By KBB.com Editors
Although the high-tech, high-performance Lancer Evolution is among the most respected, most sought-after enthusiast cars on the planet – a bona fide "bargain exotic" at its sub-$30,000 starting price – the Lancer sedan on which it's based has never amounted to much more than an also-ran in this country's currently-burgeoning small car market. By combining more aggressive sheetmetal, more invigorating performance and a host of compelling in-cabin technologies, however, the 2009 Lancer is now well-positioned for newfound success.You'll Like This Car If...
The 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer will prove most appealing to those who appreciate both its sporty demeanor and the combination of in-cabin technology features not offered by any other car in the category.You May Not Like This Car If...
Although the Lancer feels well-built where it counts most, the interior styling, materials and noise levels don't convey the same sense of refinement delivered by competitors like the MAZDA3 or Honda Civic.What's New for 2009
The GTS trim gets a larger 2.4-liter engine good for 168 horsepower. When equipped with the CVT automatic, the GTS includes a six-step Sportronic mode with magnesium steering-wheel paddle shifters.Driving It Driving Impressions
The laws of physics dictate that it's easier to make a small car handle well than it is to give it a smooth highway ride. Still, we were impressed with just how tenacious and composed the Lancer GTS proved to be on twisty roads. We also liked the fast shifts afforded by the paddle shifters and six artificial "gears" of the optional continuously variable transmission – although it's important to note that Lancers with the five-speed manual transmission are more than a second quicker to 60 mph, according to Mitsubishi. Out on the highway, we preferred the less-aggressive setup of the ES model, which resulted in a more comfortable and less noisy – but still not quiet – ride. Beneath the din of wind and tire noise that we counted as a Lancer weak spot, however, was a reassuringly solid compact sedan.Favorite Features
30-Gigabyte Hard Drive
Lancer's hard drive-based navigation system responds more quickly than more common DVD-based units. It also allows you to store up to six gigabytes of digital music taken directly from CDs, or about 1,200 songs.
Keyless Entry and Start
The available FAST Key system lets you unlock and start the Lancer without ever touching the key/transmitter.
Swathed in contemporary, minimalist styling and plenty of mid-grade plastic, the new Lancer's otherwise attractive passenger cabin falls short of the category's best in terms of richness and refinement. Each of the Lancer's three distinct trim levels has unique seat fabric and trim pieces, and the top-level GTS features a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, chrome interior door handles, high-contrast gauge faces and more deeply bolstered sport seating.Exterior
Taller, wider and more aggressively styled than the previous-generation Lancer, the 2009 Lancer commands a much larger presence on the road. With a front end inspired by the air intakes of fighter jets, the base Lancer DE is adorned with black door handles, black mirrors and 16-inch covered steel wheels. The Lancer ES projects a far more polished appearance, with 16-inch alloy wheels, color-keyed door handles and mirrors and a chrome grille surround. The top-level GTS is further distinguished by 18-inch alloy wheels, front and side body extensions, fog lights, a rear spoiler and a chrome exhaust outlet.Notable Standard Equipment
A base Lancer DE includes a four-speaker, 140-watt CD/MP3 sound system, power windows, side-curtain airbags, driver's knee airbag, tilt wheel and a trip computer. The ES adds air conditioning, power locks, steering wheel mounted controls for the cruise control and audio, an auxiliary audio input jack, remote keyless entry and anti-lock brakes (ABS); if the ES model is within your reach, we'd recommend taking that step up. GTS models gain 18-inch alloy wheels, a 2.4-liter engine, automatic climate control, Bluetooth hands-free communication, sport bucket seats and a sport-tuned suspension.Notable Optional Equipment
Some of the Lancer's most desirable options are a hard drive-based navigation and audio system and the Sun and Sound Package, which includes FAST Key keyless entry and start, a 650-Watt Rockford-Fosgate audio system and a sunroof. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) serves as the automatic transmission option.Under the Hood
For DE and ES trims, the only powertrain decision facing a Lancer buyer is whether to stick with the five-speed manual or go for the continuously variable transmission (CVT). The GTS, however, gets a more robust 2.4-liter engine, which shows noticeable improvements over the 2.0-liter in the areas of vibration and low-end torque. The CVT-equipped GTS model includes steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and six simulated gears that, effectively, give the driver control of a quick-shifting manu-matic. The GTS also includes 18-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension and bigger brakes. Lancer DE and ES models sold in California are PZEV-rated and deliver 143 horsepower and 143 pound-feet of torque.
2.0-liter in-line 4
152 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
146 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4250 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 22/30 (manual), 22/28 (automatic)
2.4-liter in-line 4
168 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
167 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4100 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 21/28 (manual), 21/27 (automatic)
The 2009 Lancer carries a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of around $14,500, while the ES starts closer to $17,000; the continously variable transmission adds about $900. GTS models are near $19,000 and top out around $23,000 fully loaded. We expect our Fair Purchase Prices to reflect real-world transaction prices not far below those MSRPs. The Honda Civic starts close to $16,000, the MAZDA3 starts at about $14,500 and both top out near $24,000. We don't expect the Lancer to retain its value as well as the exceptionally resilient Civic, but the GTS' values are not far from those of the MAZDA3.