If the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS is a poor man's racer, bully for the poor man, who seems to be a lot more abundant nowadays.

The five-speed manual sport version of the compact Lancer has the looks of a sharp little racer. Its clean lines, good-looking front end and the spoiler have a touch a class.

And while it still has a cheap and cheerful feel inside, it's no clown on the road.

It's easy to look past the hard plastic trim and dash when you're revving the engine and passing Sunday drivers; the 2.4-liter engine pleasantly pulling you past the lookieloos.

While the engine sounds on the small side, it produces 168 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of torque. That's more than enough power to push around the 3,100 pound sedan, even when I was testing it with three American-sized adults in tow.

On the highway, the Lancer GTS accelerated with ease to cruising speed. Around town it cut into corners like a thoroughbred. It's downright fun to drive and every time I headed out to my driveway with the remote key, I smiled more and more. The five-speed manual clicks through the gears with moderate throws and the steering is well balanced and responsive, with excellent feedback through turns.

There's lots to like with this little machine.

First of all, its exterior is very sharp. Mitsubishi has tried to create a certain flow with its Lancer models -- allowing them to share many of its distinctive looks. The shark's nose front end, the big intakes below the bumper and the narrow grille create that fast look. Additionally, Mitsubishi has done an excellent job in creating a stronger family resemblance in all of the Lancer models, from the base Lancer all the way through the top-end Evolution. They now have much more in common than just the manufacturer. The lines are clean and fast. The windshield is steep, and rockers say this car will boogie.

Better yet, it looks don't fool anyone; it will go fast.

It also does so efficiently, hitting 28 miles per gallon on the highway and 21 mpg in the city.

Nonetheless, it's still an affordable racer, with a starting price under $18,000 and a nicely loaded model barely topping $20,000.

When I hopped behind the wheel of the GTS, my first impression was, "Hey, this ain't so bad."

There's lots of room and the layout is open and simple. The keyless entry and push button start add a touch of class that most compacts don't have.

The carbon fiber trim is neatly laid across the dash and the seat is comfortable. Upon closer examination, however, I thought the interior could have used better materials and a few upgrades would have made a big difference in its lasting impression.

The dash vents were missing trim and the three knobs across the center stack felt cheap to the touch. Pieces were cut into the dash instead of placed there. There's a sense that the car's interior won't hold up over the long haul.

I did like the piece of carbon fiber trim that stretched across the curve of the dash and the digital screen between the speedometer and tachometer.

The second row offers more than enough space for adults (36.1 inches of legroom) and the front has six inches more of space.

In order to plug a music devise into the stereo, you need a special cord from the dealer. A regular auxiliary jack would have been more appropriate.

However, this car has lots of appeal for someone looking for a compact that doesn't fit the typical mold.

And that's where the fun of this car really stems from. It stands out and performs well under any condition.

Drive it fast. Drive it slow. It's still fun.

2009 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS

Price : $17,990

Engine : 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine

Transmission : 5-speed manual

Power: 168 horsepower; 167 pound-feet torque EPA gas mileage: 21 mpg city / 28 mpg highway

Dimensions (inches):

Wheelbase: 103.7

Length: 180

Width: 69.4

Height: 58.7

Curb weight: 3,120 pounds

Ground clearance: 5.8 inches

Interior dimensions (front/rear):

Headroom: 39.6 / 36.9

Legroom: 42.2. / 36.1

Shoulder room: 54.7 / 54.3

Trunk space: 11.6 cubic feet

Warranty :

Basic: 5 years, 60,000 miles

Powertrain: 5 years, 60,000 miles

Corrosion: 7 years, 100000 miles

Roadside Assistance program: 5 years, unlimited miles