What was tested?: 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS ($18,490).
Options: Sun and sound package ($1,500).
Price as tested (including $625 destination charge): $20,615.
I've driven lots of cars that make idiots want to race me.
Usually I just ignore them and drive like a grandma until they go away, taking off in their sticker-covered cars with McDonnell-Douglass spoilers and Folgers-can exhaust tips. I think it's great that they want to race, just not on a public street.
And I've never driven a car that attracts more stupid, whiny-engined street racers than this Mitsubishi.
It's the Lancer GTS, a family car designed to look and feel sporty. It has a rock-hard suspension, a huge rear wing and styling that makes it look kinda sorta like the wicked-fast Mitsubishi Evolution X.
Despite what the kids in crooked hats think, though, the Lancer GTS is no Evolution. It actually feels like it's powered by an anemic hamster.
Other than the drivetrain, everything about this car feels raw and abrasive, exactly what a hardcore driving enthusiast wants. In many ways, it feels like it belongs on a racetrack, mainly because of the raucous suspension that makes even a mirror-smooth road feel like it's filled with potholes. Few street cars let you sense the road surface as precisely as this one, which is great if you want an engaging drive but no so cool if you want to be comfortable.
In a strange contradiction, though, this car that feels race-inspired in so many ways has an engine that feels, in comparison, like a wind-up toy.
The GTS has the same engine as all the other standard-issue Lancers, a 2.0-liter four-banger that makes 152 horsepower. That's actually a reasonable amount of power for a family car, but it seems out of place in a vehicle that feels spectacularly sporty in other ways.
It doesn't help matters that the engine is coupled to a continuously variable transmission, so you don't get the same sensation of speed as you would with a manual transmission or even, heaven forbid, a traditional automatic.
Of course, driving isn't all about power. Even without a super-powerful engine, the Lancer GTS is fun to toss around, rewarding your skill as a driver rather than your ability to step on the gas pedal. It doesn't come with traction control -- it's not even available as an option -- so you're always free to play with the limits of tire adhesion without an electronic schoolmarm stepping in to spoil your fun.
The Lancer GTS also excels as a regular family car, assuming you can live with the rough ride. It has comfortable front seats, a roomy back seat and lots of air bags to keep you safe in a wreck.
The big question, though, is whether you'll want to buy one. If you want your car to look fast but not necessarily be fast, then the Lancer GTS is a good buy for $18,490. For that money, it's a nice looking, fun-to-drive family car.
But if you want serious performance, you'll have to look elsewhere. The Evolution X will likely cost around $35,000, but more affordable speed machines are out there, like the Honda Civic Si, Acura RSX and Chevy Cobalt SS in the low $20,000 range. Does that mean there's room in the Mitsubishi showroom for a higher performance Lancer that's more affordable and less scary than the Evo? I sure hope so.
Pros: It's a stylish, fast-looking car with a super-firm, sporty feeling suspension.
Cons: It doesn't have the power to back up its racer looks.