Having gained the all-new Ralliart model in 2004, the Mitsubishi Lancer moves into 2005 virtually unchanged, save for the discontinuation of the feature-packed, mid-range LS model. The big news is its warranty: 2004’s basic 3-years/60,000 km is now 5-years/100,000, while powertrain coverage increases from 5-years/100,000 to 10-years/160,000 km.

Mitsubishi’s entry-level compact sedan comes in three levels: ES, OZ Rally and Ralliart. The ES and OZ carry a 2.0-litre four-cylinder; the sportier Ralliart has a 2.4-litre.

The base ES includes 14-inch steel wheels, CD player with four speakers, tilt wheel, auto-off headlamps, and fixed intermittent wipers; packages are available to add such items as air conditioning, power mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, and power windows and locks.

The OZ Rally looks sportier but is strictly a trim package, with no extra horsepower; it adds 15-inch exclusive “OZ” alloy wheels, spoiler, air conditioning, 60/40 folding rear seat, a sport grille insert, clear jewelled taillamps, six speakers, power locks with keyless entry, and power windows.

In addition to the bigger engine and a sport-tuned suspension, the Ralliart adds 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, a short-throw shifter, sport bucket seats, and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS.

The Lancer is a decent entry-level machine, although it’s basic transportation, with little excitement. The OZ Rally is a disappointment; anything that looks like a tricked-out tuner car – and with a price tag $4,300 over the base model all that stuff’s bolted to – should have a little something extra under the hood. This is a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

That leaves the Ralliart, which is definitely worth the price of admission. The extra horses, the tight suspension and the comfortable, supportive sport seats make this a fun little machine to pilot. Its close-coupled shifter is lifted directly from the Evolution, its steering is razor-sharp, and its four discs bring it down quickly and smoothly.

Of course, if you’ve ever driven the “Evo” – the 276 hp turbo version that’s unavailable north of the 49th parallel – you’ll know that Canadians really do have a reason to cry into their beer. Until that rocket makes its way here, we’ll have to make do with what we’ve got.

As nice as the Lancer can be, though, it has a drawback common to all Mitsubishi models: the company still isn’t out of the financial woods. Its dealer network is sparse, and even simple repairs can sometimes be put on hold waiting for parts. You may have to look at the competition not necessarily because you prefer their products, but because there’s no Mitsu dealer in sight.

The Lancer is built in Mizushima, Japan.

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