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The Mitsubishi models that use the Lancer body and platform cover a wide range of performance and cost. We found the Lancer Evolution X an incredible thrill ride and the Lancer Ralliart a fun sport driver. But now we're looking at the 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS, a semisporting version of the basic Lancer.
Mitsubishi offers the Lancer in a Sportback version, a slick hatchback, but our GTS was the sedan version. For sedans, Lancers all use the same basic body, with a big grille in front and a sporty, go-forward look down the sides, accentuated by a sharp belt-line crease and rear lip.
The Evo, with its advanced all-wheel-drive system and engine turbocharged within an inch of its life, justifies the sporty body styling, the GTS less so. Powering our GTS was a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, a power plant that has become iconic for suburban runabouts with its use in the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
With Mitsubishi's variable valve timing, this engine produces 161 horsepower and 161 pound-feet of torque, a nice balance that gives the Lancer GTS a decent amount of pep. But don't expect anywhere near Lancer Ralliart or Lancer Evo performance, as those versions' turbochargers kick up the horsepower substantially.
Those models can also be had with Mitsubishi's automated manual transmission, an impressive piece of technology that contributes greatly to performance. But the GTS comes with another high-tech transmission, this one continuously variable. Instead of fixed gears, the continuously variable transmission (CVT) uses a steel belt and drive pulleys to allow for a wide range of potential drive ratios.
Mitsubishi includes a manual mode for this CVT, which let us choose from six virtual gears using the shifter or the big steering-column-attached shift paddles. But Mitsubishi's CVT did not impress us as much as other examples we've tried in Nissan vehicles. It delivered fine everyday performance, creating smooth acceleration, but manual shifts took about as long as with a standard automatic, showing surprising sluggishness.
CVTs usually wring out superior fuel economy compared with conventional transmissions, but the GTS' standard five-speed manual comes in about equal. With the CVT, the GTS gets an EPA-rated 23 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. The five-speed manual version of the car comes in at 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. During our testing, we only achieved 23.5 mpg, but much of our driving was urban.
Handling evinces a little bit of rally car DNA, but the GTS is mild-mannered compared with its sportier siblings. Strictly front-wheel drive, the electric power-steering unit is tuned for its suburban mission. The suspension feels a little stiffer than on a Camry or Civic, and offers a typical economy car ride.
Fuse chases Sync
Mitsubishi unveiled its Fuse system this year, a competitive technology to Ford Sync. Fuse offers features similar to what Sync had at launch, including Bluetooth phone and iPod support, along with voice command for dialing contacts by name or selecting music.
Our GTS lacked the available hard-drive-based navigation unit, but we have seen this technology in other Mitsubishi cars. Full-featured, it offers traffic information with dynamic routing, but has a somewhat rough interface needing a serious design makeover.