Since its 2008 debut, Mitsubishi's athletic Lancer GTS has been serving notice to a certain rival Japanese automaker that two can play the "zoom-zoom" game. Trouble was, Mitsubishi neglected to add any actual zoom under the hood for the car's first year of production. Saddled with the base 2.0-liter, 152-horsepower four-cylinder power plant, last year's Lancer GTS looked and handled like a compact sport sedan, but there was too much sound and not enough fury behind that sharklike snout.
Thankfully, Mitsubishi has taken steps to rectify this imbalance. The 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS gains a new engine, a larger 2.4-liter four-cylinder mill that generates 16 more hp and 21 additional pound-feet of torque. These aren't huge numbers, of course, but they're enough to make the GTS competitive with the peppiest sedans in this segment. Throw in nifty options like a sternum-shaking Rockford Fosgate stereo and a navigation system with a 30-gigabyte hard drive, and you've got a pretty compelling package. For budget-minded consumers who think of cars as more than mere appliances, the Lancer GTS warrants a hard look.
A couple notes of caution. First, the GTS's interior quality is a notch below the competition, a malady that afflicts all current-generation Lancer models. Second, if you tack on the above mentioned options, the car's price tag roughly equals that of, say, the Honda Civic Si sedan, a focused driver's car that speaks more persuasively to our inner enthusiast.
On the whole, though, we're fans of the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS. At a base price of $17,990, it's an appealingly sporty challenge to the compact sedan status quo.
The front-wheel-drive 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS is propelled by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 168 hp and 167 lb-ft of torque. Our test car was equipped with the standard five-speed manual transmission.
We recorded a 0-60-mph sprint of 7.7 seconds, a healthy 1.1 seconds quicker than the less powerful 2008 model. The GTS's acceleration now compares favorably with that of similarly powered competitors like the Mazda 3 s Sport and Subaru Impreza 2.5i. Fuel economy, however, is underwhelming at an EPA-estimated 21 mpg city/28 highway and 23 mpg in mixed driving. Our test car managed slightly more than 21 mpg in our enthusiastic hands.
What the numbers can't convey is how much more pleasant this 2.4-liter power plant is than its 2.0-liter predecessor. While the old engine possessed all the character and refinement of a kitchen appliance, the 2.4-liter engine has an endearingly free-revving nature, yet it's never harsh, even as the 6,500-rpm redline approaches. Buyers drawn to the GTS's boy-racer rear wing might wish for a more aggressive exhaust note, but that's nothing the aftermarket can't fix.
One aspect of the GTS's performance that hasn't changed is its handling, and that's a good thing. Put simply, the GTS steers and corners like a more expensive car. High-speed tracking is exemplary, turn-in is crisp and feedback through the nicely contoured steering wheel is respectable. Body roll is adequately controlled despite the Lancer's somewhat tall and narrow dimensions, which can give the car a faintly top-heavy feel during quick transitions. The GTS's meaty 18-inch Dunlop tires ensure plentiful grip in spirited driving.
Brake feel is satisfactory, and our best 60-to-0-mph stop required a scant 115 feet. The shifter is generally up to the task as well. Oddly, the lever itself sits about an inch off-center to the right. Throws are reasonably short, however, if rather vague, and the clutch is exceptionally forgiving.
Despite the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS's sporting intentions, it remains acceptably hushed and comfortable over most surfaces, though coarse freeway sections fill the cabin with an uncivilized roar.
Accommodations, however, are a mixed bag. Average-size drivers should have little difficulty getting comfortable behind the wheel, thanks to a height-adjustable driver seat that's supportive everywhere but the lumbar region. But longer-legged drivers will curse the non-telescoping steering column, and they won't be enamored of the door-mounted armrest either, which is positioned too far forward for comfort. Elbows encounter unyielding surfaces wherever they land, but at least rear outboard passengers enjoy ample foot- and legroom.
Like its loosely related Dodge Caliber platform mate, the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS sports a relatively high roof line and a beltline to match. The driving position is consequently somewhat bathtublike, even for the long of torso, though jacking up the driver seat can help. That hang glider of a spoiler may look menacing from the outside, but from the driver's perspective it just compromises rearward visibility.
While the gauges are eminently legible, we don't like that the multifunction driver information readout refuses to display the trip gauge and engine temperature simultaneously. And although the control layout is, for the most part, intuitive and user-friendly, grumbles were directed at the Multi Communication System's (MCS) touchscreen interface, which replaces the standard audio head unit on navigation-equipped models. Operating the MCS requires a befuddling combination of button-pushing and touchscreen inputs. It took one editor the better part of a weekend just to figure out how to adjust the bass and treble.
On the bright side, the navigation system is effective once you figure out how to use it, and the Rockford Fosgate stereo's sound quality is exemplary. Also noteworthy is the MCS's 30-gigabyte built-in hard drive, which enables entire CDs to be ripped and stored for playback -- a feature usually found on more expensive cars.
In our real-world usability tests, the GTS mostly fared well. A bag of golf clubs fits snugly against the upgraded sound system's trunk-mounted subwoofer, though a second bag would have to be inserted at an angle or stacked on top of the first. The Lancer's average-size 11.6-cubic-foot trunk easily swallows two standard suitcases, and the 60/40-split fold-down rear seat opens up additional space. The trunk lid is supported by unobtrusive hydraulic struts, a pleasant surprise at this price point. Child-seat installation was initially impeded by the rear seat's prominent side bolster, but once we maneuvered the seat past the bolster, installing it was a cinch. Front passenger legroom remained adequate even when the child seat was installed facing the rear.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS is a boldly styled car. You won't mistake it for anything else on the road -- a rare compliment in this age of cookie-cutter sedans. We could do without the cartoonish spoiler, but it does make the GTS look more like a Lancer Evolution, which some shoppers may find appealing.
If the GTS has an Achilles' heel, it's the subpar quality of its interior materials. Other than the seats, the entire cabin is a somber sea of hard plastic -- even the armrests are just fabric-covered plastic slabs. Blacked-out buttons to the left of the steering column remind you that you're missing some features, and while the controls seem sturdily constructed, no attempt has been made to imbue them with an upmarket feel. At least Mitsubishi went light on the faux-metallic trim.
Who should consider this vehicle
With brisk performance and a reasonable base price, the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS should appeal to cost-conscious consumers who enjoy driving but need four-door practicality -- and don't mind middling fuel economy. Watch those options, though, as the desirable audio and navigation upgrades punt the GTS's price into the territory of more capable compact sedans.
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