By on October 29, 2010

I say “Mitsubishi.” You think “Evo.” And not much else, except perhaps, “Are they still around?” The problem: not many people are willing and able to spend BMW money for a Mitsubishi, even if it does offer stellar performance. So Mitsubishi developed the Lancer Ralliart, with a detuned Evo engine, less sophisticated AWD system, and softer suspension. The TTAC conclusion: “save up for the Evo.” Want a manual transmission? Then the Ralliart isn’t an option anyway. And, with a starting price over $28,000, it’s still pricey. So, how about the Lancer GTS, with a standard manual transmission and a starting price just over $20,000?

The Lancer GTS shares the Ralliart’s and Evo’s convervative, mildly upscale styling, sans Audified grille but mit ricerific wing spoiler and 18-inch multi-spoke alloys. When introduced for the 2008 model year the Lancer was one of the more attractive cars in the segment, with more than a hint of Volvo S40. Today it looks either timeless or mildly dated, take your pick, while staking out the middle ground between the trendy, overstyled Mazda3 and the homely, understyled Subaru Impreza. Select the $150 “rotor glow” orange paint if you desire to attract eyeballs.

The Lancer’s budget-grade interior plastics and switchgear seem much more acceptable (if still behind the curve) when the window sticker is comfortably under $25,000 than when it’s over $35,000. As with the exterior, the cabin’s styling is restrained, with a hint of BMW in the instrument panel’s convex curve from door to door. Optional leather upholstery takes the interior ambiance up a notch, but no one will feel like they’re living large. The new Chevrolet Cruze demonstrates how much more is possible at this price point.

One bonus: the Sun and Sound Package’s 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system can rock the neighborhood, though sound clarity at “11” doesn’t seem to have been a top priority. “Punch” the large subwoofer in the trunk up to +6 to shake everything within a 100-yard radius. On the other hand, this package’s keyless access system proved finicky. I never did figure out how to make it work the first time, every time.

The driving position combines the good, the bad, and the ugly. Good: you sit a little lower than in most compact cars, so the Lancer feels sportier and less like the budget compact it is. Bad: the wing spoiler splits the rear view, and is thick enough to largely obscure following cars. (Solution: get the hatchback.) Ugly: the steering wheel (wrapped in overly slick leather) is too far away, and does not telescope. And indifferent: the front seats don’t feel substantial and provide modest lateral support. The rear seat is roomier than most in the segment, but is a little low to the floor.

With the Ralliart’s and Evo’s turbocharged engines kicking out 237 and 291 horsepower, respectively, the GTS’s 168-horsepower 2.4-liter normally aspirated four is clearly third best. But how much power do you need, really, especially when not saddled with the weight of all-wheel-drive? The 2.4 feels much more energetic than the 148-horsepower 2.0-liter in lesser Lancers, and is competitive with the 2.3 in the Mazda3 s and the 2.4 in the Kia Forte EX. There was a time not so long ago that a compact with this much power was considered quick. The 2.4 sounds a little raspy when pushed, almost as if there was a small leak in the intake, but otherwise sings a pleasantly mechanical song. Peak output nearer 200 horsepower might be nice, but as-is the engine’s powerband is usefully broad. Consequently, the five-speed manual’s relatively tall, widely spaced ratios aren’t an issue. Engine speed is about 3,500 at 80, not too bad. The 2.4 is smooth enough that around town I sometimes found myself cruising in third, and could have driven it at 5,000 rpm all day long. Shifting feels like pushing and pulling cables, but it’s easy to find the desired gear and effort is low. It’ll do, but a short throw kit is an obvious mod.

The EPA ratings of 20/28 (improved to 22/31 for 2011) are a little low for the segment. In the real world, I observed from 22 to 28 MPG depending on frequency of stops, and generally averaged 25. A very aggressive drive around a curvy test loop sunk it to 10.1, but this was more a testament to how I was driving the car.

Why bother pushing the Lancer hard enough to nearly sink MPG into the single digits? Because, despite the car’s middling specs and various shortcomings, it’s quite fun to drive. The light steering gets more communicative as it loads up. In hard turns you know exactly what’s going on at the contact patches. The steering is so quick just off center that the car initially felt unstable at highway speeds, but I soon got used to it. There’s a fair amount of roll—some will find the suspension too soft—but no untoward body motions. The Lancer doesn’t feel quite as precise and tied down as the Mazda3, but it’s close. The stability control cuts in a little too early to rein in understeer (which isn’t excessive). The system is unobtrusive—an idiot light is often the only obvious indication that it has intervened—but turning it off permits higher cornering speeds with little risk. The Lancer’s handling remains thoroughly progressive and predictable right up to the limit. The Dunlop SP Sport 5000Ms squeal quietly, so they won’t draw undue attention.

NVH is about average—for 2008. So there’s enough wind and road noise, especially at higher speeds, to make it evident that you’re not in a premium car. The ride is a little thumpy, mostly due to the low profile tires, but isn’t harsh. For maximizing handling short of killing the ride, the tuning is about right.

Ultimately, the Mitsubishi Lancer GTS is more than the sum of its parts. The specs aren’t impressive. The interior and NVH, even less so. And yet it vies with the Mazda3 as the segment’s most enjoyable car to drive. By the end of the week, it felt like a car I’d been driving forever—in a good way. The loaded-up price of $23,000 seems a bit steep, even if it does get you the sunroof, leather, Rockford audio, and various uplevel electronic features. But with generous sales incentives or as a not-much-sought-after used car, and with a 5/60 standard warranty (plus 10/10 on the powertrain for the first owner), the Lancer GTS could be a great buy for the enthusiast on a budget who doesn’t want to drive what everyone else is driving.

Mitsubishi provided the vehicles, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data

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36 Comments on “Review: 2010 Lancer GTS...”


  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    When somebody says Mitsubishi around me I think of the current cockroach-esque Eclipse. As a side note the only people I ever see driving these are wannabe racers and women (sometimes very attractive women).

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    “the homely, understyled Subaru Impreza.”Quote
    You cannot be serious !
    The current Impreza looks really rough. The Lancer looks almost perfect – it needs a slightly longer tail.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I must be the only person that really likes the current Lancer Ralliart.

    • 0 avatar

      I haven’t drivent the Ralliart. Tried to drive one while I had this car, but the dealer claimed that a sale was pending.

      The problem with the Ralliart: no manual, the price is too close to 30k, and it’s too clear that the only reason you’re buying it is you don’t want to pay even more for the Evo.

      The GTS is far enough from the Evo in power and price that it can be evaluated on its own terms.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      My feeling was that the TC-SST was the best part of the Ralliart. I thought it was even better than the competing unit from VW.
       
      The DCT and the seats were the major Ralliart selling point for me.  With a stick, I would probably prefer the MS3 and Cobalt SS. Or, I would just spring for an Evo X GSR.
       
      The sticker price for the Ralliart is high, but dealers (around here anyway) are very willing to negotiate it down. Yea, if I could do it I would go for the Evo MR, but that’s a $40K car.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      I tried to test drive a Ralliart when I was looking for a car in ’09.  The dealer said we couldn’t drive it unless we were going to buy it, made up some bs about us possibly messing up the sophisticated tranny.  Married couple, mid-30′s and my wife was going to be the one driving it.  We walked out.

  • avatar
    sfdennis1

    I’ve always thaought the Lancer GTS was an underappreciated sedan in the segment…until the Mazda3 loses the evil clown grin, and the Civic Si gets some torque, and the clunky Imprezza sedan gets a restyle, and the Sentra Se-R gets, um, everything redone…I’d say the Mitsu is definitely one to consider.

    Of course, when the new Hyundai compact debuts next year, and the new Euro Focus hits our shores, that may all change.

  • avatar
    James2

    It sounds like if this was the new Toyota Corolla it would be a revelation.

    • 0 avatar

      Far too much NVH to pass as a Toyota.

      Reliability is very good, though, based on responses to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey. So in this regard it could make it as a Toyota.

      http://www.truedelta.com/reliability.php

    • 0 avatar
      James2

      @Michael

      Maybe if Toyota was less worried about NVH and more about FTD (fun to drive) it might more easily its reputation for making motorized appliances. Just sayin’…

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    This is actually a pretty comfortable, capable and easy-to-drive car.  It’s not great, but it’s wholly competent.  I remember taking one for a spin and, interior materials aside, it was a good fit, rode well and was reasonably amusing.  It’s not bad-looking, either, which is more than can be said for the other “wholly competent” unloved Japanese compact: the Sentra
     
    Problem is, it needs to be class-leading to get any attention, and Mitsu needs more products as good or better than the Lancer if they want anyone to darken their dealer’s doorsteps.  Nissan has the Altima, Rogue and Versa.  Mitsu has, maybe, the Outlander.  Maybe.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Please tell me the spoiler is optional.  I dislike them in general, and I really hate the one on this car.

  • avatar
    FJ20ET

    The car is a solid choice. They are getting pretty popular here up in the great white north. Then again, we also love our Mazda 3′s.

  • avatar

    “…the Lancer GTS could be a great buy for the enthusiast on a budget who doesn’t want to drive what everyone else is driving.”
     
    Not in PR. You see as many Lancers here as you see Corolla’s and Kia Rio’s.

  • avatar
    Crosley

    I really like the lines (minus the spolier) I think it’s a much better looking car than the Impreza.
    I’ve heard though that the Lancer is rough around the ages.   It’s like they can’t mask the cheap car underneath.
     
    Mitsubishi has always been hit or miss on a lot of products (including reliability)  They don’t have the reputation of a Subaru, Honda, Toyota, Nissan, etc, which would make me hesitate to purchase.

  • avatar
    Tosh

    When you’re imitating another car’s dashboard, the Mazda3′s is not a bad choice.
     
    I like the hatch back version.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    Do they rust quickly like Mazdas?
    I hope Mits hangs in there.
    I see it advertised for $16,999 in Boston.

  • avatar
    MattPete


    Mitsubishi still exists?  I remember when they used to rule to roost, with the original Eclipse (including all the rebadged, such as Eagle), Galant, 3000GT, etc.
     
    About ten years ago they came out with a bunch of “Meh” cars.  Five years ago they seemed scarce.  These days, I almost never see a Mitsubishi.
     
    The funny thing is that I almost bought a Galant VR-4 (fully rally sedan with awd, 4ws, the works), and at the time I figure that Mitsubishi was a huge conglomerate and they would always be here.  These days, I’m thinking that they might not be around too much longer (as a NA brand).

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    i’m sure you could remove the wing with half a dozen bolts and get some plastic electronic blanks to seal the holes
    it’s a bit of quiet achiever this one… one must look at the new Kia Forte with 6 spd man/auto if one were after a small sedan

  • avatar
    Wagen

    Dear Honda, please see the above for how to design a control panel that isn’t buttons, buttons, everywhere as far as the eye can see, a radio display that doesn’t look like it came out of the 1980s, and a trunk lid with lining and hinges that don’t intrude on the cargo space.  For about the price of an Accord.

  • avatar
    lzaffuto

    I like the looks, and the drive sounds good. I would be willing to consider the GTS 5-door or even the Ralliart as a replacement for a Mazda 3. But reliable or not, Mitsubishi doesn’t have a reputation for quality here, and the thought of them pulling out of the US would constantly be looming over my head. They would really have to come down on their prices a lot for me to take a chance on them. In summary, the product looks on par with the competition, but I don’t have enough confidence in the brand to pay prices on par with the competition.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Nice review and it looks like the car is competent in most areas but doesn’t excel an any one area either.
     
    Definitely has nice lines, the rear taillights remind me a bit of the Mazda 3′s taillights and I kind of like that color, it reminds me of a similar orange/caramel color Honda offered on the Civic back in 1988, perhaps 1989 as well and have not seen it since, the orange used on the Fit is more orange than this. If I could’ve afforded buying a car back then, I’d have gotten one of the Civic hatchbacks in that color, bar none.
     
    I was a bit surprised at last year’s Seattle Initl Auto Show that Mitsubishi has a small spot on an upper level concourse and that was it, I remember when they were all over the place until recent years. BTW, saw a 1992-0996 purple Eagle Summit wagon yesterday while out and about and it was in nice shape, essentially the Mitsubishi Expo, of which I’ve always liked that concept of a MPV because you got the versatility of a van, but the size and mileage of a compact, more or less. I don’t see those too often anymore sadly.
     
     
     

  • avatar

    If the Cruze where as good as the Lancer GTS it would be on cover of several national business magazines.

  • avatar
    poltergeist

    For about the same money, I’d take the Civic Si 4dr.  More power, an extra gear, a much less obtrusive rear spoiler.  Didn’t like the dash at first, but it is very functional….tach dead center where it should be and speedo up high to keep you honest.  I’ll admit I haven’t driven the Mitsu, but I sat in one and to me the Si is far superior…..Oh yea and the Honda doesn’t have those hideous “altezza” clear lens taillights!  

  • avatar

    I’m really wondering why someone would buy this over a Subaru Impreza, which gets the same mileage (despite it’s AWD), sells for about the same price, drives better and has less questions about reliability than a Mitsubishi.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, looks like I was mistaken, and the Impreza is significantly cheaper than this Lancer.
       
      So when the Subaru gives you all this Lancer does and then some, and with cars like the Civic SI breathing down it’s throat, I really don’t see where this car makes sense, unless you can swing a hell of a deal on one.

  • avatar
    jimbob6879

    Michael: nice review. Let’s not forget our AP style—we don’t deploy acronyms without defining them at the first instance, even if there’s an implied common understanding within a community (referring to “NVH” here; had to google that).
    Always enjoy reading your work.
    -Jimbob

  • avatar
    tuckerdawg

    Very intriguing, a quick search turns up some gently used sportback gts in the 15-17k range. Only problem is that they are all equipped with the cvt transmission with the paddle shifters. Some reviewers seem to like it and say that the paddles help for times when you need a little more power but to me this kind of transmission always seemed like a gimmicky toy.

  • avatar
    jeffredo

    Got a brand new 2010 Sportback GTS for 17K out the door in SoCal (it was a leftover with just 10 miles on it). I love the car – for the price nothing can touch it. As far as Michael saying it looks “odd” I think he’s dead wrong. Its a very nicely styled hatch and I get lots of comments and questions from people. IMO it looks better than the sedan. As far as seating goes I also disagree with Michael. You actually sit up higher than most compacts, it just happens to also have a high beltline. I know because I have really bad knees (damn sports injuries!) and this was the least painful small car to get out of I’ve experienced in my shopping. As far as ride and handling, is pretty solid and smooth. Yes, there is a bit of tire noise, but it has 18″ Enkei wheels standard (duh). Definitely a big step up from my ’02 Mazda Protege.

    Its a very sharp car and very well equipped for the small price I paid. I’ve never had a car that gotten so much attention for so little cash. Plus I’ve never seen one (a Sportback) on the road. Kind of nice not to be in a Civic or Corolla that everyone ignores.

  • avatar
    PJ McCombs

    Great review. I’ll acknowledge that I’m biased as I owned (and loved) a 2001 Eclipse GT with the late, velvety 3.0 V6, but I similarly enjoyed test-driving the current Lancer in 2008–the improvement over the flaccid new-for-2002 model was immense. There isn’t the depth of talent that you get from a Mazda 3, but the feel and feedback through the controls isn’t too far off. If I had to buy a new compact today, it’d be in my top five.

  • avatar
    spalacio3

    I just totaled my 2010 Lancer GTS Hatchback and I loved it… the NVH was definitely noticeable, especially at highway speeds. I simply cancelled out the sound by cranking up the volume on the “Punch” subwoofer/R.F. sound system… I was considering getting a GTS (non-hatchback this time) again but since the spoiler interferes with the rear-view mirror that much, I’d rather go back to the GTS Sportback. Great review though.


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