I haven’t driven a Mitsubishi Lancer in quite a while and, because the Lancer Evolution lacks seat-height adjustment, I was prepared to be a bit uncomfortable behind the wheel when I signed out the GTS for the night. Fortunately for shorter people like me, this less-focused-but-still-sporty Lancer model comes with the full array of seat adjusters. In fact, overall this entire package is far more enjoyable as a daily driver than the high-strung Evo.
The 168-hp normally aspirated four-cylinder is far less powerful than the Evo’s turbocharged 291-hp unit, but it certainly is no slouch. It definitely works hard and requires frequent shifting to get the most out of it, but the standard five-speed manual’s shifter has good feel and weight, and clutch takeup is natural, so it’s quite entertaining to run up and down the gears. The engine sounds good, too, and the extra sound deadening and thicker windshield in this GTS were evident the first time I reached the top of the rev range and my ears weren’t ringing.
With a base price of under $20,000, the entertaining GTS is a fairly low-priced way to get a piece of Mitsubishi’s rally heritage while not having to sacrifice fuel economy and comfort.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
The Lancer is certainly showing its age, but the car still has many positive qualities: The styling is attractive, the cabin is comfortable and fairly spacious, and the price is solid. Even our nicely loaded test car barely cracked the $23K mark. The manual gearbox isn’t as good as I remember the stick-shift Lancer Evolution’s being, but it’s still decent and fun to row. The engine is merely adequate but not terribly disappointing for a car in this class, and it helps the Lancer become one of those “slow cars” that’s fun to drive fast without encouraging its driver to egregiously break any traffic laws.
The driver of an old Volkswagen Jetta GLX with a VR6 engine, however, did encourage me to briefly break some traffic laws, probably thinking he was playing back-road games with an Evo. Let’s just say that the base Lancer had enough power and agility to stay right on that Jetta’s tailpipe. And then some.
[Either that or he was driving normally and you just thought you were racing! -Ed.]
On the more civil side of things, leather is a nice option for this mid-size sedan, but the Lancer’s is some of the least impressive cowhide I’ve seen in quite some time, as it’s shinier and slipperier than most. Like our Four Seasons Lancer Evo, this Lancer frequently refused to start on the first crank of the ignition. It never left me stranded, but it’s still embarrassing to be driving a brand-new car that you have to coax into running. Speaking of the Evo, its existence helps enhance the street cred of the base Lancer, but it also means that anyone who’s driven an Evo will be disappointed with the unswiftness of the much-slower car. But as Jen points out, the base car offers some distinct advantages in the comfort and calmness departments. Furthermore, it’s a lot easier to swallow the Lancer GTS’s $14,600 shallower price of entry, not to mention the bare-bones Lancer DE’s $18,800 cheaper price tag.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Funny — I always thought the Lancer Evolution was supposed to be a high-power, low-frills version of Mitsubishi’s compact sedan. After spending a night with the Lancer GTS, however, I’m not entirely certain what Mitsubishi stripped out of its race-ready model. The GTS interior is still chock full of hard, black plastic panels (some of which, particularly those around the top of the dash, have some fit issues), and there’s still a notable amount of road noise carried into the cabin.
On the plus side, the constant chop of the Evo’s stiff suspension is nowhere to be felt, although that doesn’t mean this compact is a complete bore to drive. The GTS is much softer than its rally racer sibling, but it still delivers direct steering and little body roll. A smaller steering wheel — cribbed from the Evo, perhaps — would help make this an absolute delight for spirited drivers on a tight budget.
I do commend Mitsubishi for making the Lancer a veritable Baskin Robbins of the compact car segment — there seem to be at least 31 flavors available, ranging from the bare-bones DE, this dressed-up GTS, the “Evo Lite” Ralliart, and the vaulted Evolution itself.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
It’s difficult to approach the Lancer with proper expectations when it looks so much like its beloved big brother. Same aggressive snout, same racer-boy wing, same cheap interior, but no rally car suspension or hopped up turbo. Buying this car and expecting great performance is a little bit like buying a pair of Air Jordans and trying to dunk from the foul line.
When considered in its proper context though — that would be, an inexpensive compact car — the Lancer isn’t bad at all. The 2.4-liter is smooth, especially for a large-displacement four-cylinder, and is well-matched with the five-speed manual gearbox. As Evan noted, there’s plenty of body roll, but at the speeds this car is capable of traveling on public roads, it’s never really an issue.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Base price (with destination): $19,710
Price as tested: $23,260
2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine
5-speed manual transmission
Dynamic stability control
4-wheel disc brakes
10-way power driver’s seat
Heated front seats
Automatic climate control
Tire pressure monitoring system
Auxiliary audio input
18-inch alloy wheels
Options on this vehicle:
Rotor Glow exterior paint — $150
Touring package — $1500
Rain sensing wipers
Heated front seats
Sound resistant windshield
Sun and Sound package — $1900
710-watt Rockford-Fosgate sound system with 9 speakers including a 10-inch subwoofer
In-dash 6-CD changer
Sirius Satellite radio
Advanced keyless entry
Key options not on vehicle:
Navigation package — $1800
Navigation system with music server
Auxiliary video input
20 / 28 / 23 mpg
Size: 2.4L 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 168 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 167 lb-ft @ 4100 rpm
Curb weight: 3010 lb
18-inch aluminum wheels
215/45R-18 Dunlop SP Sport 5000 all-season tires