decent a car as that previous edition was, its competitors have leapfrogged it in almost every sense, not the least of which is styling.
Where the 2006 Lancer was somewhat minimalist in its approach, with a swept-back hood and squinty headlights, the 2008 presents a brusque face, with a strong chin and scowling eyes, a look Mitsubishi not unfairly compares to a shark's snout. Grille and lower intake form a trapezoid horizontally split by the front bumper; Mitsubishi says this a jet fighter. Blacked-out blanks below the bumper balance the headlights and house the projector-lens fog lights when fitted. Mild creases trace the hood's power bulge from the grille back to the A-pillars framing the windshield, leaving well-defined shoulders over the front wheel wells.
Side view stays true to the shark theme, with the upper edge of the grille looming over the relatively flush front bumper. A high beltline (where the side windows meet the lower door panels) lowers the car's visual center of gravity, giving it a more substantial and more firmly planted look. A character line that plays on the car's wedge shape begins in a deep groove in the front quarter panel and front door and fills in as it moves to the rear just beneath the full-round door handles, fading into a shallow shadow across the rear quarter panel before ending at the acutely angled rear side-marker light. Even the base, 60-aspect tires on 16-inch wheels look right in the circular wheel openings.
The rear aspect is very bustle-ish, with a tall trunk lid. Taillights try to echo the headlights shark-like scowl, but don't quite pull it off, what with the large areas of surrounding, generally flat sheetmetal. In the end, it's a disappointing finish to an otherwise sleek design with a decent dose of personality.
Autodom's interior styling pendulum seems to swing from busy to not-so-busy. One year there are more buttons and switches than any ten fingers and two eyes can manage and of all different sizes and shapes. Then the next, all those myriad of functions are buried beneath three or four knobs, or in the extreme a single massive one, with a few switches sprinkled here and there for fringe features. In the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer, this seems to have been caught in mid-swing. Much of the result is good, but a few bits need further refinement.
Most important in this measure is the dash, with the instrument cluster and climate and audio controls. In the former, a large, circular tachometer and speedometer bracketing a digital, LCD-based information center in the '08 replace an asymmetrical array of two large and three small gauges in the '06. And therein lies the conundrum. The new, i.e., '08, cluster looks slicker, more modern and even a bit sportier than the '06's. But the analog-style fuel and coolant gauges in the '06 were always there, so they didn't have to be called up by pressing a button somewhere. And they communicated their information more readily, requiring just a quick glance instead of a refocusing of the eye on a tiny tower of light.
There's good and not so good, too, in the climate and audio control panels. The most basic functions, like fan, temperature, mode, volume and tuning, have traditional, relatively large, rotating knobs. They're properly placed, too, with climate below and audio above, where it's more accessible. After all, most people adjust audio settings more frequently than climate. And reasonably sized, well-marked buttons select station presets and manage other media. But the data telltales are easily obscured LEDs tucked away in a slit at the center top of the dash where deciphering them forces drivers to divert their attention from traffic and shift their optical focus from distance to close. Again, like the instrument cluster, it all looks good, but comes up short in function.
The shining exception to all this ambivalence is the display and control head for the GPS-based navigation system. Buttons and rocker switches with firm tactile feel call up the desired screen. Moving a joystick in the lower right-hand corner highlights the desired function. Pressing it accesses the function. While some of the information is more entertaining than essential, like the x/y axis dot graphs showing average speeds and fuel economy over a floating two-hour window (especially when higher speeds coincide with higher fuel economy; cool), the ease of use is tops.
The story pretty much remains the same elsewhere around the interior. Front seats are comfortable, with adequate, if not great depth in the seat bottom cushions. The driver's door armrest and the padded top on the front center console are both too low, and the center console is too far rearward, for supporting a driver's elbows on straight and boring interstates. The handbrake positioning is not optimal, resting proudly between the driver's seat bottom cushion and the center console at just the right height to trip the bottom of a slurpee on its way to or from one of the console's two cup holders.
Rear seats are marked improvements over the '06's. There's more definition in the cushions, the seat bottoms are deeper and now there are three head restraints, all adjustable. The fold-down, center armrest in the ES and GTS is more stable than it looks, meaning everyday driving isn't likely to spill the kids' soda pop.
By the numbers, the 2008 Lancer makes the most of its more than two inches of added width over the '06. Careful packaging of interior features and trim gives most of that two inches to front seat hiproom and adds almost twice that to rear seat hiproom. This parks the new Lancer smack in the middle of the pack on this measurement. The Nissan Sentra, the H.
For the most part, the new Mitsubishi Lancer's static-mode idiosyncrasies lose significance once the car is in motion. This holds whether the movement is in the direction of fun or work, as the car is equally comfortable and competent on arrow-straight interstates or grapevine-twisted back roads.
Steering response is decent, if not sparkling, especially on those back roads, as the new Lancer tends to lose some concentration when pointed straight ahead for long stretches. For a front-wheel drive sedan, it tracks well through corners, with no excessive body lean.
The GTS, of course, is the most rewarding driver, with firmer coil springs, shock absorbers and bushings and larger stabilizer bars than the DE and ES models. The stiffness added by the cross brace on the front suspension towers is tangible in a quicker, more precise steering response. Interestingly, however, the GTS' sporty front seats don't add much by way of lateral support over the ES' buckets.
In ride and handling, two of the competitive brands stand out: the Civic, with its longer wheelbase (by about two-and-one-half inches), has a smoother ride just generally, but most notably over weather-induced pavement heaves, and the Mazda 3 is a sportier drive.
Throttle response is respectable for the class. Only the Mazda 3's top engine pumps out more horsepower (160 vs. the Lancer's 152), but the Lancer is the heaviest of the class, with the GTS alone topping 3000 lbs. Brake pedal feel is solid in the ES, even more so in the GTS, which gets the Outlander's larger discs.
The manual transmission's shift lever requires a bit of a stretch to reach third gear and fifth gear with the driver's seat comfortably positioned for a six-foot tall driver. And the juxtaposition of the brake pedal and accelerator force an awkward ankle contortion to effect a heel-and-toe double-clutch on a downshift. In the GTS with the Sportronic, the manual up/down selection slot opens to the driver's side of the shift gate, which some drivers find more natural than away over to the passenger's side. This isn't as much an issue in the GTS, however, what with those handy steering column levers.
In all likelihood due in no small part to that aforementioned weight penalty, the '08 Lancer pretty much brings up the rear in fuel economy. For example, the smaller engine in the 200 lb.-lighter Toyota Corolla makes six more horsepower but betters the Lancer by five miles per gallon in the city and by seven miles per gallon on the highway, according to EPA estimates. And the more powerful Mazda 3, weighing about 100 lbs. less than the Lancer, comes out ahead by three mpg and two mpg, city and highway respectively.
The new, 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer may not be the most attractive, the most popular, the most powerful, the most efficient or the most fun-to-drive in the affordable, compact sedan class. But in each of those measures, it's second in line or at least competitive. That makes it well worth a look when shopping for a car in this class.
[NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Santa Barbara, California.].
Mitsubishi Lancer DE; ES; GTS.
Options As Tested
Sun & Sound package - Rockford-Fosgate sound system, six-disc in-dash CD/MP3 changer, power glass sunroof.
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