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Valentine One Radar Detector

Eric
09-26-2007, 04:20 PM
Do you remember the Heavy Chevy Chevelle? The Rallye 350 Olds Cutlass? They looked a lot like big block SS 396 Chevelles and 442/W30 Oldsmobiles - but were in fact milder versions of these cars built for buyers who wanted go-fast appearances - just not the dig-deep sticker prices and insurance cost that came with the keys to an SS or 442.

The '08 Lancer GTS is not unlike the Heavy Chevy and Rallye 350 - in spirit, at least. On the outside, it sure looks like it could do some damage. Aggressive wheel and tire package, radioactive-intense paint job, prominent trunk-mounted spoiler and the same basic bodywork as the turbo'd and intercooled Lancer EVO - the Mitsubishi equivalent of a big-block SS Chevelle brain smasher.

But instead of the Evo's pushing $30k MSRP, the Lancer GTS starts at $17,590 ($18,590 for models equipped with the optional "Sportronic" CVT transmission).

Of course, there are some compromises.

For one, there's no turbo'd and intercooled DOHC brain smasher under the hood of the GTS. No AWD, either.

But what is there's not half-bad.

The GTS is fitted with a new-for-'08 version of Mitsubishi's 2.0 liter four-cylinder. It features variable valve timing and a new lighter-weight aluminum engine block as well as a number of other upgrades. Power comes in at 152 hp - which in a compact sedan provides enough kick to make it interesting when you need it to be. Don't forget that as recently as ten years ago, a 150 hp compact sport sedan would have been considered pretty hot.

Zero to 60 times are in the mid-7s, which, again, is not half-bad. In fact, it's neck-and-neck with what V-8 muscle cars were running in the mid-late '70s (and actually quicker than the old Rally 350 Cutlass or Heavy CHevy Chevelle - neither of which could approach the Lancer's MPG rating of 21 city/29 highway. At least, not with their engines running).

Versions with the 5-speed manual seem more responsive - especially from a standing start, where CVT versions feel sluggish until the revs build up. But the CVT version can be fun to play with, too. It comes with F1-style paddle shifters on the steering wheel and while there are no forward gears as such, you can manually control the operation of the CVT by holding it as long as you want to in each of six fixed ratios - very much like a traditional manual transmission but without the clutch or the "shift shock."

The big downside with the CVT is drivetrain racket. Floor it and the engine will run right up to redline - and pretty much stay there as long as you keep your foot in it. Same deal at three-quarter throttle. The engine spools up to more than 5,000 RPM - which makes you feel like you're really flogging it even if you're not.

If you're a gearhead type, you will probably like this. But all the drama does convey an impression of excessive strain ("I'm givin' her all she's got cap'n!") and may increase over-the-road wear and tear if you run the car hard all the time.

The CVT version also feels (and sounds) winded sooner on the high end of the scale. Around 80 mph things begin to slow down, even with the pedal mashed all the way to the floor. With the engine pegged at 6,000-plus RPM, speed increases incrementally but far from quickly; by 100, the car is pretty much out of breath. It will go a bit faster - but you'll need time.

And room.

I didn't get a chance to drive a six-speed version on a top-end run, but my guess is it would do better. Most any new car (even a Prius hybrid) can hit 105 or so given enough opportunity. The GTS is more powerful and set up to be a performance car (albeit a Blue Light Special performance car) so it ought to be good at least that - and hopefully, 10 or 15 mph more.

But it's handling that's the little Lancer's true calling. Here, the GTS is much closer in fact as well as spirit to the EVO. There's no all-wheel-drive, but there are 18-inch lightweight alloy wheels (two sizes larger than the standard Lancer's 16 inch rims) shod with 45-series Dunlops. The suspension's also dialed in to be much firmer than the base model's. Inside, you'll find driver and passenger sport buckets, a three-spoke leather wrapped steering wheel and a full rack of gauges trimmed with brushed metal and carbon fiber accents.

It may not have the overwhelming firepower of the EVO, but like its race-car-with-tags big brother, the GTS feels tight as a snare drum, with virtually no lean in a hard corner and very direct steering feel. Cock the wheel, stay on the gas and the GTS will impress you with its limits - which may be higher than your own. The aggressive wheel/tire package provides a very high level of lateral grip - but when they let go, it can be abrupt, so be aware - and remember not to lift off the throttle.

The updated chassis (including a longer wheelbase) also feels more solid - and less hot-rodded econobox. One big difference between the GTS and the EVO, though, is the ride quality. Where the EVO can be obnoxiously stiff for daily driving, the GTS is considerably less so. Rough roads in an EVO can be coffee-spilling, filling-loosening low-grade torment. In the GTS, the same road feels a lot better. And since real-world roads are not glass-smooth and well-maintained like race tracks (the EVO's natural environment) the GTS can be the better car for everything but track days.

Technology and other forms of sensory enjoyment are not neglected, either. The '08 GTS comes standard with an MP3-playing audio rig, Bluetooth wireless connectivity and auto climate control. An optional Sun & Sound package ($1,500) adds an electric sunroof and a powerful Rockford Fosgate premium premium stereo with multi-disc CD changer, Sirius satellite hook-up and auxiliary input for MP3 players. This can be combined with an integrated GPS system ($2,000) with 30 gig hard drive for storing audio files. Keyless ignition is also included with the nav system.

At $18k or so, the GTS is an appealing alternative to the getting-pricey/single-minded EVO. Like the budget-oriented Heavy Chevys and Rallye 350s of yesteryear, it delivers the looks - and a respectable percentage of the goods - for a lot less coin than its steroidal bigger brother.

For an everyday commuter with more personality than the typical econo-box, it's one you might want to take a look at.

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