2011 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS: Driven

March 8, 2011
The Lancer GTS is often overlooked by small-car shoppers on a tight budget—and they're missing out on a good thing. For the same money as less-inspiring drives that fully feel like budget transportation, there's a lot more to the Lancer, and its surprisingly able handling and refreshingly direct driving experience might just charm you.

It did charm us. Unlike Mitsubishi's turbocharged Lancer Ralliart and Lancer Evolution models, the GTS is one that you can drive for satisfying bursts with the engine at full boil and not be in danger of losing your license.

The Lancer GTS provides the same kind of seductively simple tactile enjoyment that you could find in a host of four-cylinder 'pocket rockets' in the '90s: Cars like the Honda Civic Si, Nissan Sentra SE-R, or even the Dodge Neon R/T all had a depth of chassis tuning that felt capable of handling a far more powerful engine, and the same is true here.

Of course, you can get a Lancer GTS with a more powerful turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive; it's called the Ralliart. But the front-wheel-drive GTS costs thousands less.

The Lancer GTS comes with an engine that churns out the torque, so there's not much need to rev, even if you'll enjoy doing it. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine makes 168 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of torque and comes hooked up to a five-speed manual gearbox that's among the sweetest in any new car, slightly notchy but with smooth and precise gates and a satisfying feel (really, this would be a great setup to teach a teen to drive stick). With the excellent shifter, revving the engine past its 6,000-rpm power peak is loud but rewarding.

Mitsubishi appears to have chosen ratios for the five-speed that are a nice compromise between acceleration and fuel economy. Fifth gear keeps the engine spinning near the 3,000 mark at 70 mph—lower than other sporty small cars—and while also taller, the lower gears are closely spaced. In a week and about 100 miles of enthusiastic driving, with a mix of conditions ranging from cold-weather stop-and-go to a short cruise on the Interstate, we averaged a decent 24 mpg—which feels about in line with the EPA rating of 22 mpg city, 31 highway.

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