I WAS EXPECTING something more. Maybe the previous Mitsubishi Lancer MX I'd driven was manual, or perhaps there'd been a three-litre version. In any case, I was surprised to learn that this test car's 1.5-litre, single-cam, 16-valve engine produced just 90 horsepower. After all the Porsches and Ferraris, it was certainly a contrast to drive a car with manually adjustable cloth seats, no tiptronic, and nothing on the steering wheel but a horn and an airbag. However, the cabin's utilitarian appearance, which reminded me that the Lancer 1.5 MX is aimed at ordinary people, was somewhat relieved by a leather-wrapped steering wheel, gear-shifter and handbrake. The body has the usual low nose, an integrated bumper and airdam, and a grille that's trying hard not to look like a Mazda6's. Alloy wheels offer a hint of spirit, as does the ludicrously out-of-place rear spoiler. The most interesting design feature are the taillights, with clear glass covering individual coloured lenses. With so little horsepower on tap, I reckoned we needed to test the MX's hill-climbing abilities, so a run up Kowloon Peak seemed in order. Here I was using the intermediate range of the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), to dig out the necessary power. It's there, but you need to stomp the pedal to find it. Further up the hillside on a one-way trail that is little wider than a footpath, I found myself occasionally dropping to the automatic's low range in the attempt to extract high torque at 50km/h. Back down the mountain, I swung into Anderson Road, that rough, twisty track, barely wide enough for two cars, but dominated by slow-moving lorries that forced us to reverse several times in a kilometre. At Tseung Kwan O we were back in familiar territory, using the kickdown to ascend Silverstrand Hill then cruising down Hiram's Highway to Sai Kung, and on towards the country park. Along the scenic coastal road, with its varied curves, I was pleased with the suspension, a well-fettled combination of McPherson struts at the front and multi-link suspension at the rear. In the panic-stop brake test I found the MX did not pull to right or left, and there was only a slight judder from the anti-lock braking (ABS). As for handling, I found the MX nimble, with a tiny turning circle. Reverse parking was the best in years, with excellent rear visibility despite the unnecessary spoiler on the boot lid. I have to say, though, that the A pillar of the MX is too thick, causing a mild blind spot. Twice during this test, at large roundabouts, I was momentarily unaware of vehicles approaching from the right. Headroom in the rear seat was barely adequate, likewise legroom. There was an ample rear central armrest, and the usual folding rear seats giving access to the surprisingly large boot. Safety features include side and front airbags. According to Mitsubishi importer, Universal Cars Ltd, the major selling point of the new Lancer 1.5 MX is its advanced CVT transmission, which offers a smooth, jerk-free drive. Whether that is sufficient for the Lancer to steal a march on the class-leading Toyota Corolla, with its more usual four-speed automatic, or the CVT-equipped Honda Civic is a moot point, but the Lancer MX appears to be a worthy entrant to this popular and hotly contested sector. TESTED: Mitsubishi Lancer 1.5-litre MX WHAT IS IT? A family saloon HOW MUCH? $139,800 WHAT MOVES IT? Front engine, four cylinder, with 16 valves, and a single overhead camshaft, producing 90 horsepower, and driving through a continually variable automatic transmission. SAFETY FEATURES: Front and side airbags, anti-lock braking and electronic brake force distribution. ALTERNATIVES: The Lancer's three competitors are the Honda Civic 1.5 VTi A/T, at $136,800, the new Mazda3 1.5A/T, at $148,900, and the Toyota Corolla 1.5 Deluxe A/T, selling for $139,050.