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.
For 2012, Mitsubishi has also added a new SE model that adds all-wheel drive but is geared more for those with snowy driveways than those dreaming of the rally stage. We haven't yet driven this model, but stay tuned for impressions.