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