by Scott Corlett
These are good times for Mitsubishi. Last fall, the fully redesigned, sleek and sexy Outlander SUV launched to critical acclaim. In April, the all-new, vastly improved Lancer sedan will hit dealer lots. And, late in ’07, the smoking-hot, ticket-loving Lancer Evolution X will burn pavement all across the land. This automotive triple-threat ought to keep both drivers and Mitsu execs smiling—and the folks at Mazda checking their rearview mirror.
In late January, during a rare winter storm in San Diego, we joined Mitsubishi for a test drive of the 2008 Lancer sedan. After a pithy presentation by one of Mitsu’s product managers, we hopped in a midlevel Lancer ES (a stripped-down DE or a sport-tuned GTS model are also available). Our Lancer was equipped with Mitsubishi’s optional FAST-Key system, which allows for entries and starts sans key insertion, so we simply turned a steering-column knob and then gave a little wave in response to the friendly greeting that flashed on the instrument-cluster LCD readout. We slide the lever of the five-speed manual transmission into first, let up the clutch and pushed on the gas, and then took off from our digs in swank La Jolla.
The former Lancer—with the exception of its boy-racer Evolution version—did little to quicken our pulse. Under banks of low, dark clouds, we hit the hills that ring San Diego to the east, and the 152-hp, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder MIVEC engine—the sole engine to be available at launch—offered decent juice if we kept the gear low and revs high. Providing a zero-to-sixty time of nearly nine seconds (according to Mitsubishi’s engineers), this level of power taxed neither our ticker nor the Lancer’s excellent handling dynamics—these tests will have to wait until the release of a rumored 2.4-liter variant. As we pushed through tight corners on a twisty canyon road that was bordered by palm farms and nudist colonies, the Lancer effortlessly maintained its death grip on the pavement, while the EVO-hunger pangs sharpened in the pit of our gut. If the standard Lancer, which the Mitsu folks say was benchmarked to the Mazda 3 and Alfa 156, handles this well, the upcoming EVO X edition is sure to be a super-buff little hottie.
After a lunch among the hot cars of years past in the San Diego Automotive Museum, we climbed into a Lancer GTS with optional CVT automatic transmission—a first-time Mitsu offering in the United States. Continuously variable transmissions both eliminate sharp shifts and improve fuel economy (the new Lancer makes 21/29 mpg city/highway when outfitted with the manual and 22/29 with the CVT). As a bonus on GTS models, the CVT is equipped with steering-wheel-mounted paddles, which allow for manual shifts in a range of six virtual gears for those virtual leather-clad racers who’ll rip their Lancers through traffic en route to a pit stop at the office. As we started up a freeway onramp, rain lashed the Lancer’s windshield, and we wished that we had the five-speed manny back: although the CVT is as smooth as the silk of the underwear that Britney Spears should be wearing, in a vehicle powered by a 2.0-liter engine, we still prefer a stick in hand.
Pricing is not yet announced for the new Lancer; but look for a base in the neighborhood of $14,000. While there are standard goodies such as front, side, curtain, and knee airbags on the base DE model, if you enjoy luxuries like air conditioning or antilock brakes, go for either the ES or the GTS variants. Then, you can splurge for the Sun and Sound package that includes a sunroof, Sirius satellite radio, and a 650-watt Rockford-Fosgate stereo or the Navi and Tech package that brings a 30-GB hard disk drive, GPS navigation, DVD player, and the FAST-Key system. As we hurried to keep ahead of rush-hour traffic en route back to base camp in La Jolla, a sugary ‘N Sync tune oozed from the Rockford’s nine, well-placed speakers, and we pictured the former boy-band’s singer, Lance Bass.
In 2006, the term “lanced” took on new meaning when online gossip columnists forced Lance Bass out of the closet with revelations of his relationship with reality-TV heartthrob Reichen Lehmkuhl. Later in that year, Neal Patrick Harris—of Doogie Howser fame—also was lanced. In 2007, without the aid of Perez Hilton, the all-new Mitsubishi Lancer inks another meaning for lanced: to set a vehicle free of its past imperfections. We pulled into the hotel’s courtyard, and, as we turned off the ignition, “Goodbye” flashed across the readout. We patted the steering wheel and then said with a smile, “Baby got lanced.”
Mitsubishi is a gay-friendly company.