Prior to this year, if you wanted a piece of the Mitsubishi performance pie, you had to either shell out some rather big bucks for one of the numerous Evo iterations and suffer again at the gas pump, or get behind the wheel of an Eclipse and try to forget that you aren’t 19 years old and actually need a usable back seat. Is it possible to have a dose of Evo without the sticker shock? The 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS gives it a try.
You’ll be happy to know that, in most people’s estimates, the positive attributes that we’ve come to associate with Mitsubishi, like handling, strong engines and distinctive styling are all in place with the Lancer GTS. What pesky annoyances are present, like interior quality, are also frequently cited in much more expensive vehicles from the tri-diamond company. So at the very least you can sleep well knowing your thriftiness is not responsible for its shortcomings.
Visually, the Lancer has been a sharp looking vehicle for a few years. Problem is that unless you ponied up to the higher level EVO, what you ended up with was only a pretender. For instance, the GTS of 2008 sported an enormous rear wing (which we aren’t huge fans of anyway) and 18-inch wheels. Unfortunately in order to achieve speed for, let’s say passing, the 2.0 liter four cylinder engine had to be thrashed into often higher rpm’s than you’d expect for such a basic driving maneuver. So Mitsubishi deserves credit for addressing these complaints. For 2009 the GTS gets more performance via a newly standard 2.4-liter 168-hp four-cylinder engine.
The DE and ES trim levels are not so lucky and still come with the 2.0-liter 152-hp four. The increased displacement of this engine produces 16 more horsepower and, more importantly in the very scenario cited above, 21 additional pound-feet of torque. This engine is also not only more powerful but also substantially quieter. 0-60 mph times drop by about a second to 7.7 seconds over the base engine, while maitaining similar fuel economy. Standard is a five-speed manual transmission, while a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is optional. Adding CVT includes a manual mode that is operated via paddle shifters, though the CVT seems to mute driving performance considerably.
The highest praise is reserved for the handling attributes of this car. The GTS steers and corners like a car costing much more and high-speed motoring is respectable. And now with sufficient motivation, the GTS’s 18-inch tires can do the job they only hinted at in previous years.
Fuel economy is still an issue when stacked against other cars in this class, though when compared to a Civic Si, the GTS holds its own, though about 30 hp less. Nevertheless, the 2.4-liter gets 21 in city and 28 in highway driving. For comparative purposes, the EVO gets 22 mpg on the highway.
Especially when evaluated against other cars in this segment, the outer visage of the Lancer is right at the top of our list. With a sharklike “face” and clean lines, it definitely conveys something more than “inexpensive” and borders on downright attractive. Perhaps most importantly, the GTS is unique. With so many cars that look alike, especially at this price point, it is refreshing to see a car standout on its own. The large spoiler is a bit of an eye roller, but that’s a small price to pay.
The GTS comes equipped with a large list of standard equipment inclinding 18-inch alloy wheels, a tilt-only steering wheel, power windows, mirrors and locks with keyless entry, a six-speaker CD/MP3 stereo with steering-wheel controls and Bluetooth, automatic climate control, antilock brakes, cruise control, a leather wrapped steering wheel and shifter, and sport bucket front seats with an upgraded fabric from the base models.
The Sun and Sound package is availablewhich includes a sunroof, keyless ignition, a nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate sound system with an in-dash six-CD changer, an auxiliary audio jack and satellite radio. When equipped with this package, the GTS can also be optioned with a navigation system that features a 30GB hard drive capable of storing digital music files. A full compliment of airbags, including front-seat side airbags, full-length head curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag come standard on the GTS which earns a five-star rating for driver frontal and front-seat side crash protection in government crash testing.
While the list of options is nice, the quality of materials insides is still lacking. Certainly even being generous, anyone would agree that the interior doesn’t reflect what you’d expect of a car that is down right sharp to look at on the outside. Still, seat comfort itself is very good, and one major benefit of buying a sporty sedan instead of a true sports car is the usable back seat, which on the GTS comes with good legroom. Trunk space adds up to a respectable 11.6 cubic feet.
The GTS with manual transmission starts at $18,010, though with the sunroof, navigation and stability control you are looking at around $23,000.
Really not a bad price, but certainly you are in Civic Si and its nearly 200 hp engine for that amount. If you can keep your options list under control, the GTS is a good value.