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The Lancer is Mitsubishi's most affordable model for sale in the U.S., and it stands out in a sea of low-priced sedans—first for its resemblance to the much more expensive Lancer Evolution and Ralliart models (covered under a separate review), and also for its rather unusual Sportback (five-door hatchback) body style, which stands as an alternative to crossover vehicles. For 2011, Mitsubishi has expanded the five-door hatchback body style, so that it's now also offered in ES trim, in addition to the GTS and Ralliart models offered last year.
While you might peg the sharklike snout of the 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer as belonging to an Evo at first glance, the Lancer costs much less, and it's nearly as good-looking. The Lancer is chunky but low and lean, with a high beltline, a nicely proportioned small sedan or Sportback hatch. The mid-level Lancer ES gets color-keyed door handles and mirrors, but it's the larger wheels of GTS models that especially serve to fill out those proportions and help the design pop.
A 152-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine provides power for Lancer DE and ES models; with it, performance is perky with the five-speed manual and just acceptable with the continuously variable (CVT) automatic. Sporty GTS models step up to a 168-horsepower, 2.4-liter four, and CVT versions receive magnesium steering-wheel paddle-shifters with six simulated gears to suit high-performance driving. While DE and ES models are strictly cheap wheels—and they handle reasonably well though not with much verve—the GTS has slightly higher aspirations. It gets larger wheels, a firmer suspension, and upgraded braking to put the driving experience pretty much on par with the turbocharged Ralliart—minus the extra power, of course. The result is a car that's considerably more entertaining to drive. Unfortunately, it also results in more road noise and a somewhat stiff, jiggly ride.
Either as a four-door sedan or a five-door hatchback (Sportback), the 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer has a fundamentally good, roomy package for passengers and cargo, but it falls short with respect to interior noise and refinement, as well as the look and feel of the materials and trims. The five-door Sportback body style is offered now in ES and GTS trims and brings a little more cargo space and versatility—especially if you fold the backseats forward. Otherwise, backseat space is identical between the two.
On any of these models, noise and ride comfort could be deal-breakers. DE and ES models come with a slightly softer suspension and more forgiving tires that comfort-oriented buyers will probably prefer. But especially in GTS form, the Lancer rides quite hard, however, with plenty of road noise to match the engine noise. The roar of the engine is mostly an issue in CVT models, where the engine gets raucous and buzzy on acceleration. Also bringing a downmarket feel to the Lancer is the collection of decidedly basic materials used in the cabin; there's lots of hard, hollow-sounding plastic.
The sporty GTS lives up to its Evo look, with a sport suspension, big 18-inch alloys, fog lamps, rear spoiler, and air dams, plus automatic climate control, high-contrast gauges, and sport seats. For 2011, the basic Bluetooth interface previously on offer in the GTS has been replaced with FUSE, a hands-free system that allows voice-command access to phones and media players. A USB port is now also included in GTS models.
Options on the Lancer are limited to alloy wheels and a Deluxe Package on the ES (including the FUSE system, a USB port, sunroof, and leather-wrapped steering wheel. The GTS can be further loaded up with a Touring Package adding a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate Punch premium sound system, ten-inch subwoofer, a CD changer, leather seats, heated front seats, bi-xenon headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, and a sunroof.