2010 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS Sportback: First Drive

Lancer good looks and the practicality of a rear hatch – but hold the performance.

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2010 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS Sportback: First Drive
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Over the past couple of years, I've driven pretty much all of Mitsubishi's high-performance Lancers. From the pumped-up Evolution GSR and MR Premium to the more mildly-tuned Ralliart models, they're all capable of besting some very stout competition.

FAST FACTS

1. New for 2010 Mitsubishi is offering the Lancer Sportback model in a 237hp Ralliart version and this more accessible 168hp GTS version.

2. Cargo room is 15.3 cubic-feet and 52.7 cu.-ft. with the rear seats folded flat.

3. The Lancer Sportback GTS is available only in front-wheel drive.

Most recently, it was a five-door Ralliart that impressed me with Evo-imitating performance and budget price tag (thousands below the Evo models) not to mention its new “Sportback” body style that, quite frankly, makes so much sense without making the vehicle look silly.

It had been quite a while since I'd driven a standard Lancer – an ES Sport M/T back in late 2007 I believe – and so, the 2010 GTS Sportback is just the latest specimen to go under my microscope. While you won't have to fork over Ralliart money to get the more functional hatchback version, it does come with a $500 premium over the four-door GTS sedan. There's that... and, you'll have to wait until September before goes on sale.

THE GOODS: 2.4-LITER 4-CYL MAKES 168 HORSEPOWER

The lower (DE, ES, ES Sport) and upper (Ralliart and Evo) trims all get a 2.0L 4B11 inline-four banger. The former trio is naturally aspirated while the latter pair gets it turbocharged. Slapping an even smaller turbo on the same powerplant just didn't make sense for the GTS, so it got bored and stroked to 2.4-liters before getting sent over to the GTS line.

The Sportback GTS will sticker about $8,000 below its Ralliart counterpart; and that all-aluminum 4B12 mill turns the front wheels with 168 ponies and 167 ft-lbs of force through a standard five-speed manual transmission. EPA rates fuel economy at 21 and 28 mpg (city/ highway), respectively. An available continuously variable tranny costs a grand more with no major change to fuel economy.

AWD MAY BE ABSENT, BUT SO IS ALMOST 400 LBS

Don't confuse that paddle-shifting CVT for Mitsubishi's award-winning dual clutch transmission (TC-SST) though. There's no Super-All-wheel Control (S-AWC) system here either. You'll have to step up to at least Ralliart to get these goodies – a worthwhile jump in my opinion if you can foot the bill – yet the GTS still holds up quite well to its pumped-up brethren due to the fact it's 386 pounds lighter than a Ralliart as a result of those go-fast bits and heavier rolling stock (wheels and tires).

As such, the GTS holds its own with zero-to-60 mph times that can match the 237-hp Ralliart's in about 6.5 ticks under the right conditions. Four-wheel ABS brakes with EBD are standard on all Lancers (except DE) and, to this end, both GTS and Ralliart utilize 11.6- and 11-inch solid discs in the front and rear. To clamp down on those rotors, the former has single-piston front calipers that produce similar results to the latter with its two-piston setup.

IMPRESSIVE 18-INCH WHEELS STANDARD

Additional standard features of the 2010 Sportback GTS include 18-inch alloy wheels, 215/45/18 all-seasons, a sport tuned suspension and a rear spoiler. Inside, Bluetooth phone support, power windows and door locks, automatic climate control, a six-speaker audio system, seven airbags and front seatbelt pretensioners are also included with this model.

Exterior-wise, the differences between Lancer trims can be subtle. The farther apart they are, the more noticeable the differences. Of course, the GTS still is not as intense-looking as the Ralliart, which in turn could take lessons from the Evo. Regardless, the Mitsubishi Lancer is still one of the smartest-looking vehicles on the road today at several price points.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The GTS doesn't give you the full-out rally-bred performance the Ralliarts and Evos do, but it would never admit to it. Steering response is not quite as immediate as its muscle-bound siblings, and while it's direct and linear with a good on-center feel at freeway speeds, it is a bit numb in parking lots - especially in reverse.

Out on the road, the peppy 2.4 accelerates well without being loud or obnoxious. And, since only the front wheels propel the GTS, you can actually launch it better than heavier AWD TC-SST-equipped models without a launch control feature. Though there's no traction control or front limited slip differential to prevent wheelspin, which it is capable of, this wascally wabbit does exactly what the driver tells it.

From a daily-driving perspective, the five-speed manual gearbox is much better on this car than in the Evo GSR. Combined with a less aggressive clutch, the result is smoother gearshifts up or down. Pedals are placed well for rev-matching downshifts and the leather-wrapped shift knob just feels good.

The four-wheel independent suspension is comfy, predictable and more forgiving than you know who. Even still, the GTS Sportback is pretty agile and fun-to-drive, soaking up railroad crossings, uneven pavement and small potholes well without jarring your fillings loose.

Front seats are standard cloth sport buckets. They’re no Recaros, but are comfy enough with only manual adjustments. Controls are well placed and reachable with the steering wheel boasting redundant audio, cruise and mobile phone controls for ease of use. A 12-volt socket can be found in the center armrest console while the auxiliary jack is tucked away near the climate controls. Side mirrors are electric and provide decent rearward vision. It's worth noting, however, the thick passenger-side C-pillar is somewhat hindering in this respect. That said . . .

. . . BABY GOT BACK!

Cargo volume in the Sportback starts at 13.8 cubic-feet. I say “starts” because there's a nifty dual-height adjustable cargo floor that increases this to figure 15.3 very easily. Of course, the rear seats also fold-down in a 60/40 split to further increase that volume to a maximum of 52.7 cu.-ft. (with the seats folded down and rear floor open).

The Ralliart model I tested recently maxes out at 46.6 cu.-ft. because the rear differential negates the possibility of this cargo floor enhancement; meaning the extra space is exclusive to the GTS Sportback – a significant plus for the Mitsubishi, which has to compete with the Mazda3 s Sport, Subaru Impreza 2.5i and Toyota Matrix S. These hatchbacks especially all have similar engines, transmissions, pricing, economy numbers and respectable max capacities of 43.4, 44.4 and 48.9 cu.-ft., respectively.

While the Sportback's one-touch seat release and trick floor are both neat, finding a hook, loop or other fastener (besides the Latch child-seat anchors on the seatbacks) to secure something to back here is another trick I've yet to see executed. But, if cargo space is a main priority, the five-door GTS has got your back. That said, so do some of the others.

THE VERDICT

The new global Lancer platform is allowing Mitsubishi to challenge for greater market share in a number of categories from affordable family sedans to road legal race cars. GTS models help bridge the gap with features, specs and goods that are on par with the competition. I'm not entirely convinced the GTS is the best out there, but it performs well, starts under $20-grand and warrants no significant complaints. The new five-door body style makes for an even better combination of performance, value and utility on top of an already attractive package.

PLUS

Great looks
Added cargo room
Significantly lighter than AWD models means its still fun
More comfortable for everyday use than Mitsu’s high-performance models

MINUS

C-pillar does make for a serious blind spot
Not a performance Mitsu, so no AWD or fancy double-clutch tranny

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