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2008 Mitsubishi Lancer.

ted laturnus The Globe and Mail

In 2008, Mitsubishi's entry-level Lancer got a complete makeover. New body style, new engine, new interior layout. Just as importantly, it was the first time that Mitsubishi decided to sell this car in Canada without having it on the market somewhere else first.

The '08 Lancer also openly emulated two of the most popular compact sedans in the world: the Mazda3 and Alfa Romeo 156. According to the company, it embodied what they called "soul tech," whatever that was/is.

Looking completely different from its predecessor, this iteration of the Lancer was slightly wider with a longer wheelbase and a shorter overall length. Dimensionally, it was very close to the Mazda3 and slightly wider and longer than perennial category leader, the Honda Civic.

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With a nod to Mitsubishi's aviation background, the '08 Lancer featured a "shark-nosed" front end that was apparently inspired by jet fighter air intakes. It slipped through the air more readily than its predecessor.

Not counting the Evolution version (which was, and is, a completely different animal), four trim levels were offered: base DE, mid-range ES, SE, and top of the line GTS. Standard equipment included power windows, tilt steering, 16-inch wheels and tires, four-wheel disc brakes and a full roster of front, side, and side curtain airbags, as well as a drivers' side knee airbag.

Options included keyless ignition, Bluetooth capability, larger 18-inch wheels and tires, upgraded nine-speaker stereo with MP3 playback and iPod input jack, ABS and air conditioning. Many of these extras came in packages - ABS and air conditioning were put together as an option on the DE, for example. One interesting feature: the dash LCD screen displayed in six different languages.

The base 2.0 four-cylinder engine was a collaboration between Mitsubishi, Hyundai, and DaimlerChrysler - what we know now as a "world engine." It featured an aluminum cylinder block, dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and Mitsubishi's MIVEC variable valve system. Replacing the SOHC, cast-iron-block powerplant of its predecessor, it developed 152 hp at 6,000 rpm and 146 lb-ft of torque. (The model it replaced had 120 hp and 130 lb-ft.)

You could choose from either a five-speed manual transmission or a CVT Sportronic with six "speeds" and steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles. This latter transmission had six built-in, software-controlled ratios and, according to Mitsubishi, this number of speeds was chosen "for ease of use, sporty driving and flexible performance." Not to mention enhanced fuel economy.

The CVT also marked the first time Mitsubishi equipped one of its sedans with this type of transmission in North America. The conventional five-speed manual was on the receiving end of a redesigned shift mechanism, with a "sportier" feeling and shorter shift throw.

Sharing the same "GS" platform as the Outlander SUV, the new Lancer was also part of the company's Global Advantage program. In a nutshell, that meant Mitsubishi Canada no longer had to go through the U.S. office when it came time to make decisions about model lineup, equipment levels and so on. From this point on, Mitsubishi Canada reported directly to Japan, which was probably the way it should have been all along.

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Two safety recalls from Transport Canada to report. One concerns an airbag sensor that could deteriorate over time and not work the way it's supposed to, while the second has to do with a possibly flawed brake booster that may "stick" and not function properly after the vehicle has been shut off. Drivers will notice this problem during low-speed manoeuvres, such as parking.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has 12 technical service bulletins on file for the 2008 Lancer. These includes things like "rattling" doors/loose window glass, engine stalling during cold weather starts, and an inordinately slow engine idle. Most of the bulletins for this year of the Lancer are advisories for service personnel.

Consumer Reports describes the 2008 Lancer as "an improvement" over the previous model, and some comments from owners include "so far, great value," and "needs a sixth gear." No testing data from C.R. at this point.

Market research company J.D. Power is not so positive, giving this generation of the Lancer a below-average rating for overall dependability and "about-average" or below in virtually every department, with the exception of powertrain quality.

From its original base price of about $16,500, the Lancer has held up reasonably well, fetching anywhere from the $10,000 range to the mid-teens, depending upon the model and equipment level.

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Tech specs

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer

Original Base Price: $16,598; Black Book: $11,450-$14,975; Red Book: $9,750-$12,075

Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder

Horsepower/Torque: 152 hp/146 lb-ft

Transmission: CVT/five-speed manual

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 9.7 city/7.0 highway (five-speed manual); regular gas

Alternatives: Mazda3, Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, Volkswagen Jetta

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