In the years since the release of its "box-type" second generation (1978-1988) variant, the Mitsubishi Lancer has generally been viewed as an alternative in an arena where boy racer styling and performance dominate. Now, with the recent launch of its eighth generation Lancer at the Subic International Raceway, Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corporation (MMPC) served notice that it wants it to become THE compact car choice.

The Lancer's all-new chassis is a stoutly engineered effort, derived from the Dodge Caliber and upgraded big-time to serve as the basis for the much-awaited Lancer Evolution X. Torsional rigidity was increased 56 percent, while bending resistance improved 50 percent. An example is the repositioning of the exhaust system to allow for cross members that are straight and strong.

The chassis strength increase adds weight, but gives it a substantial, almost Teutonic sense of tarmac confidence. Steering requires more effort during overtaking and fast entry on apex, but it's not heavy and doesn't make the car feel cumbersome. This weightiness similarly describes its ride quality and chassis reactions, but in a good way. When equipped with 10-spoke, 18-rinch rims and Yokohama Advan 215/45 series tires (such as the P 1.018 million GT and P 1.125 million GT-A versions), the Lancer charges through turns with pronounced certainty.

Surprisingly, the same exterior and interior design will also be the same platform for the Evolution X. A nose similar to the 1999-2003 "shark-nose" Galant, a steep front windshield incline, subtle fender bulges (to accommodate the 18-inch wheel/tire combo) and a rear spoiler contribute heavily to the car's sporty character. Interior-wise, the biggest highlight is the GT-A version, since it totes sport bucket seats, a dashboard-spanning carbon fiber accent, audio controls on the three-spoke steering wheel, a 60:40 folding rear backrest (to swallow long cargo) and a 650-watt Rockford Fosgate audio entertainment system with trunk mounted 10-inch subwoofer and auxiliary MP3 player port. Complementing the aforementioned GT-A features are magnesium paddle shifters behind the steering wheel (right paddle for upshifts, left paddle for downshifts) for the INVECS-III six-speed CVT (continuously variable transmission) Sportronic mode and a simple four-gauge dashboard cluster with large fonts and a red amber menu screen nestled between the rev counter and speedometer.

The Lancer also steps up in the engine and transmission areas. The 152 hp/199 NM 4B11 engine has an all-aluminum block and composite valve cover (27 kg less than its predecessor), with MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing Electronic Control) camshaft timing, a normally aspirated 16-valve DOHC and Euro 2 compliance. The GT-A's aforementioned six-speed CVT and paddle shifters also finds itself in the P 990,000 MX version, which is great in traffic (since you only use your right foot to go forward or back) or on the highway (for spirited driving). For those looking for a strictly manual feel, the GT variant offers a five speed m/t with a light clutch takeup and smooth, short throws.

Another big upgrade is safety, as a four wheel 16-inch disc system with ABS and electronic brake force distribution (derived from the Mitsubishi Outlander), driver's knee airbags for the GT-A and GT variants, high intensity discharge headlights, Adaptive Front Lighting (which throws light into the direction where the wheels are turned) and a class-leading five-meter turning radius are the biggest highlights. Also, the GT-A will have auto headlight and rain-sensing wipers, plus seven (including side and curtain) airbags.

The 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer hopes to convince compact car buyers that Mitsubishi is once again a serious player; and convince hard-core enthusiasts that all the hype surrounding the Evolution X is fully justified. Fortunately, it's robust enough to stand up to just this kind of pressure and potentially crush all compact passenger car competition. "The new Lancer has garnered positive reviews abroad, and we are confident that with its arrival here we can establish strong market share in the compact car segment," said MMPC executive vice president and board director Taizo Furuhashi.