The world is not fair. Talented people don t always get the attention they deserve. Great TV shows languish in obscurity. Delicious breakfast cereals get pulled from grocery stores because of poor marketing (can you guess what I m snacking on at this moment?).
Enter the Mitsubishi Outlander. In Japan it s one of the country s best selling crossovers. In America? Seems it can t get noticed for doing 60 in a school zone. In an informal poll of friends and neighbors only 1 out of 8 knew it existed. Hard to cross shop if you don t know it s out there.
Maybe it s a result of Mitsubishi s small dealer network or perhaps buyers are just focused on the competition. The folks at Mitsubishi say Outlander goes up against Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forrester, Mazda CX-7, even Acura RDX. I ll throw in Honda CR-V and Chevy Equinox as well. All these are well known, the automotive equivalent of Wheaties. Outlander is more like Fuel, a Wheaties cereal but one few people know about .
Not so extreme makeover
This is a bit of a shame because Outlander has been around for a few years and it s a decent machine. For 2010 it gets a serious refresh. Most obvious is the jet fighter nose job. Similar to Audi s trapezoid it s big, it s bold, it s polarizing. I ll say this, the crisp wedgey shape is more attractive in person than photos. It also looks like nothing else on the road (save Mitsu s own Lancer/Evo X) and that originality could help Outlander s market visibility. There are some welcome cabin upgrades and new powertrains.
Speaking of powertrains...
Base Outlanders start at $21,600 including destination (subtract a $1,000 incentive that s currently available). That should get Mitsubishi some attention. It buys a person front-wheel drive, a continuously variable transmission and a 161 horsepower 4-cylinder with 167 lb.-ft. of torque. I am driving a top of the line GT model with Premium Navi and Leather Package which stickers for $32,990. It gets a 3.0-liter MIVEC V6 engine, now producing 230 hp and 215 lb.-ft. of torque (up 10 HP from last year s model). V6s get paired to a 6-speed transmission complete with titanium steering wheel paddle shifters for manual gear swaps. When Outlander stops, it automatically goes into neutral to save fuel. A hill holder feature keeps it from rolling backward on steep grades.
Unique to GT is Super All-Wheel Control. Somewhat similar to the system used on Evo X, S-AWC allows drivers to tailor the AWD response to match surface conditions using a center console dial. S-AWC uses an active front differential plus an electronically controlled center differential system to smartly deliver power not just front to rear but also left to right when it comes to the front wheels. Can it be felt? Yes but it s subtle. I feel it only during very hard maneuvers. Mitsubishi proudly crows S-AWC is first-in-class.
An SUV that delivers some Sport and Utility
0-60 happens in 7.7 seconds placing the 3780 pound GT average in class. An aluminum roof keeps the center of gravity lower. Outlander s cornering is good but there s more body roll than expected for a vehicle badged GT. FYI, it gets a slight bit of suspension tuning over the XLS edition but nothing substantial. Ride quality is comfortable, sharp bumps are swallowed nicely by the suspension. Road noise is on the higher side. Fuel economy is rated at 18 city, 24 highway and according to the onboard computer I m getting slightly better than that.
I took Outlander up to Steven s Pass to do some spring skiing. Turns out spring meant record snow this particular weekend and there were plenty of cars stuck alongside the road. The chains or all-wheel drive required sign meant business. Switching S-AWC to snow I had no problem getting to the slopes. With no cargo rack, snowboards and skis for four fit fine in the back (it scores an impressive 13 in the infamous TP trunk test).
The inside job
Again, the interior gets a welcome upgrade . Soft touch materials complete with stitching grace the instrument and door panels. At night the lighting is high tech crimson red. With dual gloveboxes and a movable center console there s plenty of storage cubbies and cupholders. GT gets standard Bluetooth for phones and iPod integration with a USB port in the console. Ignition is keyless. Wipers sense rain automatically. Hear that Seattle?
My favorite underrated band Hockey sounds great on the 710-Watt Rockford-Fosgate sound system. Nine speakers with a 10-inch subwoofer get the job done. For the next auto writer s listening pleasure I ve ripped Hockey s Mind Chaos album to the system s 40 gig hard drive to spread the word.
Keep it simple
Outlander s navigation system has a feature called Diamond Lane Guidance that seeks out HOV lanes, helpful for carpoolers. Attention luxury car makers, this touch screen interface is very easy to use, something to learn from here. Within 2 minutes of first getting the Outlander I docked my iPod, paired my phone, used the GPS system to find the ski rental shop and used the backup cam to avoid backing into a motorcycle that had parked very close behind. All of this done without a glance at the owners manual. My only gripe with this system? Volume control is a rocker switch, not a dial.
Other gripes with Outlander? Extended door sills can rub against pant legs, bad after driving through mud. The steering wheel tilts but does not telescope and the carpeting looks more like the material used to line trunks. The climate control is automatic but single zone for those with picky partners.
A surprise in back
Rear seats are flat and firm, not what passengers call overly comfy. They recline, split 60/40, and slide fore and aft a few inches to max out leg or cargo room. Recline too. The seats are sculpted out to improve foot room. They also tumble forward with the pull of a lever. Why is that important? Because standard on GT and XLS is a third row of seating. Not spacious or comfortable but unlike the most of the competition, it s there in a pinch.
Attention party animals, Outlander has a little flip out tailgate that helps loading or becomes seating for 440 pounds of hot dog eating sports fans in a crowded parking lot. The rear is a proper liftgate that protects people from rain, unlike RAV4 that uses a side hinged door. More utility? Properly equipped, Outlander can tow 3,500 pounds.
Other things people don t know about the brand
Many people are looking for safety in this category and Mitsubishi includes all the expected airbags, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and electronic stability control. It gets 5 stars in government front and side crash tests, 4 in rollover (no crossover does better than that). Outlander has a 5 year 60,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warrantee, 5 full years of roadside assistance and a 10 year, 100,000 powertrain warranty.
Consider yourself warned- Coming this fall is the Outback Sport. Looking very similar but with sorter overhangs, this 5 seater is actually substantially different than the current Outlander. Word is it s nearly the same weight as the Lancer sedan due to its substantial use of high strength steel.
Summing up, this rig offers great bang for the buck. It could be argued that Outlander is the best mainstream product Mitsubishi makes. It s a much like the TV show Friday Night Lights, nicely done but not widely sampled. For buyers looking for something different, Mitsubishi offers breakout (if not polarizing) design, unique features and great utility. If there s a Mitsubishi showroom in your area, the renewed Outlander is worth a look.