Vehicle overview Are you bored of humdrum economy sedans? Are you looking for a little excitement without breaking the bank? The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer could be a remedy worth checking out. When used as directed, the Lancer can elevate your heart rate and generally enhance your mood. But it's not without a few side effects. The Lancer is offered in three varying doses, from the commonplace DE and ES base trim levels to the more potent GTS and prescription-strength Ralliart. Depending on the seriousness of your ailment, there seems to be a Lancer for every taste. Its sharp exterior styling and lively performance (in higher trim levels) are sure to have you back to your old self in no time. The downsides, though, could give you second thoughts. The base 2.0-liter engine lacks power and, if combined with the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), leads to rather anemic acceleration. Stepping up to the more powerful GTS and Ralliart engines helps immensely, but an increased appetite for fuel also results. The Lancer also has a rather plain interior design and subpar interior materials. Fortunately for the Lancer, Mitsubishi has tinkered with the 2011 formula to eliminate some of the side effects that plagued previous versions. The addition of electric-assist power steering and brake regeneration serve to increase fuel economy for the base models while the optional Fuse voice-activation feature reduces frustration when controlling phone, navigation and entertainment functions. The Lancer isn't the only antidote for the economy sedan doldrums; the 2011 Mazda 3 and 2011 Subaru Impreza deliver similarly effective results. Both competitors are also available in varying potencies in the form of the Mazdaspeed 3 and Impreza WRX. The Impreza provides a bit more enticement with all-wheel drive for all models, while the Mazda 3 scores points with its more attractive interior. You could also check out the Kia Forte, which presents a better value proposition. In the final analysis, the 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer is a worthy habit-forming cure to the econo-sedan blahs, but we recommend trying out the alternatives first. 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer models The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer is a compact sedan available in DE, ES, GTS and Ralliart trim levels (the Lancer Evolution is reviewed separately). The base DE comes with 16-inch steel wheels, rocker-sill bodywork extensions, a tilt-only steering wheel, full power accessories, a trip computer and a four-speaker CD/MP3 stereo. The ES comes with all the aforementioned items and adds air-conditioning, cruise control, keyless entry, upgraded upholstery, a 60/40-split rear seat with a center armrest, manual driver-seat height adjustment, steering-wheel audio controls and an auxiliary audio jack for the stereo. The GTS gains a more powerful engine, 18-inch alloy wheels, foglights, a rear spoiler, a sport-tuned suspension, keyless ignition/entry, automatic climate control, sport bucket front seats with upgraded fabric, the Fuse voice-activation system, Bluetooth and a six-speaker stereo with a USB port. The Ralliart ups the performance ante with a turbocharged engine, an automated dual-clutch manual transmission (with shift paddles) and all-wheel drive. Also included is satellite radio. Many features listed are also available on lower trim cars as stand-alone options or as part of bundled packages. The Alloy Wheel package adds 16-inch alloy wheels to the ES trim along with rear disc brakes (instead of drums) and a rear stabilizer bar. Several cosmetic and aerodynamic enhancement options are also available for the DE and ES trims. A Touring package is available for GTS and Ralliart trims and features xenon headlights, a sunroof, a smaller rear spoiler, rain-sensing wipers, leather seats and a nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate sound system with an in-dash six-CD changer and satellite radio. Also optional on all but the DE trim is a navigation system that features a 30GB hard drive capable of storing digital music files. 2011 Highlights The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer adds electric-assist power steering and brake regeneration to its base engine models, increasing fuel economy. Mitsubishi's Fuse voice-activation system also debuts while standard features and optional packages see a minor reorganization. Also, the base model replaces the former rear disc brakes with drum brakes. Performance & mpg The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer DE and ES are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 148 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. In California-emissions states, this engine earns Partial Zero-Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) certification but it's also down on power a bit with 143 hp and 143 lb-ft of torque. The Lancer GTS upgrades to a 2.4-liter four that makes 168 hp and 167 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard for both engines, and a CVT is optional on the ES and GTS. The GTS also includes a CVT manual mode with simulated gear ratios operated via shift paddles on the steering wheel. The Ralliart features a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 that thumps out 237 hp and 253 lb-ft. Power is sent to all four wheels through an automated dual-clutch manual transmission with shift paddles. In Edmunds testing, a GTS with a manual transmission accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds, which is quick for this class. The combination of the base engine and five-speed delivers a time of 8.8 seconds to 60 mph, while the CVT can muster only a performance of 9.1 seconds. The Ralliart dispatches the 0-60 dash in a sizzling 5.8 seconds. In terms of fuel economy, the 2.0-liter achieves an EPA-estimated 25 mpg city/33 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined with the automatic transmission, an average rating for this class of car. The 2.4-liter gets 23 city/30 highway and 26 combined with the automatic. The manual transmission delivers nearly identical fuel efficiency. The high-performance Ralliart has notably poorer fuel efficiency, with a rating of 17/25/20. Safety The Mitsubishi Lancer comes standard with front-seat side airbags, full-length head curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag. Antilock brakes and stability control are standard across the board, but four-wheel disc brakes are standard only on the GTS and Ralliart. The DE and ES trims get by with rear drum brakes. In recent Edmunds brake testing, a Lancer GTS stopped from 60 mph in a scant 115 feet. In government crash testing, the Lancer received a five-star rating for driver frontal crash protection and front-seat side crash protection. It earned four stars for passenger frontal crash protection and for rear-seat side protection. In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests, the Lancer achieved the best rating of Good. Driving With a decent amount of comfort and a quiet cabin, a 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer equipped with the base 2.0-liter engine is fine for the daily commute. Unfortunately, this engine seems to also generate more noise than horsepower, especially when saddled with the CVT. For those seeking a bit more excitement on a budget, the GTS is a better alternative thanks to more low-end engine power and a suspension that responds better to spirited driving. The Ralliart bridges the gap to the high-performance Lancer Evolution model with turbocharged power, sharp handling and rapid-fire gearchanges from the dual-clutch transmission. Mechanically, the Ralliart provides plenty of thrills in the curves, but in our testing we've found its tires to be a bit too economy-minded considering the car's strong performance potential. Interior While the 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer's chiseled exterior lends an air of aggression, its interior design and materials tend to drag down the vehicle's overall appeal. On the whole, the cabin design is uninspiring and rife with hard plastic elements. Taller drivers will likely bemoan the lack of a telescoping steering wheel and the lack of under-thigh support. On the other hand, the rear seats are quite comfortable, with a generous amount of legroom. These 60/40-split seats fold flat to accommodate bulky items, which is advantageous considering the Lancer's rather small 11.6-cubic-foot trunk. One item of contention from last year, the operation of the touchscreen navigation unit, looks to be remedied by Mitsubishi's Fuse voice-activation system. Much like Ford's Sync system, selecting a destination or your favorite music is only a voice command away. The Mitsubishi system lacks some of the Sync's functions and commands, but we still prefer it to the tricky touchscreen layout in any case.