My comments on each contender. I LOVE driving the Mitsubishi Lancer EX, especially in manual guise. The handling is fantastic and it's simply the sharpest looker of the bunch. I would rate the handling just slightly behind the Ford Focus but just slightly ahead of the Civic and miles in front of the Corolla Altis. I have a few niggles with it though. As a trade of the excellent handling, the ride isn't as pliant as the Civic nor the Corolla. Also, The interior isn't as nice to the touch as the other two. Another gripe I have is the lack of a telescoping steering adjustment. If you're a small person like me, (I'm 5'4") it's slightly annoying. If you're a tall person then you'll be pretty much okay. Out of the three this is the boy racer of the bunch. It's the most powerful among the trio and the best handling. It also offers bang for the buck. If you love driving then look no further. The Mitsu Lancer EX is your answer.
The Toyota Corolla Altis on the other hand is the polar opposite of the Lancer EX. It's quiet inside, the ride is soft and everything is light to the touch. The Corolla is very good at isolating you from the outside world, if a bit too isolated. I once road tested the new 1.6V and I have to say I was impressed by comfort it offers. However, it's no speed demon and nor is it a corner carver. Also the interior lacks the flair of the racy Lancer or the futuristic (even after 5 years) Civic. I also found the steering a bit too overboosted and light. Also, one has to admit that it looks rather bland next to the Lancer and the Civic. The Corolla is the most logical choice of the three. It's the cheapest to run and the cheapest to own. Also, there's Toyota's legendary reliability and build quality.
The Honda Civic manages a good blend of the two. The Civic is more than capable of carving corners like the Lancer and it can be is quiet and comfy like the Corolla. The Civic is much more involving to drive than the Corolla. The steering is well weighted and the suspension isn't too hard like the Lancer. Also, the interior feels better put together than the Lancer and looks better than the Corolla's. Inside, the Civic is the most space efficient and offers a vast amount of room all around. You'll also see a lot of storage pockets and cubby holders. Also, the engine has the best mix among the two. It's not as thirsty as the Lancer because it has 200cc's less but it doesn't feel lacking like the Corolla because it has 200cc's more. It's solid and dependable like the Corolla and can drive almost as fun as the Lancer EX. My gripes with the Civic? Well, the wide windscreen makes you feel like you're about 10 feet wide and you might end up hitting pretty much everything. Also, the V is on rather sorry looking 15 inch rims. The Civic is crying out for bigger shoes like 16's. Also, that interior, while better looking than the Corolla, can be a love-hate affair. I like it but chief Vernon isn't too hot about it.
Of course, no car is perfect here. To find out the best, you have to suit it to your lifestyle and personality. If you're an all out driver's man/woman, then it's the EX for you. If you want a cocoon from all the noise and bumps, the Corolla is your car. If you want a car than can change personality at the flick of the throttle, Civic is the way to go.