A screamingly powerful Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution blows past you on the freeway. Some young man is having fun with one of the most powerful cars on the road-for its price.
However, the Lancer compact sedan on which it’s built tends to be forgotten, while Japanese brand competitors sell in the hundreds of thousands. But the Lancer is a good-looking, fun-to-drive little sedan and is Mitsubishi’s best-selling vehicle. I recently spent a week with an Apex Silver GTS model that proved its mettle.
The car blends in, with familiar proportions. However, the face is especially aggressive, with a huge mouth that’s like a shark coming in for the kill. The “eyes” stare intently, and the sharp edges and squinting taillamps create some visual tension-as if the car is just waiting to jump onto the road and strike.
Inside, the dash has a twin-pod shape over the gauges-evoking an Alfa Romeo, while the main dash panel flares towards you like that in a BMW. The steering wheel is finely detailed and, like the rest of the interior, blends silvery accents with matte black finished surfaces. It feels sporty. Mitsubishi’s tag line, “Different for a Reason,” may be their way of putting it.
For 2011, the Lancer comes in four models (below the separately-badged Evolution). These start with the entry-level DE and progress through the ES, GTS, and finally, the Ralliart. The first three are front-wheel drive, but the Ralliart powers all four wheels with an automatic all-wheel-drive system.
The DE and ES provide motivation with a 2.0-liter, 152-horsepower inline four through a five-speed manual transmission or a continuously-variable automatic. The Ralliart turbocharges that engine for a whopping 237 horsepower and runs it through what it calls an “automated manual” with the requisite magnesium steering column-mounted shifter paddles. Good thing it has four tires putting that extra power to the ground.
The GTS, like my tester, has a larger 2.4-liter four that adds 20 horsepower above the 2.0-liter version. Choose from the manual or CVT transmissions. The CVT is perfectly well behaved. If you want to use the paddle shifters, you’re selecting “ratios” from the otherwise continuously variable “gearbox.” I, as usual, let it do its thing, and it delivered a respectable 24.8 miles per gallon (EPA numbers are 23 City/30 Highway). EPA Green Guide numbers are a hybrid-like 9 for Air Pollution and a 7 for Greenhouse Gas-in California.
The DE has the basic things you want, such as a 140-watt, 4-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system; power windows, locks and mirrors; remote keyless entry and anti-lock brakes. The ES sweetens the deal with air conditioning, a split folding rear seat, steering wheel with audio and cruise control switches and a few other niceties.
The GTS’s interior extras include leather on the steering wheel, shift knob and brake handle; automatic climate control; sport bucket seats and the FUSE HandsFree Link System, which allows wireless access to Bluetooth®-enabled cell phones, an iPod ® or a USB drive with the use of simple voice commands.
Outside, the car flaunts 18-inch alloy wheels, a front airdam, rear spoiler, chrome exhaust tip and fog lamps. The sport suspension makes ripping along a back road more entertaining (wishing for the manual transmission during this, of course).
The GTS Touring Package ($3,300) puts leather on the bolstered, heated seats and adds a kickin’ 710-watt Rockford-Fosgate Punch Premium Sound System. There’s a power sunroof, automatic headlamps, and even auto-sensing windshield wipers. All this added together starts pushing the Lancer into premium territory.
Select the Ralliart if you can’t muster the $34,755 for the Evolution but still want to have a more powerful driving experience. Starting at $28,455, it features many of the advanced active electronic driver aids found on the Evolution, including full-time All-Wheel Control (AWC) with Active Center Differential (ACD), a front helical limited-slip differential and rear limited-slip differential.
Its Hill Start Assist (HSA) technology would be welcome in San Francisco. After you remove your foot from the brake pedal, HSA holds the vehicle in place on a slope for several seconds until you press the accelerator pedal.
The Ralliart also features a sporty aluminum hood with heat extractor vent, chrome side lower door moldings and inside, premium “sport fabric” on the seats.
Pricewise, the numbers are encouraging. My GTS tester, with all the aforementioned, came to $24,355, including shipping. The DE with nothing extra can be had for as little as $15,955.
Mitsubishi has suffered in the marketplace, but appears to be in a rebuilding mode. The new Outlander Sport, built on the Lancer platform, is a fine effort, and the Lancer itself was nice to live with for a week, with no complaints in my notes. Now you’re in on the secret.