Review: 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS

By Chris Haak

If you ask automakers what the hot ticket is likely to be in the next several years, they might say that premium compact cars are a potential growth area.  After all, with gas prices approaching the $4.00 per gallon line in many parts of the US, uncertainty in the Middle East, and increasingly-stringent CAFE standards on the horizon, we’ll have more small cars in the new-car mix.

With more small cars, that means more variety in the style, powertrain, equipment, and even size.  Yes, there are varying degrees of small.  To some traditionalists, the Chevy Cruze is small; to a Smart ForTwo driver, the Cruze is a perhaps large, wasteful near-midsize car masquerading as a small car.  There are also now cheap small cars – like the base Nissan Versa, and small cars that are more premium – like the Buick Verano.  The Mitsubishi Lancer GTS reviewed here kind of falls into the middle of the spectrum.  It’s a cheap car with some premium features.

If you happen to look through your local newspaper’s auto section, and if you happen to have a Mitsubishi dealer in town, you might see a Lancer for as low as $15,955 including destination.  But step up to the GTS trim level, add the GTS Touring Package, and your car is suddenly $8,550 (54 percent) more expensive.

The transition from Mitsubishi’s least-expensive US model to a quasi-luxury car is not exactly a thorough one.  Sure, there are nice features like HID xenon headlamps, leather seats, a 9-speaker, 710-watt Rockford-Fosgate sound system, Bluetooth, rain sensing wipers, leather seat[ing surface]s, auto on/off headlamps, power glass sunroof, and multi-spoke 18 inch alloy wheels.  Really, the only basic luxury-car option missing from the test vehicle was the $2,200 Navigation Package, which also includes a 40 GB hard drive for storing music.

But it’s hard to hide the Lancer’s economy-car roots.  Despite the leather seating surfaces, the material on the seats is fairly low-grade leather, and the seats themselves are somewhat lacking in lateral support.  Save the steering wheel, center armrest, and door armrests, nearly every surface in the interior that isn’t a window or seat is constructed of hard, unforgiving plastic.  That being said, this car is $24,505 out the door without including any rebates or negotiation, and starts just over $20,000 if you skip the leather, HIDs, and Rockford-Fosgate audio, so please remember to keep your expectations in check.

I was pleased with the level of connectivity in the audio system; it features Bluetooth streaming audio, Sirius satellite radio, 6-disc CD changer, AM/FM, and an auxiliary input jack that can play an iPod.  I spent most of my time in the car using either Sirius or Bluetooth audio with my iPhone.  Pairing the phone was pretty easy, and the Mitsubishi-exclusive (at least, I think it’s an exclusive) “punch” function in the audio system continues to amuse.  If you want to terrorize pedestrians and fellow motorists with over-emphasized bass coming from the huge subwoofer in the Lancer GTS’ trunk, crank up the punch.  The more normal treble/bass settings, however, left a bit to be desired on the sound clarity front.

In the Lancer GTS’ favor, however, is that it drives pretty well, which is something of an accomplishment considering that its platform was co-developed with the Dodge Caliber’s.  However, once DaimlerChrysler and Mitsubishi parted ways in 2004, Chrysler apparently made significant changes to the platform.  Chrysler shouldn’t have, as our review of the Caliber found the the car did not particularly excel at anything dynamically.  The Lancer, on the other hand, was somewhat fun to drive, with accurate steering that communicates the car’s relationship with the road fairly well, and a good ride/handling compromise.

I find the current Lancer’s looks to be conservatively handsome.  Its shape is a bit more interesting than the Chevy Cruze’s, but less dynamic than the likes of the Mazda3 or Hyundai Elantra.  The deep character line that cuts immediately below the door handles reminds one of the 2004-2008 Acura TL, and its grille design avoids the largemouth bass look of the Lancer Ralliart and Evo models by only having chrome around the border of the upper portion.  Eighteen inch diameter wheels (shod with 215/45-18 tires) do a nice job of filling the wheel wells while not being low-profile enough to adversely impact ride or handling.  My test vehicle’s Rotor Glow orange metallic paint certainly added to the excitement quotient as well.  Mercifully, the 2011 Lancer GTS I tested did not have the giant decklid wing that many other Lancer GTSs do; instead, its Touring Package replaced it with a subtle lip spoiler instead.

Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this, but I will: I didn’t realize that I was driving a CVT for the first few miles I was piloting the Lancer GTS.  I just assumed it was a conventional automatic, but I was driving the car conservatively and not paying particular attention for shifting or engine sounds as I acclimated myself to the Lancer’s controls.  After a while, the first time I gave it more than a conservative dose of throttle, the engine spooled up and stayed there as the car accelerated.

The Lancer GTS with the CVT has metal shift paddles behind the steering wheel (they’re fixed and do not move when the wheel is turned), and they’re in the easiest-to-use configuration of right-paddle-for-upshifts, left-paddle-for-downshifts.  Of course, unless you need to hold a particular gear, paddle shifters and “fake” fixed gear ratios in a CVT-equipped car are somewhat ridiculous.  Logically, it would seem that the car should accelerate faster just leaving it in “Drive” and letting the CVT keep the car in the thick of its powerband would yield faster acceleration than letting a “gear” change drop the engine out of its peak power band.  However, if you must use the paddles, they do move from ratio to ratio very rapidly.

Coupled to the CVT is a 2.4 liter four cylinder rated at 168 horsepower and 167 lb-ft of torque.  It’s not going to win any drag races (or rally races like its big brother, the Lancer Evolution might), but it does produce power adequate for moving the car.  Stability control intervenes before you do anything dangerous.  Long before you do anything dangerous.

In a week with the car, covering about 250 miles of mixed driving, I saw an overall fuel economy number of about 25 miles per gallon.  The EPA rates the Lancer GTS 2.4 L CVT at 23 MPG in the city and 30 MPG on the highway.  Though the rated numbers are better than the 2010 model’s by one MPG on both city and highway scores, they still lag the class leaders.  A 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is rated at 24/36, and the 2011 Hyundai Elantra is rated at 29/40.  In the Lancer’s defense, though, it out-powers the Chevy and Hyundai by about 20 horsepower and has a significantly larger engine (a 1.4T from the Chevy and a 1.8 from the Hyundai).

Pricing for the 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS is pretty straightforward.  It starts at $20,295, and my test car had the $3,300 GTS Touring Package (710 watt audio system, Sirius, HID headlamps, rain sensing wipers, auto headlamps, heated front seats, power glass sunroof, and rear lip spoiler), plus $150 for the premium Rotor Glow (orange) paint.  Add destination/handling for $760 and you get $24,505.  For that price, you’re getting most of the Lancer Ralliart’s and Lancer Evolution’s comfort and luxury features (with the exception of the sport seats), but skipping the chassis and powertrain upgrades – including AWD – that make those other two Lancers special, and much more expensive.

For that kind of scratch, you can get a decent midsize sedan, and a segment-leading C-segment car.  The Lancer GTS is fun to drive and reasonably powerful, but when you run the car through TrueDelta.com, I’m not sure that it’s worth $2,849 more than an Elantra Limited (which also looks better, in my opinion, and has a regular six-speed automatic in lieu of the Mitsu’s CVT).  It is however, probably worthwhile when comparing against the Honda Civic EX-L, which comes in at $2,345 more expensive than the Lancer.

Thanks to a coming wave of new, better-equipped and safer C-segment cars, buyers will have more and better choices than they’ve ever had in the US.  I certainly wouldn’t count out the Lancer from my consideration list if I were shopping in this segment, but a few more MPGs and a bit more pricing flexibility may help the Lancer stand out in a soon-to-be-crowded field.

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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5 Comments

  1. I have the 2011 GTS in blue with the deck wing. You have to get it in manual. If you get a base GTS in manual, expect to pay 19,000-19,500 which is competitve with the mazda 3. I would say the mazda 3 s is a slightly nicer car, but the lancer has a much more aggresive look, slightly better fuel economy, 18 inch wheels, and a 5 year bumper to bumper 10 year drivetrain warranty.

    I love everything about this car and I downgraded from a 40,000 luxury car. It isn’t going to win you any races as the author says, but it drives nice, is comfortable, handles well, fast enough, and comes with most the bells and wistles you could want. The manual is very easy to drive for those who want a little excitement on their commute.

    I tested all the alternatives (except the hyundai, I am biased and wouldn’t be caught dead in one) and this ultimately fell into the top three with the mazda 3 and civic.

  2. I just bought 2 weeks ago Lancer GTS manual transimition .. its fun to drive … come with very good quality tire (wet/dry) …. I am enjoy it ..

  3. I just bought my Gts lancer in blue semi automatic with the paddle shifters and its really fun to drive and it looks really nice. I love it.ut came with spoler and I’m gonna add the recaro seats

  4. I purchased my 2011 Lancer GTS with the CVT and in the Rotor Glow metallic paint (which both my wife and I like) about a month and a half ago. My wife has a 2011 Chevy Cruze LS with the 6-speed aut and my Lancer GTS will run circles around it. The Lancer’s seats are very comfortable, supportive in a soft sport fabric. The radio/CD player w/6 speakers that came with the car has a great sound to it. A lot of reviews I have read say the interior is cheap looking with lots of plastic. I personally like it. The CVT transmission shifts smoothly and effortlessly. This is the first Mitsubishi auto I have owned and I am very satisfied with my purchase. Overall, for a small car in this price range it is well looking into for your next car purchase.

  5. 2011 lancer is a sweet little car. if you time it right in third and forth gear it will deliver fun acceleration .Safe in traffick. Very easy to shift .I’ve bought it for $18900 …..Love it !! What a ride!

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