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Lancer is controlled aggressiveness

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This is not your child's Mitsubishi.

Yes, it has a menacing wing bolted onto the trunk, and yes, its distinctive, aerodynamic shape hints at more exciting things to come, but this is not the eagerly awaited Evolution X, the powerful, turbocharged street version of the world-competition rally car. That monster will be unleashed early next year.

What we're talking about here is the 2008 Lancer GTS sedan, the flagship of Mitsubishi's new front-wheel-drive compact sedan lineup. Its mission is to provide a flashy alternative to the likes of the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Chevy Cobalt, Mazda 3 and Ford Focus.

With aggressive design cues from Mitsubishi's Concept X show car, a rigid construction, sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch tires, front and side air dams, rack-and-pinion steering and strong disc brakes, the GTS offers an enjoyable experience for the motorist who sees driving as more than just a chore.

Like its Lancer siblings, the GTS gets its thrust from a two-liter, four-cylinder engine that produces 152 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque, and features double overhead camshafts and variable valve timing.

Power is put to the wheels through a standard five-speed manual shifter or an optional, continuously variable automatic transmission with steering-wheel-mounted paddles that let the driver manage the gear selection manually.

The engine-transmission combinations are certainly competitive in the compact segment, but, frankly, the sporty suspension left me a bit confused.

Should Mitsubishi have put a little more fire in the engine room so I could take better advantage of those taut settings and powerful anti-lock disc brakes on the back roads, or should it have used slightly softer settings that would not have turned heavily traveled rough roads into rough rides?

In any case, the five-speed manual transmission in the test car was a good match for the engine, so I was able to extract all of the engine's power when it was needed. I could have made the run from a stop to 60 mph in less than eight seconds, but there was no call for that during my time with the Lancer.

I didn't get to drive a GTS with the continuously variable transmission and paddle shifters but have been told that it, too, is well suited to the car's capabilities.

Despite the accent on sportiness, it is important to keep in mind that the primary mission of the Lancer is to provide economical transportation for up to five persons, and it does that reasonably well. The revised EPA ratings list fuel consumption at between 21 and 29 miles per gallon of regular gasoline. In my time with the car, I averaged between 18 and 26.

All the new Lancers are built on a platform shared with the Outlander sport utility vehicle. They are about a half-inch shorter than their predecessors but actually have more interior room thanks to a longer, 103.7-inch wheelbase and front and rear track dimensions that are 2.3 inches wider than before. The middle rear seat in the sedan actually is more comfortable than those in some other compacts because the Lancer's driveline tunnel is closer to the floor.

The GTS, which starts at $17,490, comes with a lot of standard equipment, including automatic climate control, Bluetooth cellular phone system interface with voice recognition, six-speaker audio system and bolstered front bucket seats. A premium sound system and sunroof will add $1,500 and a navigation system will add an additional $2,000. Put it all together, and you're looking for a bill of $21,615.

If you are seeking bare-bones transportation, you can secure a Lancer DE with a five-speed manual transmission for $13,990. However, the sedan that will probably attract the bulk of buyers, the Lancer ES, is significantly better equipped and carries a base price of$15,990 or $16, 890 depending on transmission choice.

Anyone who has spent time in a last-generation Lancer will tell you that the 2008 model is a lot more car. The Lancer GTS, with all its available features, is also a lot of car for the money.

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