You can get a 650-watt premium sound system with nine speakers plus a subwoofer that, when adjusted properly, will not only dissolve anything in your sinus cavities, but also melt the wax in your ears.

But you can't get stability control in your 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer.

Go figure.

The compact Lancer sedan has been absent from the market for a year. It's now back in showrooms sporting a shark-nosed front end and a large and decorative spoiler in back-along with a longer wheelbase, wider cabin, new sheet metal and a peppier 4-cylinder engine.

It even comes with anti-lock brakes and side-curtain air bags as standard to offer occupants protection, but the latest in sound got the nod over a system designed to keep you from skidding or slipping.

The 2008 Lancer comes in DE, E, and GTS trim. We tested the GTS with its new 2-liter, 152-horsepower aluminum-block 4 that replaces an anemic 120-h.p. iron-block 4 of the same displacement. A 5-speed manual is standard, a continuously variable automatic with manual mode shifting is optional. The test car came with the CVT.

The 2-liter is a new world engine created with Chrysler and Hyundai. It moves from the light more gingerly than energetically. And it tends to groan heavily getting up to cruising.

Performance enthusiasts or manual wannabes can play with the paddles behind the steering wheel to shift into one of six gears-and stifle some of the groan.

The 2-liter is rated at a favorable 22 m.p.g. city/29 m.p.g. highway.

But it will be in the sporty GTS for only one year. For 2009, GTS gets a new 2.4-liter, 168-h.p. 4 cylinder, another world engine brought to you by the same folks who came up with this one.

Mitsubishi says with 168 h.p. and 167 foot-pounds of torque, the 2009 Lancer will have quicker off-the-line response and swing out into the passing lane with more gusto than the current engine. "More grunt, less groan," is how one source described the engine coming out this year. And, as a bonus, the mileage rating stays the same thanks to some tuning tweaks.

But before you ask, stability control is not on tap for 2009 either. Maybe a couple more subwoofers?

We digress.

The 2008 Lancer sports a 1.4-inch longer wheelbase and 2.3-inch wider front and rear track for better road manners. While the suspension is stiff and the car jiggles a bit on uneven surfaces, it hangs tight in corners and turns. The all-season 18-inch radials help, though the car tends to float a little side to side on the straightaways. Go figure.

The cabin is also about 3 inches wider for good wiggle room for arms, elbows and thighs. There's good legroom in the second row, though the melon might tickle the roof at times.

Seats are wide but could use a little more padding. And the black and gray cloth is a lint magnet. A couple more bucks spent on better cloth would be welcome.

The trunk is unusually spacious for a compact. Rear seat backs fold flat to offer more cargo room, but the seat backs stand several inches higher than the trunk floor, creating a challenge when loading or unloading.

Rather than a key, there's one of those magical electronic fobs so you twist a plastic lever to turn the car on or off. When on, the instrument panel provides a "welcome" message, when turned off, it says "goodbye."

Sweet, but the money spent on that little bit of whimsy should be directed toward stability control very soon. Nice touches include a power plug next to the politically incorrect ashtray and another under the center armrest.

There's also a cell-phone/iPod holder near the cupholders in the center console.

Lancer GTS starts at $18,490 with the CVT. That includes air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, rear-seat heat ducts in the floor, Bluetooth hands-free phone wiring and fog lights.

The sun-and-sound package runs $1,500 and adds the Rockford-Fosgate sound system with its multitude of speakers plus power sunroof, while a navigation system with CD player and MP3 compatibility runs $2,000.

One option even money can't buy, other than stability control, is a power driver's seat.

Lancer is a sporty looking economy car with decent mileage and decent price that will benefit from a livelier engine and, someday, stability control. Until then you have to settle for clear sinuses and ears.

Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Transportation. Contact him at transportation@ tribune.com.