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2009 Mitsubishi Lancer ReviewThe Good
Mitsubishi's 2009 Lancer comes with a long list of standard features and options at a price comparable to those of less-equipped compact sedans.The Bad
Bland inside and out, and with poor fuel economy, the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer offers little to distinguish itself from its better-known Japanese competitors.
The CarGurus View
With three engines and a new sport trim, the 2009 Lancer lineup should appeal to both the budget-minded commuter and the weekend driving enthusiast. Roomy for a compact sedan, the Lancer still trails the Civic and Corolla in terms of fuel efficiency, handling, and quality of materials. Without a significantly cheaper pricetag than these models, economy car buyers may be hard-pressed to find a reason to buy the Lancer.
At a Glance
For 2009, the Mitsubishi Lancer compact sedan attempts to spice things up by adding two new and more powerful engines and a new turbo Ralliart performance trim. In an effort to stay competitive in an overcrowded market, the front-wheel-drive Lancer uses its sport trims to broaden its appeal beyond the simple econobox driver to a more youthful, driving-oriented consumer. The changes do improve performance, but at the cost of lowered fuel efficiency. Despite its mechanical and exterior enhancements, Mitsubishi continues to neglect the interior of the Lancer, which pales in refinement and quality compared to other sedans in this class.
The '09 Lancer comes in base DE, ES, sporty GTS, and Ralliart trims. The DE and ES set their sights on the average everyday commuter, decked out in a well-stocked array of standard equipment and riding on 16-inch wheels. The sporty GTS amps up the muscle with a rear spoiler, 18-inch alloys, chrome trim, and a sport suspension. It also gets a new 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine with 16 more horsepower than the 2.0 in the lower trims. The brand-new Ralliart gets a more aggressive look, thanks to the addition of side skirts, a larger rear wing, a unique front bumper, twin chrome exhaust pipes, and an overly large front grille and intake which help cool off its turbocharged version of the 2.0 engine.
Other changes for 2009 include a new Sport Package for the ES and the new FAST Key option for both the ES and GTS. Drivers can open and start the Lancer without touching the key fob in their purse or pocket. Added to the options list for the GTS are xenon headlights and rain-sensing wipers.
The '09 Lancer adds two new engines to its lineup, finally delivering the acceleration and low-end power promised but never seen in its sportier trims. Returning in the DE and ES is the 16-valve, 2.0-liter DOHC inline four, paired with either a five-speed manual or continuously variable transmission (CVT). The latter works as an automatic, but provides smoother shifts, as it transitions through an infinite number of gears. Test drivers prefer the five-speed, however, claiming the CVT does not pair well with the 2.0, sucking up most of its power. With so-so 0-60 times of just under 9 seconds, this powertrain averages 22/30 mpg. Fuel economy in all engines falls significantly short of that in other compact sedans.
In the past, the GTS pretended to be a sports car with its large rear wing, 18-inch alloy wheels, and exterior chrome trim. However, it used the same noisy and weak 2.0 engine found in the DE and ES and could never claim any true sports performance. For 2009, it gets a new 16-valve, 2.4-liter DOHC inline four with good power delivery across a wide range of RPM. It too comes standard with a five-speed manual, but its optional CVT features a manual mode and paddle shifters. Owners and critics experience great off-the-line acceleration and confident passing power, helped by its extra 21 lb-ft of torque. The 2.4 delivers 168 hp and 167 lb-ft of torque, with 0-60 times of 7.7 seconds. Even better, the fuel economy barely drops, averaging 21/28 mpg.
The new Ralliart trim lays claim to a detuned version of the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder in the Evo. Paired only with a six-speed manual, the “baby Evo” puts out 235 hp and 253 lb-ft of torque, with a significantly reduced fuel economy of 17/25 mpg. Featuring a twin electronically controlled clutch that delivers torque to the wheels that need it, the Ralliart hits the road with an energetic punch, according to test drivers. The six-speed moves quickly and easily through its gears.
All three engines are MIVEC, meaning they include variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust shafts. The naturally aspirated 2.0 also qualifies for a PZEV (partial zero emissions vehicle) rating in the state of California.
Ride & Handling
The compact '09 Lancer sedan shares a platform with the Outlander SUV and delivers a somewhat unforgiving ride, although this is not uncommon with compact economy cars. Base DE and ES trims, running on the 2.0 engine, struggle in highway passing and merging situations, and the 2.0 can be annoyingly noisy, especially when paired with the CVT. The 2.4 in the GTS offers a much quieter ride, along with its responsive powerplant and easy-shifting manual transmission.
Overall, critics and owners praise the handling dynamics of the '09 Lancer, although steering feels predictably vague for a compact, even in the sportier trims. Both the GTS and Ralliart trims get a sport-tuned suspension, complemented by larger 18-inch alloy wheels, a rear wing spoiler, and bolstered sport seats. The Ralliart features AWD performance in the form of its Active Center Differential. It delivers power through all four wheels for superior road grip when cornering. Although noticeably better than the other three trims, the Ralliart isn't quite as taut as the Lancer Evo. Its significant body roll also takes away from any true sport-like performance. However, the average driver looking for a little extra excitement behind the wheel should feel satisfied.
Cabin & Comfort
Critics and owners both find the interior of the '09 Lancer disappointing. An abundance of cheap and hard plastic gets easily scratched and dinged, and the overall appearance comes off as bland and, according to one reviewer, “ugly.” The low-grade materials leave the Lancer far behind the more refined and updated looks of the Civic and Corolla.
What it lacks in refinement, it makes up for in high-tech gadgetry, offered in several different option packages. All trims come standard with power windows, locks, and mirrors, a trip computer, and a 4-speaker sound system with CD/MP3 player. The ES represents the better value for the average commuter, offering cruise control, wheel-mounted audio controls, manual height adjustment on the driver's seat, and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat with fold-down armrest. The sporty GTS adds leather trim, a 6-speaker sound system, Bluetooth, and automatic climate control.
A new Sport Package for the ES basically adds the leather trim, chrome exhaust, and spoiler from the GTS. A Sun and Sound Package features such items as a sunroof, Rockford sound system with 6-CD changer and satellite radio, and an MP3 jack. New this year is the FAST Key, an intelligent key offering both remote entry and remote start. A standalone navigation system features a 30GB hard drive to store music. However, some critics find the system complex and the controls illogically laid out.
All but the DS offer a split-folding rear seat that opens onto a 12.2-cubic-foot trunk. The '09 Lancer offers a surprisingly roomy cabin for an economy compact sedan, with decent legroom up front and in back (42.2 and 36 inches respectively). Though it comes with a tilt steering wheel, driver comfort could be improved with telescopic steering and optional power seats, neither of which are offered on the Lancer. The bolstered sport seats in the GTS and Ralliart trims provide good grip when cornering, but some critics find the standard seats in the the DE and ES lacking in comfortable thigh support.
Despite the lack of standard stability and traction control, the 2009 Lancer earns high marks from both the NHTSA and the Insurance Institute. Four-wheel disc and ABS brakes come standard on all but the base DE (which features front discs and rear drums). All trims have dual front-side and side curtain airbags for both rows, a driver's knee airbag, and active head restraints. Other equipment includes a tire monitor and automatic headlights. The sedan gets five stars for driver and front-side impact, four stars for passenger and rear side impact, and a Good overall rating. Xenon HID headlights and rain-sensing wipers can be added as an option.
What Owners Think
CarGurus owners of the 2009 Lancer gush over the fast acceleration power of both the GTS and Ralliart trims, comparing the sport trims to a bullet on the highway. Drivers feel the sedan handles well in curves, looks sleek and sporty, and offers satisfying fuel efficiency for a commuter car. The smoothness of the CVT and the long list of techy gadgets also earns high marks from owners. Despite the increase in power, many CarGurus owners desire even more low-end grunt out of the turbo and the 2.4, and some find the CVT too slushy and slow compared to both the five- and six-speed manual transmissions.
Reviews from owners on other Websites echo most of these sentiments. High praise goes to the Lancer's fuel economy, engine power, great handling, smooth shifts, and off-the-line acceleration. Almost everyone claims the '09 Lancer represents the best buy for its class, based on its extensive array of standard features and options. A roomy and comfortable interior pleases commuters. On the downside, most owners complain about the cheap and flimsy materials used in the cabin and the lack of optional leather seats.
by Ann Jackman
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