Note to enthusiasts: Get a stick
Mitsubishi Lancer GTS – 2008 Review: The2008 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS looks ready to rumble. Its grille gapes wide enough to devour competitors, its rear wing thrusts skyward, and its big 18-inch wheels and low-profile tires give it a track-ready presence. However, it has a glass chin in the form of the CVT automatic. This sloppy, poor shifting device ruins what is otherwise a well-equipped, decent handling and reasonably priced entry in the economy car segment. Enthusiasts should ignore the marketing and get the manual transmission if they want their Lancer GTS to even approximate the performance promised by its looks.
By Keith Buglewicz
Photo credit: Oliver Bentley
What We Drove
Our 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS was about as fully loaded as it gets from the factory. The base $19,115 includes the dreadful CVT; we again suggest you save $1,000 and get the manual transmission. The trim level is well equipped, sporting standard features such as automatic climate control, a leather steering wheel, and power mirrors, locks and windows. It also featured the $1,500 Sun and Sound package, which bundled the sunroof with the upgraded Rockford Fosgate audio system. The $2,000 Navi and Tech package bundled keyless entry and a hard-drive based navigation/audio system, bringing the total to $22,615.Page 3
On paper the drivetrain is promising, with 152 horsepower and 146 lb.-ft. of torque (143 horses and torques in California and other states with the same emissions laws) and a manually-shiftable CVT automatic. In practice it’s a mess. The transmission sucks the life out of the car with poorly spaced ratios that do little but make the engine scream powerlessly. Shifting drops revs only about 800 rpm, too little to be useful. It’s slow to respond in fully automatic mode, and we only got 18.9 mpg to boot. We strongly suggest the manual.
The fact that the Lancer GTS handles well makes the lousy transmission that much more frustrating. The chassis is stiff and composed, with good turn in and only mild understeer at the relatively high limits. Luckily, while the Lancer is tossable and fun, there’s little ride penalty. It’s solid on the road, but firm and not punishing. True, the big tires drum thump heavily over expansion joints, but you hear it more than you feel it. Mitsubishi did its chassis homework on this car, and it shows. Now, if they’d just reprogram that CVT to help rather than hinder the driving experience…
The Lancer’s thin pillars and generous glass make for good visibility. There are no glaring blind spots, and even the pillars are thin enough in cross section that they don’t intrude on your lane changing ability. We wish that the outside mirrors had more surface area, but it’s a minor complaint. The only real impediment to your outward view is the ridiculously sized rear wing. It’s standard on the GTS and can’t be deleted, so if you want the best handling Lancer currently available, you’re stuck with it and the resulting bifurcated rear view.
Fun to Drive
The most fun we had with the Lancer was going downhill. There, we didn’t have to worry about the troublesome transmission and could just enjoy the car’s handling balance. It turns in and sticks, and promises great things when the turbocharged Evolution debuts on this platform in a few months, or even the GTS 2.4, with its bigger and more powerful engine. However, when we had to shift for ourselves, the CVT’s intrusive nature made us concentrate too much on finding a good ratio, ruining the experience.Page 7
We were a little mixed on the front seat comfort of the Lancer. Some of us thought the bottom cushion was poorly positioned, while others thought that the front seat was very well done. Regardless, there were no complaints about the soft faux-suede cloth on the seats, door and center armrests. We would have liked soft-touch surfaces on the door tops, but that’s increasingly rare in this budget-conscious segment. Everything is within reach, too, such as the protruding navigation system, shift handle and shifter paddles that are long enough to click at all but the most extreme steering angles.Page 8
We were pleasantly surprised with the amount of rear seat room in the Lancer. It’s no limousine, but for a compact sedan there’s good leg, hip, toe and head room. Shoulder room is tight thanks to the seat shape, and three people would be cramped. Our knees also touched the seatbacks in the “self-behind-self” test, but they’re soft so it’s not a problem, at least on short trips. Rear seats are covered in the same suede-like cloth as the fronts, and a final nice touch is the soft arm rest that folds down from the center seatback position.Page 9
Continuously variable transmissions like the one in the Lancer tend to make the engine hang at redline for extended periods of time. This is fine if there’s adequate sound deadening, or if the engine just sounds good to start with. Unfortunately, neither is true in the Lancer. Stand on the gas and the Lancer’s uncomfortably noisy. Back off and cruise and you discover that the engine was hiding constant tire, wind and road noise at freeway speeds. The Lancer competes in a generally noisy class, and unfortunately, the Lancer is near the head of the class in this category, at least subjectively.
The short rear deck looks cool on the Lancer and probably results in good aerodynamics (except for the drag-inducing wing), but the upshot is a small trunk opening that can’t accept anything taller than about 18 inches. Additionally, the subwoofer from the Rockford Fosgate audio system takes a sizable whack out of the left side of the cargo area. Despite this, liftover is low, and there’s a good lip to keep small items from rolling onto the ground when you open the trunk lid. The rear seatbacks fold down in a 60/40 split, but must be released from inside the car.
The Lancer’s build quality is significantly improved from its predecessor, but still a half-step behind the class leaders. Most seams are tight inside, and the flush fit dash panels mostly live up to their billing. The dash uses a minimum of panels in its construction, giving it a clean appearance. Fit and finish were good outside too, where we found only minimal variations in panel gaps. The only glaring flaws were the wrinkling of the headliner fabric around the pillar covers, and the quarter-inch gap between the B-pillar covers and the bottom part of the interior trim.Page 12
If you’re looking for soft-touch plastics, you’ll find none in the Lancer. The dash, doors and center console are all made of hard plastic, and while it feels solid, the glossy sheen and pebble grain makes it look downgrade. The finer grain and matte finish on the plastic pillar covers is nicer. On the other hand, Mitsubishi outdid itself with the faux suede cloth on the seats, door panels, and center arm rests. It feels warm and gives the seats extra grip on your backside. Our only complaint is that there’s not enough of it inside.Page 13
Despite some early misgivings, we’ve come to really like the Lancer’s styling. The big rear wing may look odd, but the kids probably think it’s cool, so who are we to judge? The rest of the car looks excellent as well, with an aggressive front end, a rear obviously inspired by recent Alfa Romeos, and a wedgy profile. From some angles the nose looks a little too long, but overall this is a sharp car. The Lancer also sports a clean and modern interior. It’s not as aggressive as the exterior, but it’s neatly designed and ergonomically correct.Page 14
Budget sedans usually have decent interior storage for the knickknacks of daily life, and the Lancer is no exception. Sizable door pockets with integrated bottle holders, decently sized cup holders in the center console, and a deep (but somewhat small) center console bin are primary. There is also a storage space ahead of the shifter under the center stack, and the glovebox is big enough that it’s not completely occupied by the owner’s documentation. In back there are small door pockets, a pocket behind the driver’s seat, and cupholders integrated into the fold-down arm rest.Page 15
For want of a volume knob, the navigation/audio system would be just about perfect. The screen is big and clear, the hard drive-based system is quick to respond, easy to program, and can hold a bunch of your songs in internal memory, too. We like the redundant steering wheel controls, too. We have only two relatively minor complaints. First, like any multi-function system, mastering the nav/audio’s operation requires a steep learning curve. Second, the slot for discs is located behind the screen, which takes its own, sweet, dramatic time getting out of the way so you can load them.Page 16
Automatic climate control is one of those “luxury” features that’s quickly becoming commonplace. The Lancer’s system is nothing unusual: three knobs, one each for temperature, fan speed and vent position. The automatic setting is handy, although we wished it were more aggressive considering our test car’s black-on-black-on-black color scheme. Additionally, the controls themselves feel cheap, with a clacking and scraping action that makes you worry that they won’t last.Page 17
Mitsubishi has made great strides against its competition with the Lancer, but it still trails in terms of some of its switches and secondary controls. On the plus side, the headlight and windshield wiper stalks feel solid and expensive, and the big magnesium shift paddles feel substantial. However, the window, door lock and mirror remote switches all feel chintzy, and the “Info” button for the information display between the gauges is shiny black plastic that looks pulled directly from GM’s worst mid-90’s parts bin. Mitsubishi needs to contact Toyota – or new-and-improved 21st Century GM – and use their switch suppliers.Page 18
The two heaviest hitters in this class are the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. The Civic is probably the stiffer competitor, not because the Lancer blows the Corolla away, but because the Civic has a sportier nature than the Toyota. The Lancer has more aggressive styling – in a more conventional way – than the Civic. The Lancer’s interior is also more conventional and gives up little functionality to the Honda, although the Civic is arguably better finished. Don’t let the Lancer’s $22,615 price fool you; a Civic EX with a navigation system and automatic is more than $23,000 with destination.Page 19
2nd Opinion – Beamesderfer
Another day, another $22,000 sport compact. Today’s ride is the Lancer GTS, Mitsubishi’s mildly entertaining sedan. There’s a lot to like about this car, it’s got aggressive good looks, a functional interior and a smooth four-cylinder motor.
Bob BeamesderferPage 20
2nd Opinion – Chee
If it’s a good enough tagline to sell a thick and malty beer to the world, then surely it’s good enough to use on the new and comprehensively re-done 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer. Right? Well…maybe, in parts. Fact is, though, that while the Lancer is indeed brilliant in some facets it’s also quite over the top in other critical areas. Consider, if you will, the exterior sheetmetal. With aggressive lines, a tough-guy front end and attractive alloy wheels on our GTS tester, the Lancer is quite a looker…