The engine and transmission are the same as the rest of the line, but the GTS boasts a sport-tuned suspension with front-strut tower brace, comfortable bucket seats, big multispoke wheels, and a rear spoiler. Outside, a shark-nosed front end and wedgelike profile are its distinguishing features.

All Lancer models are powered by a 2.0-liter, aluminum DOHC four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing, which puts out 152 hp through a five-speed manual transmission. Shifting is natural and there's just enough power to make it worthwhile.

The GTS handles well enough, but the ride is hard. I could feel every seam, let alone pothole, in the road. The 10-spoke, 18-in. alloy wheels, front and side air dams, fog lights, and chrome tailpipe tip (all standard on GTS) look great, but the spoiler (also standard) adds nothing to the car's above-average looks. One evening, on a hilly road, I thought the driver behind me was flashing his lights, which seemed to go on and off when they passed above or below the too-high spoiler.

Inside, Lancer is plain, bordering on austere, but surprisingly roomy, with enough legroom in back for two adults. But another shortcoming is a manual lock/unlock lever for the tilt-wheel that is hard to operate.

GTS, the technology leader of the Lancer family, features a standard Bluetooth wireless cell-phone-interface with voice recognition for hands-free calling (also available in the ES). The Fast Key option lets drivers unlock the car simply by having the remote in a pocket or purse and grabbing the handle on either of the front doors or the trunk. The same technology lets drivers start the car without putting the key in the ignition. I never worried about leaving the key in the car because the remote never left my pocket.

Our test car was painted Rally Red, a great color for the fun-to-drive GTS. But the level of wind and road noise is unacceptable. Steering and braking, however, were better than satisfactory. Antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution are standard equipment on the GTS.

Base price for the four-door GTS is $17,490. For $1,000 more, you can have continuously variable transmission with six-step Sportronic paddle-shifters. Our ride had the Sun & Sound Package (add $1,500) including 650-W Rockford-Fosgate Premium Audio system, power glass sunroof, and Sirius satellite radio with 6-month prepaid subscription. The Navigation and Technology Package (add $2,000) features 30-Gbyte hard-drive navigation system with digital music server, and Fast Key entry system.

The GTS doesn't quite deliver what a sport car should, but it's close enough.