New for 2010, the trusty Mitsubishi Lancer compact sedan is available in a five-door hatch version called the Sportback. As small wagons and mini-SUVs have crowded automotive showrooms in recent years, it's refreshing to be reminded of the simple goodness of a hatchback. With the rear seats folded, the Lancer Sportsback boasts more than 52 square feet of cargo area. "If you want to get this much room, in most cases, you'd have to go for a station wagon," said Ron Sharp, general manager at Kelly Mitsubishi.
DRIVING IMPRESSIONS: The Lancer Sportback strikes an aggressive profile, from its fighter-jet nose to its tapered rear window. The Sportback's 18- inch, 10-spoke alloys are among the best-looking standard wheel packages I've seen on a car in this price range (around $20,000). The car is powered by a 2.4-liter, 168-horsepower engine, which has more than enough oomph to dart through most Chattanooga traffic. On a test drive on Highway 127, the Lancer was light on its feet. Wind buffeting was minimal, and steering was spot on. As with most cars in this class, the interior is a bit spartan, but dash controls and gauges are simple and intuitive. (Kudos to the designer who decided to embed attractive metal meshingin the interior accent trim.
STYLING: At least one auto website compares the Lancer Sportback to a lowered Lexus SUV. Indeed, the Sportback's shape is a welcome departure from the humdrum rear third of most small sedans. Outfitted with roof racks and a highmounted spoiler, the Sportback will no doubt turn heads among active, young drivers - the obvious target audience for this car. If your idea of a great day includes rafting the Ocoee, give the Lancer a look.
BOTTOM LINE: For around $20,000 (our tester stickered for $20,995, including destination charges), you get an aggressive little hatchback with the versatility of a Swiss army knife.
TEST MODEL: 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback.
ENGINE: 2.4 liter, four cylinder.
TRANSMISSION: Continuously variable.
COLOR: Octane Blue.
FUEL ECONOMY: 27 mpg highway, 21 mpg city.
BASE PRICE: $20,190.
STICKER PRICE AS TESTED: $20,935.