The Mitsubishi Lancer was last redesigned for the 2001 model year, so needless to say it was long overdue for a facelift. Not a moment too soon, with 2008 came the all-new model, and it’s a looker. Based on the 2005 Concept-X show car, many of its features were retained for the actual version available to the public.
While not as sexy as the top range GTS, the base model preserves 99% of the good looks that make this compact car stand out in the crowd. It’s also got far more content and safety features than you’d expect in a car in this class and price bracket. In a sea of “blah” generic econoboxes, the Lancer gets people’s heads twisting for a second-glance.
I’m a little more biased with regards to Mitsubishi vehicles because I’ve actually owned a couple of them and loved them for what they were – economic, reliable transportation that is just a bit different from its competition. I’ve never had a problem with Mitsubishi’s, and that includes high-mileage versions. But that was a long time ago … and manufacturers can screw up perfectly good vehicles in the name of progress.
What about Mitsu? They’ve had some bad press in the past that was directed at shady business practices, but did it affect the quality of the cars? What better way to find out than to take the bottom rung model (DE) and put it through its paces for a week, followed by the one most people will probably purchase (GTS) next time out.
As everyone knows – looks aren’t everything. Supermodels may be beautiful, but some of them have the personality of a she-devil. Fortunately for the Mitsubishi Lancer DE, beauty is more than skin-deep – but not without a couple of blemishes. First up are the door locks – there isn’t a fob to unlock the door – you have to use – A KEY!!!! (Gasp!) What’s next – wind up windows? No, that would be a Toyota Matrix – this is a Lancer, and it has both power windows and power locks as standard equipment – thank goodness! But in order to lock all of the doors you have to use the power door lock button. I put the key into the lock and turned it expecting to lock all the doors that way – nope. I just locked the driver’s door. All but the base models come with remote door locks or with Mitsubishi’s F.A.S.T. system.
The driver is treated to a nice clean instrument cluster that my wife pointed out as being backwards. The speedometer is on the left and the tachometer on the right – logic says it should be the other way around. Personally it made no difference to me. The steering tilts but doesn’t telescope, although it’s not required because it s perfectly placed. Adjusting the driver’s seat is easy, but when I went looking for a height adjustment I came up empty. You get the feeling you’re sitting very low in the Lancer, but you don’t get that same feeling when you get in – it’s not til you’ve adjusted the mirrors and look around that you get that “sinking” feeling– like an older Honda.
The plastic used throughout the cabin are top quality, not exactly what you’d expect in a car of this caliber and price point. The spaces between the panels are very close and better than one might expect in this category. There’s a fake carbon-fibre band that goes from door to door and across the centre of the dash – it does an excellent job of imitating the real thing, and more importantly it breaks up a very dark and black interior – everything in the car is black, with no other accent colouring anywhere. The seat material, while looking a tad cheap and thin, should stand up to years of wear and tear – it appears to be made of nylon. Upper models have both premium and sporty fabric on their seats. Depending on the exterior colour, the only other interior choice is beige.
The 2.0 litre engine is quiet and matched perfectly to the silky-smooth 5-speed manual transmission. The sign of a good clutch/gearbox is when you can drive it without even having to think about what you’re doing and the Lancer’s is just that way. Too often I’ve come up against gearboxes and clutches that make me wish I had asked for an automatic version instead of the manual, but not so with this car. I taught my wife to drive a manual in a Mitsubishi Colt many years ago, and she picked it up within 2 or 3 minutes – mostly because the clutch and gearbox were so easy to use. This Lancer’s is every bit as good, no actually- it’s better.
Heading out into traffic, I was just about to comment on how the Lancer didn’t have too much power, but a spot opened up in front of me and I goosed the throttle past 4,000 rpm – suddenly the car took on a new life. Does this thing have a MIVEC engine!? I wasn’t expecting that in the base model, but after checking out the details later, I found that yes indeed it is a MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve-timing Electronic Control system)
Entering the freeway I let it rip and the Lancer surged ahead, getting to the speed limit faster than the vehicles ahead of me. My reservations about this engine being a bit of a snoozer were quickly eliminated. This was going to be a fun week ahead. Getting around slower-moving traffic, I shifted into the 5th gear and picked up speed. Noise levels in the cabin were very hushed, to the point that it actually stood out. Although the Lancer looks slick and slippery, I didn’t expect a budget-conscious car to be this quiet. Even when I got it up over 85 mph it remained much quieter than most other cars – not just within its own class but luxury cars too. Over 85 mph the engine became a little buzzy, but not unduly noisy or irritating. The beauty of this engine is that you can drive sedately around town, but when you want to drive with a little enthusiasm – just wind it up past 4,000 rpm and it becomes a different engine entirely. Once past 4,000 rpm the engine breathes better and the speed rises considerably – all the way to its 6,500 rpm redline with a rush. It’s a terrific engine that encourages the driver to push the car into the higher revs just to feel the rush of power, with the added benefit of good fuel economy when driving in a leisurely manner.
The audio system is very good and features a 140-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 head unit with 4 speakers, digital signal processor and speed-compensated volume and equalization control. The sound quality is better than average and certainly puts systems of some more expensive vehicles to shame. In the same vein the climate control system is very easy to use. One thing I found missing, and something that emphasizes the budget cost of the Lancer DE, was the lack of a centre armrest/storage compartment. I kept leaning for it only to abruptly realize it wasn’t there. Thankfully the door pocket is large enough for storing CD’s.
Rear seat accommodation is surprisingly spacious and comfortable for a car of this size. In back there’s plenty of room for three passengers and their feet, even though there’s a low tunnel that runs between the seats, it interferes just a little with the middle passenger’s foot space. There’s plenty of knee, foot and leg room and the rear seat angle is perfect. Rear headroom is quite plentiful, with hip room abundant for two but obviously less-so when accommodating three passengers. The rear seat doesn’t split on the base models ES, but splits 60/40 in the other Lancer models. Trunk space is very good at 12.5 cu-ft – just .1 cu-ft less than the benchmark Honda Civic.
As mentioned previously, the Lancer DE comes with a large number of standard features. Among them are; a Multi-information LCD display (trip meter and odometer, outside temperature, average fuel consumption, and driving distance to empty, service reminder, drive mode indicator, water temperature warning lamp and low fuel warning); Power windows with drivers side auto down; 140-watt CD/MP3 audio system; Anti-theft engine immobilizer; Height-adjustable front shoulder belts with pre-tensioner (single pre-tensioner for driver’s side); Tire pressure monitoring system; Driver’s side knee airbag; Front seat-mounted side-impact airbags and Side-impact curtain airbags for front and rear occupants.
With a base price of $14,340 [$16,598 Cdn] there’s only one option – ABS and a CVT automatic transmission. In the U.S. you have to buy the automatic transmission if you want ABS brakes. So for $974, plus the automatic at $858, you’d be better off stepping up to ES and get the choice of transmission with Air and ABS as well as Alloy wheels and more included in the same price. In Canada ABS brakes come in a package ($1,800) with Air, power door locks, driver’s auto-up window, Anti-theft security alarm system, and you can still get the 5-speed manual.
My advice is – don’t even look at or think about the DE – just go straight to the ES – you’ll get a whole bunch of stuff you can’t get on the DE such as: Rear stabilizer bar; 16″ alloy wheels; Premium fabric seating surfaces; 6-way adjustable driver’s seat (instead of 4-way); Heated front seats; 60/40 split high-back rear seat; Rear center armrest with cup holders; Anti-lock braking system (ABS) with EBD; Anti-theft security alarm system; Steering wheel-mounted cruise control and audio control switches and Keyless entry. For the relatively small increase in price, it’s well worth spring the extra dough on the ES or GTS model. The extras you get more than makeup for the added cost – besides who wants to drive a car without ABS brakes? By the time you add ABS and automatic transmission to the base car, you’re now at the same cost of the ES where you get better, and more of everything.
On the safety front, I didn’t expect too much – it’s a budget car – but it does have a number of safety features I wasn’t expecting, like curtain airbags and a driver’s knee airbag. I was, however, surprised that ABS with EBD was an option on the base vehicle. Never the less it still came with other features such as seat-mounted airbags, tire-pressure monitoring system, side curtain airbags, as well as front occupants get seatbelt pre-tensioners and all three rear passengers get headrests.
It’s solid, fun to drive and never feels cheap. It looks way better than any of the other econo-boxes out there and the price is exceptional when you consider the extra content Mitsubishi put into it – never mind the outstanding safety features. The Lancer is a terrific car, regardless of the trim you choose, and with the excellent warranty that Mitsubishi provides, how can you go wrong? This is one car I’ll definitely be recommending to people that want a good, reliable, reasonably priced car.
Pricing for the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer DE
Base Price / As tested: $14,340 [$16,598 Cdn]
Destination & Delivery: U.S. – $625 / Canada – $1,560
Warranty and Roadside Assistance
The 2008 Lancer comes with a 5-year/60,000 Bumper to Bumper and a 10 year/100,000 mile Powertrain Warranty.
Canadians get a 5-year/100,000-kilometre limited warranty and a 10-year/160,000-kilometre Powertrain Warranty. Also included is a 24-hour Roadside Assistance for 5 years/unlimited miles/kilometres (U.S./Canada).
Towing: Do not tow with this vehicle.
DE – Fuel Consumption: [Regular Unleaded – 87 Octane]
The Lancer is rated at 21 mpg [9.7 L/100 kms] City and 29 mpg [7.0 L/100 kms] Highway
I averaged 23.5 mpg [10.0 L/100km] in combined driving.
Outstanding quality fit and finish
Silky-smooth 5-speed transmission
Larger than average trunk
ABS is extra on the DE model
Honda Civic, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla, VW Golf
By The Numbers…
Powertrain: 2.0 L DOHC 16-valve, MIVEC 4-cylinder engine; FWD; 5-speed manual transmission
Horsepower: 152 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 146 @ 4,250 rpm
0-60 mph: 8.0 seconds
10 – Quality
9 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
10 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
5 – Special Features (Sat Nav/Heated Seats/ Sunroof, etc)
10 – Ease of Entry/Exit
9 – Front Roominess
9 – Rear Roominess
10 – Driving Position/Controls
8 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish
10 – Engine
10 – Transmission
9 – Ride & Handling
10 – Bang for the $$
9 – Fuel Economy
138 Total / 150
Copyright © 2009 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Iain Shankland
Also Published at: Flagworld.com & PaddockTalk.com