Big wheels, huge wing, modest power
A potential penny pincher is Mitsubishi's Lancer. It's available as a basic front-drive compact for roughly $15,000. After seeing that model, you'll probably step up to a better-equipped version such as my GTS tester. Those letters denote a sport-tuned suspension with 18-inch alloy wheels--$19,000. Add the Sun & Sound, the Navi & Tech Packages, and the price rockets to $22,600.
The car's 152-hp, four-cylinder engine is teamed to a continuously variable transmission, which seamlessly changes gear ratios. As with many CVTs, the drive train is unresponsive and sounds like Waring blender. In contrast, smooth describes the Lancer's uncluttered dashboard, which relies on a touch-screen LCD as its info center. Hard, however, depicts the interior's dreadful plastics. When you add the trashy noises one hears while driving, you'll conclude this is a cheapskate. Yet, its ride is fairly resilient.
Finding a good driving position isn't easy. The steering wheel doesn't telescope; the front seats don't tilt. Furthermore, dark shadows obscure gauges while other displays wash out. You'll hear the hard-drive based sound system, which records tunes. A large trunk-mounted subwoofer evokes rattles.
Compact-car tuners like Lancers. And this one, which has a big rear wing, feels responsively light on its tires and can be paddled, like a X-Box into action via two alloy steering-column mounted shift controls. Overall handling is sporty due to modest body roll and responsive steering. A tendency toward bump steer requires a focused driver. Stability control is now standard-a good thing; the performance-oriented Dunlop tires aren't winter friendly.
Another snow note: the GTS wheels are ice scoops, collecting slush that causes the car to shake its booty.
Overall fuel economy is reportedly 25 mpg, however, treacherous winter-weather driving netted 21. The EPA's estimates: 22 mpg city and 29 hwy.