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As Mitsubishi tries to remake itself as an automaker focused around electrified vehicles and green-tech ideas, the Lancer line of compact cars carries on--and still really stands out in a sea of low-priced sedans. While the Lancer's close resemblance to the high-performance Lancer Evolution and Ralliart models (covered under a separate review) is definitely a selling point, even in its more affordable, basic Lancer models this family of vehicles remains a lot of fun to drive.
Last year, Mitsubishi expanded availability of the Lancer Sportback (five-door hatchback) body style, and made it available in more affordable ES trim. For 2012, Mitsubishi is adding . For 2011, Mitsubishi has dropped the former GTS model and replaced it with the Lancer GT, a model that has much of the same equipment as the GTS but now includes all-wheel drive, at a more affordable price compared to the turbocharged Ralliart.
Not much else has changed for the Lancer lineup, which still manages to be one of the most distinctive compact cars, in terms of styling. The aggressive, sharklike snout, chunky proportions, low-and-lean stance, and high beltline give both the sedan and Sportback a nice look. The mid-level Lancer ES gets color-keyed door handles and mirrors, but it's the larger wheels of GT models that especially serve to fill out those proportions and help the design pop. Inside, the Lancers aren't nearly as alluring; although the layout is sporty, trims and materials tend to be on the drab side.
Power for Lancer DE and ES comes from a 152-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that's just perky with the five-speed manual and just gutsy enough with the continuously variable (CVT) automatic. The 168-horsepower, 2.4-liter four that comes in the Lancer GT can move this small sedan or hatchback with more confidence, and GT models with the CVT get magnesium steering-wheel paddle-shifters with six simulated gears to suit high-performance driving.
Overall, Lancer DE and ES models should be thought of as cheap wheels that handle better than most other models in this price range—though not with all that much verve. With its larger wheels, firmer suspension, and upgraded braking, the GT (if it's like its predecessor, the GTS) provides a driving experience that's almost on par with the turbocharged Ralliart. On the flip side, a stiff, juggly ride is the tradeoff, along with more road noise. 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 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer has a fundamentally good package, with good front seats and enough space to fit a couple of adults in the backseat for short trips, but it falls short with respect to interior noise and refinement. 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.
If you want the Evo or Ralliart look, but not their high prices; the Lancer GT comes with a sport suspension, big 18-inch alloys (a fresh design this year), fog lamps, rear spoiler, and air dams, plus automatic climate control, high-contrast gauges, and sport seats. GT models include a USB port plus FUSE, a hands-free system that allows voice-command access to phones and media players. Back at the affordable end of the scale, base Lancer DE sedans include power windows and locks, keyless entry, and a 140-watt sound system.