2008 Mitsubishi Lancer DE
2008 Mitsubishi Lancer DE. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Chris Chase

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Photo Gallery: 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer

What a strange way to make a first impression.

At first glance, it was like someone in Mitsubishi’s PR department made a mistake; there’s no way they knowingly sent us such a basic version of their new Lancer. My tester, after all, was the entry-level DE model with just one option, an $1,800 package that bundles together ABS, air conditioning, power door locks and an auto-up function for the driver’s window (power windows are standard in all Lancers). This is almost as good as it gets in this basic model: the only other option offered down here is a continuously variable (read: automatic) transmission.

But behind the plastic hubcaps on my tarmac black tester was a set of 16-inch wheels. That’s a rarity in a basic compact (15-inchers are the norm), and the four-wheel disc brakes are a nice touch. These, and the standard side and head curtain airbags, can be had elsewhere, but kudos to Mitsubishi for not making them expensive extras (why should safety cost more money?). There’s even a driver’s knee airbag here, a first for Mitsubishi and not that common in small cars.

So: plainly dressed, for sure, but apparently dressed for success, at least on paper.

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer DE
2008 Mitsubishi Lancer DE
2008 Mitsubishi Lancer DE. Click image to enlarge

The new Lancer’s engine is a 2.0-litre four-banger, just like the one in the old car. Here, though, there’s a whopping 32 more horsepower – enough, according to Mitsu, to move a five-speed manual Lancer from zero to 60 mph in less than eight seconds. My butt-o-meter isn’t sensitive enough to verify or dispute that, but the car does feel quick, and with the manual gearbox it’s fun for zipping around slowpokes in city driving. Fuel consumption – according to the standard trip computer – averaged a shade under 10 L/100 km in my mostly city driving routine. Natural Resources Canada hasn’t published official consumption numbers yet, but the average I managed would be good for a range of about 600 km from the Lancer’s rather large 59-litre tank.

The engine likes to rev, too, pulling strongly to redline, with no lazy spots in the power band. The shifter is a joy to row as well, with a low effort, positive engagements and short-ish throws; the light and easy-to-modulate clutch is the perfect accomplice for smooth shifting. The brakes feel strong, and again, are easy to modulate for smooth stops; the steering is a bit light but transmits some road surface information to the driver’s hands.

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer DE
2008 Mitsubishi Lancer DE. Click image to enlarge

While the Lancer’s front strut and rear multi-link suspension set-up is par for its class, the DE model makes do without a rear stabilizer bar. The car handles fine the way it is, but adding the rear bar (mid-level ES models get an 18-mm bar; top-end GTS cars get one 20-mm in diameter) would make things a little more lively and eliminate some of the prodigious body roll that quick corner generates in the DE. Drivers looking for a sporty ride out of the box will find the suspension a little mushy overall, too; firmer dampers would go a long way toward fixing this.

The overall feel on the road is solid, but the small-car benchmark – the Mazda3 – is a better driver’s tool. The Lancer, at least in entry-level form, is more of a pleasant day-to-day commuter.

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer DE
2008 Mitsubishi Lancer DE
2008 Mitsubishi Lancer DE. Click image to enlarge

Inside, the Lancer is made up of nice enough materials, even if the result is a little plasticky overall; the strip of carbon fibre-look plastic trim running the width of the dash and onto the front door panels looks cool. The dash is made up of a lot of individual pieces, and not all of them lined up so well in my tester, smacking of so-so fit and finish. There’s plenty of handy small-item storage, though, and the standard stereo – a 140-watt single-CD system – sounds quite good.

The controls all fall easily to hand; only the volume and tuning knobs for the radio are a little small and would be impossible to operate with gloves on. The climate controls are great to use, but the electronics behind them are a little slow to react, and the fan is loud. This has been a common, if minor, complaint of mine with other recent Mitsubishis I’ve driven.

Interior space is, at the very least, competitive for the class: there’s lots of headroom all around, and rear-seat legroom is reasonable. As with other small cars, filling all three seatbelts will result in some complaining from those relegated to the coach compartment.

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer DE
2008 Mitsubishi Lancer DE
2008 Mitsubishi Lancer DE. Click image to enlarge

A couple more complaints about the interior: while I can live without a driver’s seat height adjustment (you have to choose the ES or GTS model to get that), a telescoping steering column (you can’t get that at all) would be really nice to have.

Also, while the 328-litre trunk is, again, average for the class, the DE model comes with a fixed rear seatback without so much as a pass-through for long, slim objects. Again, if you want a split folding rear seat, you have to move up to the ES model.

As far as first impressions go, this one went pretty well. Mitsubishi’s proved that, despite a few cheap touches, this new Lancer is a solid little car, even in basic form. For my money, though, I’d move up to the ES model: for an extra $1,300 (including freight), it gets all the stuff the ABS and air package adds to the DE, plus a useful seat height adjustment for the driver, heated front seats, a better suspension setup, keyless entry and a dressier interior with silver trim. That’d make this good first impression even better.

Pricing: 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer DE

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