Last year, the Mitsubishi Lancer had a minor problem. Visually, it promised to be more than its humble price tag would imply. The GTS trim level, in particular, boasted a giant rear wing and 18-inch wheels that fervently declared, "I can go fast." Problem was, it actually didn't. The car's 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine produced class-competitive 0-60 sprints, but it had virtually no low-end power, requiring the driver to maintain an objectionably loud engine speed of at least 3,200 rpm in order to achieve even moderate passing power.
For the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer's lower DE and ES trim levels, the old engine carries over for the more sedate-driving, economy-minded consumer. But for the driver who wants his or her fast-looking car to be, well, fast, Mitsubishi has dropped a larger 2.4-liter engine into the GTS's engine bay. Thanks to increased displacement, it produces 16 more hp and, more important, 21 additional pound-feet of torque. This engine is not only more responsive but also substantially quieter. Zero-to-60-mph times drop by about a second, and fuel economy -- although not particularly impressive -- is about the same as with the smaller engine.
This year also brings the Ralliart, which effectively bridges the performance gap between the mainstream Lancers and the ultra-performance Evo. Equipped with a 237-hp engine, all-wheel drive, a sport-tuned suspension and the same Twin Clutch, Sportronic Shift (TC-SST) automated-clutch manual transmission as the Evo, the Ralliart also gives Mitsubishi a strong rival to the Subaru WRX.
The 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer isn't a mainstream economy car like a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, as it lacks the refinement, fuel economy and reputation to match up with these cars. But that's fine by us. In addition to its aggressive styling, the Lancer boasts above-average handling and an impressive array of high-tech features that until recently were reserved for luxury automobiles. Those interested in finding the sportiest option available will want to consider the Ralliart. But even if you're just looking for more basic transportation that's a viable alternative to the status quo, this Mitsubishi is worth a look.
The 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer is a compact sedan available in DE, ES, GTS and Ralliart trim levels. The base DE comes with 16-inch steel wheels, a tilt-only steering wheel, power windows and mirrors, a trip computer and a four-speaker CD/MP3 stereo. The A/C and Power package adds antilock brakes, air-conditioning, power door locks and keyless entry to the DE. The Lancer ES comes standard with these package items and adds 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, upgraded upholstery, manual driver-seat height adjustment, steering-wheel audio controls and a 60/40-split rear seat with a center armrest. The ES Sport package adds a large rear wing, a minor body kit, chrome exhaust and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The GTS adds those items and also gains a more powerful engine, 18-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped shifter, sport bucket front seats with upgraded fabric, Bluetooth and a six-speaker stereo. The Ralliart ups the performance ante with a turbocharged engine, an automated dual-clutch manual transmission (with shift paddles) and all-wheel drive. The latter also features keyless ignition and entry.
The Sun & Sound package available on the ES and GTS includes a sunroof, keyless ignition and entry and a nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate sound system with an in-dash six-CD changer, an auxiliary audio jack (RCA style) and satellite radio. When equipped with this package, the GTS can also be optioned with a navigation system that features a 30GB hard drive capable of storing digital music files. The Ralliart can be outfitted with a Recaro Sport package that includes the namesake sport seats as well as the Rockford Fosgate audio system.
The Lancer's interior is its principal weakness. Materials quality is on the cheap side, while the dull overall design doesn't live up to the precedent established by the exterior. The driving position for taller drivers is poor, with no telescoping steering wheel and little under-thigh support. We also have mixed feelings about the touchscreen navigation system: It's well-equipped in terms of features, but its lack of volume and tuning knobs and not-quite-logical layout make operation tricky at times. Seat comfort is very good, though, with an impressive amount of rear-seat legroom. Trunk space is decent at 11.6 cubic feet.
The Mitsubishi Lancer DE and ES come with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 152 hp and 146 lb-ft of torque. In California-emissions states, this engine is classified as a Partial Zero-Emissions Vehicle with a downgraded 143 hp and 143 lb-ft of torque. The Lancer GTS packs a new 2.4-liter four-cylinder capable of 168 hp and 167 lb-ft of torque. Both engines come standard with a five-speed manual transmission, while a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is optional. When added to the Lancer GTS, this CVT includes a manual mode operated via paddle shifters. The Ralliart features a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 (237 hp and 253 lb-ft), an automated twin-clutch manual transmission (with shift paddles), and all-wheel drive.
The GTS with a manual transmission accelerates from zero to 60 mph in a quick-for-its-class 7.7 seconds. The base engine with the five-speed does the same sprint in 8.8 seconds, while the CVT gets there in 9.1. The Ralliart is very quick, with the 0-60 dash done in just 5.8 seconds.
Fuel economy is subpar for this class. The 2.0-liter achieves an EPA estimated 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined with a manual transmission. The 2.4-liter gets 21 city/28 highway and 23 combined with the manual. The CVT produces a negligible difference in fuel efficiency. The Ralliart is rated at 17 city/25 highway and 20 combined.
While the Lancer DE and ES are reasonably rewarding to drive, the GTS model is the clear choice for anyone looking for a more spirited driving experience. The new 2.4-liter engine has more low-end power and doesn't sound like a giant blender above 3,000 rpm, making for a friendlier drive whether you're on a twisty road or slogging through traffic. The GTS also offers a sport suspension, and its 18-inch wheels team with the taut chassis to provide solid handling. The Ralliart is thrilling, with its sharp handling, powerful engine and super-quick gearchanges (whether done via the paddles or left to shift on its own). Overall, the Ralliart has an energetic, "up on its toes" personality that makes for quick passing and merging maneuvers. The only caveat is that the tire fitment for the Ralliart could be better, as we've found the capable chassis let down by the tires' substandard grip.
Most folks considering a Lancer (other than the Ralliart) will opt for the CVT, but the five-speed manual is a much better choice with its slick shifter and easily modulated clutch. With the base 2.0-liter mill in particular, the CVT tends to sap power, pairing with this already noisy engine to fill the cabin with shrill sounds reminiscent of irritated livestock. The 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS's greater power is a better match for the CVT, but while its paddle shifters are a useful addition, the five-speed is still preferred.
The 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer comes with a full assortment of airbags, including front-seat side airbags, full-length head curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag. Antilock brakes are standard on the ES, GTS and Ralliart, and optional on the base DE. All Lancers except the DE come standard with four-wheel disc brakes; the DE has rear drums. Stability control is standard on the Ralliart but is not available on other Lancers.
In government crash testing, the Lancer received a five-star rating for driver frontal crash protection and front-seat side crash protection. It got four stars for passenger frontal crash protection and for rear-seat side protection. In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal offset crash test, the Lancer achieved the best rating of "Good."
The Ralliart debuts, bringing a 237-horsepower engine, all-wheel drive and an automated-clutch manual transmission to the Lancer lineup. The GTS trim gets more performance via a newly standard 2.4-liter 168-hp four-cylinder engine. The DE and ES trim levels retain the 2.0-liter 152-hp four. The GTS also gains new gauges this year, while the Fast Key keyless ignition and entry system migrates to the Sun and Sound package, leaving the hard-drive navigation system as a stand-alone option. The ES trim gains an optional Sport package that includes some of the GTS's styling elements, such as the big rear wing.