Mitsubishi Lancer Review

Justin Berkowitz
by Justin Berkowitz

In “The Blue-Eyed Salaryman,” American author Niall Murtagh charts his fourteen-year career inside Mitsubishi Japan. When Murtagh gets transferred to Osaka, he concludes that the Tokyo part of the company focuses on large visionary research projects, while Osaka demands practical applications. And there you have it: the dichotomy that accounts for Mitsubishi’s progress in the automotive arena. You have visionary products like the Evo with very little practical purpose, and dull products like the Outlander with very little vision. So where does the new Lancer fit?

Never mind the subtext, check out those lines! Designing a good-looking compact car ain’t easy nowadays. You’ve got to maximize interior space, accommodate an expanding complement of airbags and facilitate fuel efficiency (with aerodynamics that force sheetmetal shapes down the slippery slope towards suppository chic). Things can go horribly wrong; reference the Honda Civic sedan. Or the previous Lancer, which was as sexy as dental floss. This one the Mitsubishi design team nailed.

The Lancer’s proportions and details are spot on. The high beltline adds to the impression of size from the outside, yet allows occupants to feel surrounded and safe. The Lancer’s new front fascia copies Audi’s current pig snout and makes it work, flanking the orifice with a set of angry eyes headlights and bisecting the otherwise gaping maw with a suitably wide bumper. Mitsu ripped off the tail lamp design from the Alfa 156– a gorgeous machine that Americans never got the chance to ignore.

The new Lancer is not a stunning design per se— it’s more handsome than drop-dead gorgeous. But it is a stunning development for Mitsubishi. The Lancer is to Mitsubishi what the Altima was to Nissan five years ago: a radical reskin that instantly elevates a plain-Jane model from zero to hero. Unfortunately, the parallel continues inside.

Thanks to Mitsu’s PR paparazzi, the Lancer’s cabin looks decidedly avant-garde. The flacks focused on the steering wheel, perfect in both diameter and thickness (though littered with stereo buttons and Bluetooth phone controls). They highlighted the Lancer’s sport bike-inspired gauges. They flagged its slick stereo, neatly integrated into the dash with precise, Teutonic buttonology.

Off camera, the new Lancer’s interior does the time-warp again. It’s a generic Japanese mishmash fabricated with some of the worst automotive plastics inflicted on U.S. consumers since A Flock of Seagulls first crapped on Top 40 radio, with bulbous switches that feel like they were attached with thumb tacks. The seats are nicely supportive, but why Mitsu decided to support the mouse fur industry by covering the Lancer's chairs and roof with rodent pelts is both an aesthetic and ethical conundrum.

Driving the base model Lancer is an eye-opening experience, especially when you realize that (1) the Evo X will obviously be celestial and (2) THIS is what they started with?

The Lancer is just an awful little car to pilot, for sportster and commuter alike. In the pursuit of a compliant ride, Mitsu has fitted the base car with a suspension made out of Twinkies. Potholes send the car bucking in a fit of confusion. And then there’s body roll. Lots and lots of body roll. Quick turns? Out of the question. (Fast corners make you their bitch.) Within minutes of assuming command, my need for speed did recede. I gave up trying to do anything more than get from Point A to Point B in the space of a single day.

Yes, I know: the Lancer’s an economy car. But it could be the only car sold in America that can make an entry level Toyota Corolla or Hyundai Elantra seem like a sports sedan. And the Lancer only achieves 21/29 mpg. How frugal is that?

The Lancer’s all-new 2.0-liter engine is rated at 152 horses (at an unattainable 6000 rpm). I swear a quarter have bolted for greener pastures. A wide open throttle simply kicks the CVT's droning tone up a notch. This isn’t about being a boy-racer. It’s about needing a sign to apologize to drivers while attempting merges.

What really sucks the life out of the Lancer (and sucks in general): its continuously variable transmission. Unless you opt for the top-o-the-line GTS with fake shift points, the CVT is forever locked into penalty mode. It's no fun at all.

The new Lancer is a research project gone horribly wrong. On paper, it’s a superb vehicle: 150 horsepower, loads of safety features (seven airbags, including the now popular driver's knee airbag), gadget options galore and racy good looks. But it’s all show and no go.

With Mitsubishi’s American operations just climbing out of sea of red ink, it’s too bad the company forgot to benchmark the competitions' driving dynamics. The forthcoming take-no-prisoners Evo version will no doubt sort that out, but after sampling the base Lancer, I highly doubt Mitsubishi’s ability to rescue its American ambitions from the dustbin of history.

Justin Berkowitz
Justin Berkowitz

Immensely bored law student. I've also got 3 dogs.

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  • Hawkeye Hawkeye on Jul 03, 2007

    I'm going to add my two cents as a current owner of a 2008 Lancer GTS. I purchased my GTS two months ago. I opted for the 5 speed manual transmission, the Sun and Sound and Navigation and Tech packages. After 6,000 miles I am more than pleased with this vehicle. Initially purchased at 67 miles, my fuel economy was about 31 city and 28 highway. Now that the engine is broke in, I now see 30 city and 35 highway. Pretty damn good for the power this car has. The handling is tight and responsive - better than previous Lancers and most any other $20,000 vehicle I've ever driven. Has anyone mentioned that it came in .2 seconds behind an STI at GymkhanaUSA this year? Yeah, it out handled the Evo IX. Horsepower ratings are incredibly off. This "152 hp" engine plants 143 of that to the wheels? No. That crankshaft 152 hp is closer to 167. Not to mention that the 5 speed can hit the 6500 RPM redline. I understand that the CVT can't, but that's not my worry. I didn't buy the CVT. The incredibly broad torque band also helps to keep the car at peak power throughout the throttle. I love the interior, with the exception of the seat fabrics. I'll agree with this review on that part. They work better as lint strips, picking up every piece of debris that it comes in contact with. The dash and control systems are ergonomically sound and very pleasing to both the eye and touch. Automatic climate control? Not going to find it on a competing vehicle. Bluetooth? RFID keyless key system? Or how about the 30 Gb HDD Navigation system that not only outperforms nav systems in vehicles twice the price but is also a built-in 6 Gb iPod? These are things that you just don't find in a twenty thousand dollar compact sedan. Don't get me wrong - I could sit here and nitpick, but even in all my nitpicking the pros of this vehicle definitely outweigh the cons. It could stand to lose some weight or have a little more power, and with the 18" wheels, road noise is a good bit higher than I'm used to. But these are the only things about the vehicle that I'm not 100% pleased with. Oh, and as a final note - everyone's comparing the new Lancer's aesthetics to other vehicles on the market. That's because Mitsu used the other vehicles to base the design on. If you look closely at a number of parts, you'll see BMW, Audi, Alfa Romeo, Acura and even a little SAAB. I don't mind this myself. The car looks just as awesome as it is fun to drive.

  • AKILEZ AKILEZ on Jul 09, 2007

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  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X As much problems as I had with my '96 Chevy Impala SS.....I would love to try one again. I've seen a Dark Cherry Metallic one today and it looked great.
  • Susan O’Neil There is a good reason to keep the Chevrolet Malibu and other 4 door family sedans! You can transport your parents and other somewhat handicapped people comfortably and safety! If someone can stand and pivot you can put them in your car. An armrest in the back seat is appreciated and a handle above the door! Oh…and leather seats so your passenger can slide across the seat! 😊Plus, you can place a full sized wheelchair or walker in the trunk! The car sits a little lower…so it’s doable! I currently have a Ford Fusion and we have a Honda Accord. Our previous cars were Mercury Sables-excellent for transporting handicapped people and equipment! As the population ages-sedans are a very practical choice! POV from a retired handicapped advocate and daughter! 😊
  • Freddie Remember those ads that say "Call your doctor if you still have...after four hours"?You don't need to call your doctor, just get behind the wheel of a CUV. In fact, just look at one.I'm a car guy with finite resources; I can't afford a practical car during the week plus a fun car on the weekend. My solution is my Honda Civic Si 4 door sedan. Maybe yours is a Dodge Charger (a lot of new Chargers are still on dealer lots).
  • Daniel J Interesting in that we have several weeks where the temperature stays below 45 but all weather tires can't be found in a shop anywhere. I guess all seasons are "good enough".
  • Steve Biro For all the talk about sedans vs CUVs and SUVs, I simply can’t bring myself to buy any modern vehicle. And I know it’s only going to get worse.