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

Review and photos by Peter Bleakney

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Photo Gallery: 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS

Toronto, Ontario – Quick: what’s the oldest Japanese automaker? Answer: Mitsubishi. Yeah, surprised me too.

Mitsubishi may have been making cars since 1917 in the land of the rising sun, but here in Canada, the marque has had a rocky ride since entering our market in 2002. Call it an identity crisis, call it lack of viable product – whatever the problem, Mitsubishi has been cruising below the radar of most car shoppers.

The 2008 Lancer could be the vehicle to pull Mitsubishi out of its funk. First off, it’s quite a looker. While the previous Lancer appeared boxy and top heavy, this one sits on the road with a planted and purposeful stance – its modern and wedgy profile book-ended by an in-your-face snout and swept-up tail.

My red GTS tester drew all kinds of stares with its standard multi-spoke 18-inch alloys, fog lights, lower body cladding and bordering-on-tacky deck-lid spoiler. (Hey, Mitsubishi has won enough World Rally Championships they get a free pass when it comes to body add-ons.)

When designing this car, Mitsubishi looked at the Mazda3 and the comely Alfa Romeo 156 – two vehicles that appeal more to the passionate driver. As we learned at a recent press briefing, Mitsu is happy to leave the mainstream market for Toyota and Honda.

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

There are three trim levels for the 2008 Lancer: DE ($16,598), ES (19,698) and GTS ($21,698).

The Lancer is built on a fresh global platform (which it shares with the 2008 Outlander SUV) and all models are powered by an all-new 152-hp 2.0-litre DOHC MIVEC four-cylinder engine that Mitsubishi developed in conjunction with DaimlerChrysler and Hyundai.
Although 15 mm shorter than the outgoing model, the 2008 Lancer has a longer wheelbase and wider track. It is also marginally wider and taller, making for a roomy interior with good rear seat leg and head room. The trunk is big, and the 60/40 split rear seats fold forward too. It is definitely one size up from the Civic/Corolla crowd – closer to the Acura TSX.

Standard is a five-speed manual transmission, but a continuously variable transmission (CVT) can be had for $1,100, (the GTS gets a paddle shift “Sportronic” version for the same price).

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS
2008 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS; photo by Haney Louka. Click image to enlarge

The all-aluminum 2.0-litre engine generates 146 lb.-ft. of torque at 4250 r.p.m. It gets the job done, but doesn’t make very pleasant sounds while doing so. The exhaust note is a tad coarse and hollow, and with the CVT, it drones when called upon for brisk acceleration. It’s not a revver, being tuned more for mid-range torque.

That said, this efficient “world engine”, which meets Tier 2-Bin 5 emission regs and runs on regular grade, has enough poke to move the sedan with reasonable gusto, although you could never call it fast. On the highway my tester showed a serene 2500 r.p.m. at 120 km/h.

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

Go for the Steptronic CVT (only in the GTS) and you get sexy magnesium paddle shifters and six “gears” that are programmed into the transmission. This thing works a treat. Moving the shift lever to the left gate puts the transmission into sequential shift mode, and from here you enter F1 wannabe-land. Shifts are as immediate and smooth as VW’s twin-clutch DSG transmission, and the selected gear is held until you’re ready to shift up – even if you’re up against the 6000 r.p.m. rev-limiter. The Steptronic transforms this drive train from just okay to oh-yeah. Mitsubishi is on to something here.

The automaker claims this global platform, which makes extensive use of high-strength steel, trumps the outgoing one considerably in both resistance to twisting and bending. It certainly feels it. Short of the hollow sounding doors, the 2008 Lancer has a carved-from-granite comportment.

All Lancers have struts up front and a multi-link rear set-up, but the GTS gets thicker stabilizer bars, more aggressive spring/shock rates and larger front brakes from the Outlander SUV – and those 215/45-18-inch tires.

They’ve done a stellar job with the dynamic tuning of the GTS. The steering has good on-centre feel and is nicely weighted. It’s when you start unraveling a winding road that the car’s poise, balance and supple ride meld into an inspiring and expensive-feeling whole. The brakes are very strong too.

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

While driving the GTS, I kept thinking to myself, if BMW ever built an entry-level front drive sedan (yeah, right), it would probably feel like this. But it would cost a whole lot more.

Inside the news is good too – there is nary a hint of “entry-level” to be found. The materials are high quality and the tolerances tight. All the controls work with satisfying precision – the leather-wrapped multi-function steering feeling especially nice in the hands. A neat touch is the carbon fibre-look trim swath along the lower dash.

The airbag count is high – seven in total (including a driver’s-side knee airbag). Standard with the GTS are heated and bolstered sports seats and a Bluetooth phone interface with voice recognition.

My only wish would be for the paddle shifters to be connected to the wheel, and not fixed as they are to the steering column.

My tester had the $2000 Sun and Sound Package which adds a sunroof, Fast-key (doors open, car starts as long as the fob is on your person) and a rather impressive 650-watt six CD in-dash Rockford-Fosgate Punch sound system featuring a trunk-mounted subwoofer. Despite its ability to communicate with elephants on the Serengeti, one can also dial up a decent sound that adults will enjoy.

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

A key selling feature for the Lancer will be Mitsubishi’s comprehensive warranty: 10 years or 160,000 km on the powertrain, bumper to bumper for 5 years or 100,000 km, and body panel corrosion coverage for 7 years or 160,000 km. The program also includes five years of 24/7 emergency roadside assistance.

The boldly styled and aggressively priced 2008 Lancer GTS is an impressive new player in the compact sedan market. And for those who drool uncontrollably in anticipation of the fire-breathing AWD turbo-charged Evo X, the Lancer’s refinement and rock-solid structure bode well indeed.

Pricing: 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS


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