DETROIT – Mitsubishi Motors Corp. this week gives the first official look at its ’08 Lancer.

The all-new, ninth generation of the company’s longstanding subcompact goes on sale in the U.S. in first-quarter 2007 and enjoys its public debut at next month’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Success of the new Lancer, shown to journalists earlier this fall, is vital to Mitsubishi’s recovery not only in the hyper-competitive U.S. market but also on the world stage as the auto maker strives to resurrect its flagging operations.

Launching only as a sedan, the all-new Lancer’s crisply creased sheet metal is a close recreation of the edgy Concept X concept car that presaged the production version of the Lancer when unveiled at the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show.

Mitsubishi says the car’s all-new global platform, shared with the new Outlander cross/utility vehicle, makes for an architecture with a longer wheelbase – 103.7 ins. (263 cm) – and wider track by 2.3 ins. (5.8 cm).

However, its 180-in. (457-cm) overall length is slightly shorter than the 180.5-in. (458-cm) length of the current-generation Lancer.

For the U.S., power will come exclusively from a new, all-aluminum 2L DOHC I-4, part of the World Engine family co-developed and manufactured in partnership with DaimlerChrysler AG and Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd.

The variable-valve-timing 4-cyl. makes 152 hp, the auto maker says, and is backed by a standard 5-speed manual transmission. A continuously variable transmission, a first for Mitsubishi in the U.S., is optional.

The upper-trim GTS model will include a 6-speed sequential manual-shifting function for the CVT, with steering-wheel-mounted paddles to control up- and downshifts.

The Lancer will offer two other trim levels: an entry DE and a midrange ES.

Mitsubishi offers no information on pricing or details regarding the highly anticipated Evolution high-performance variant, but the standard Lancer lineup will compete with strong-selling subcompacts such as the Honda Civic and Mazda3.

bvisnic@wardsauto.com