For the record, Mitsubishi Lancer is not the screen name of a d-grade Japanese porn star – though it could be. The previous Lancer was a lubberly and uninspired sedan whose chief attractor was “well equipped for the price”. For 2008 the Mitsu has been to the gym, buffed up, and come back with A-list looks and retained the equipment to boot. Now the Lancer is drawing admiring glances from boy racers, but the question is whether this make over is only skin deep?
The Lancer GTS shares the uncommonly good looks of its “halo product for the play station generation” A-list sibling, so if you buy a GTS prepare to field one question above all others, “Is that an Evo?”
The automotive equivalent of a money shot for those who wear our hats sideways, “Evo” stands for “Evolution”. It is brutally fast, 276hp, 311ft-lbs of torque, All Wheel Drive speed racer. The Lancer GTS is not.
The styling with an aggressive overhanging front, angry slits of headlights, a world inhaling front grill and a squat powerful stance all whiplash attention as the GTS sits in the Evo’s shadow. Likewise the fog lamps, 18-inch wheels, low profile all-season tires, front and side air dams, and shopping-cart handle rear spoiler is visual Viagra that promises whopping performance.
The look is a far cry from the Lancer GTS’s utilitarian predecessor. Mitsubishi has obviously put tremendous design effort into this extreme make over and the resulting look is simple heroic.
Pity they forgot the interior. The roof’s headliner is appears to be composed of recycled dryer lint. The convex of the dash wraps around the driver and passenger, keeping the controls for climate control and the stereo intuitively at hand, but faux carbon fiber trim and hard plastics frame it. It’s so cold and insincere that you’ll be reaching for the seat heater switches, inexplicably tucked at to the rear of the central console nicely out of reach.
The Lancer is still well equipped though. Pairing the Bluetooth to your cell phone is a voice controlled snap – it worked the first time without the manual. Simply press the voice command button and follow the prompts. Having the “FAST-key” on your person allows you to enter and start the Lancer without inserting a key – a BMW or Audi sort of feature. While the Sun & Sound Package adds a sunroof and a slightly muddy sounding 650-watt Rockford-Fosgate sound system, complete with a 10-inch dual-voice coil subwoofer. For purposes of review I played 5-minutes of drum and base before switching to CBC from the steering wheel mounted controls.
Soon as the GTS “drops trou” though, it comes up short. The 2.0 Liter MIVEC inline-4 engine is fizzy, spiny and effervescent engine rather than meaty. Adequately punchy as it sprays past 4,250rpm for a maximum 146 lb-ft of torque and the engine will spin onward to 152 hp at 6000rpm. It’s ample for city driving, fine for the highway, and a tromp of the gas results in mild torque steer and occasional wheel spin – should you feel sporting. The sound though will have you reliving bad home economics sewing machine memories. For the record Mrs. Faulkner, I do drive the way I sew.
To get the most out of the GTS stick with the slightly clunky five-speed manual transmission. Paired with a slick and effortless clutch the manual leaves you in control of the shifts, rather than optional continuously vilified transmission that removes the onus of free will.
The Lancer GTS’s muscles may be airbrushed on, but whip it a little, stir the transmission, and the GTS will bring a grin to your face. There is an essence of driving, without all the coddling computer controls and mad amounts of power overwhelming the satisfaction of going for a good thrash… and that’s backed up by the handling.
In the corners, the Lancer feels firm and substantial, if slightly distant, at the wheel. Steering requires moderate effort as the GTS slaloms though the corners with certainty – regardless of pavement quality. That’s thanks, in part, to the sport-tuned suspension that makes use of bigger sway bars and revised spring/shock damping rates over the more base Lancer models. Those changes provide a firm ride with minimal body roll, letting the GTS hold its speed in the turns or dart through traffic with the deportment of a smaller car.
When it comes to deceleration, the brakes, lifted from the larger, heavier Outlander SUV, haul the GTS down from speed with haste and feel. Overall the brakes and handling seem to be asking the question, “Like dude, where’s my engine?” Sadly that’s where the good news ends.
The Lancer with manual transmission has a fueling “quirk”. Hold the throttle at a consistent mid-range RPM, remove your foot from the gas, and the Lancer continues to spin along at a similar RPM for up to 15 seconds as if the throttle had stuck. That merited taking the Lancer in to the shop.
The response was a Mitsubishi technical bulletin issued for 2008-on Lancers with manual transmissions titled, “Slow Return of Engine RPM to Idle”. The bulletin states that, “Customers with a spirited driving style may notice a slight delay in the engine returning to idle when they come to a stop.” This is to “prevent damage to the catalytic converter due to the normal mixture associated with higher RPM driving.” We’re unclear as to how “spirited” was defined, out tester seemed to feel anything over 1500RPM qualified.
The bulletin failed to mention that drivers might experience terror, frantic faith conversion, and bouts of prayer in winter driving conditions. You see, the Lancer’s stock all-season tires are flummoxed by frost, light snow and are near grip free on icy roads. ABS or not, tapping the brakes results in slippage. Normally, you’d counter that with engine braking to moderate speed and maintain traction.
So we found it disturbing that, heading downhill into a corner on roads covered with light snow, that the Lancer continued onwards unabated or even accelerated when we came off the throttle.
Plan on driving a manual Lancer in winter? Reign in this Ice Capades of doom with a set of winter tires.
At intersections simply driving around town, the failure of the RPMs to drop is irritating and embarrassing. Clutch in at stops the engine races on ensuring you’re labeled “anti-social” by the elderly crossing in front of you.
I’ve stopped for a Mocha at a university coffee shop, as I get out of the car a hot Japanese gym boy asks, “Is that the Evo?”
Dare I lie? In the end I sigh, “No, no, it’s just the GTS…”
“Still looks good. Is it fun?”
I pause for a moment, the 2008 Lancer GTS with its low, urgent and aggressive look hits the visual mark. Indeed the GTS will go far on its A-list looks, handling, four-door practicality and price point. In the end though this car is a muddy mix lacking the sport and refinement to live up to its visual promise.
“Yes, it’s fun… at times.”
Mitsubishi Lancer GTS Details:
- Price Range (MSRP): $21,698 – $24,798
- Body Type: 4-door sedan
- Layout: front engine, FWD
- Engine: 152-hp, 146 lb-ft of torque, 2.0L, 16-valve, DOHC I-4
- Transmission: 5-spd manual (opt. CVT w/manual mode)
- Brakes (front/rear): disc/disc, ABS, EBD
- Dimensions (L/W/H/WB): 4,570 / 1,760 / 1,490 / 2,635 mm (179.9 / 69.3 / 58.7 / 103.7 in)
- Cargo Volume: 328 L (11.6 cu-ft)
- Curb Weight (min-max): 1,375 – 1,410 kg (3,031 – 3,109 lbs)
- Tires: 215/45R18
- Fuel Economy (est. city/hwy): 9.7 / 7.0 L/100 km
- Warranty (mo/km): 60/100,000 comprehensive; 120/160,000 powertrain
- Web Site: www.mitsubishicars.ca