Land, it’s what covers the quarter of the Earth not awash in fish effluence. And as only a small percentage of it is paved, a number of off-road, and off-road pretender vehicles have used Land in their names to embellish their sense of purpose. Land Rover, Land Cruiser, Highlander, and, not to be left out, the Mitsubishi Outlander.
Mitsu was late to the game with a car-based crossover, and the initial Outlander seemed about as bland as airline food, but just as they have turned down the volume on their rallying efforts, Mitsubishi has decided to turn up the Evo in the Outlander. The crossover has been refreshed for 2010, and, especially in the GT guise I tested, it keeps reminding you of its twitchy cousin, the hella-fast Lancer Evolution.
Up front, the first thing you notice is the new corporate nose, which is a near twin of the Lancer’s. The slight shark-like lean and aggressive gaping maw are dramatic and well handled in flowing into the existing bodywork. Unfortunately, it’s too similar to the corporate face Audi has been applying to their cars for over five years now, making the Mitsu feel derivative. Other than that, the Outlander looks better than most crossovers with uncluttered flanks and a kink in the third window to add some visual interest to the standard two-box fare.
Stepping around back reveals the first of the Outlander’s clever features, which is a split tailgate. Rather that a huge flip-up hatch with a narrow pop-open glass panel, the Mitsu provides a good-sized hatch with an acceptable lift-over, as well as a drop-down gate that is actually cut into the bumper for additional open-ness.
Inside that hatch is a load area that’ll handle two pony kegs easily, and an optional hide-away third row seat, making it a tight 7 passenger vehicle. The two-place sling seat flips into position through the yanking on a series of straps, and a pair of comically-shaped headrests flip up to make the seat look like an anime rabbit when they’re erect. Putting adults back there would be a punishment akin to making them sit in a third grader’s desk, and then keeping them in for recess. Thankfully, the 60/40 middle row does slide fore and aft providing enough room for the kiddies to be strapped in back there for short trips. That middle row is plenty spacious for two, and reasonably so for three, the under front-seat foot space is generous enough that even with the seat at its full-forward position, there’ll be plenty of room for your Skechers.
Up front, there’s a lot more Evo evocation with stainless and rubber pedal covers, bolstered leather chairs and a pair of magnesium flappy paddles behind the wheel for all your shifting pleasure. Instrumentation at first glance seems extremely sparse, what with only a speedo and tach facing you out from under the stitched vinyl binnacle hood. Twist the chinzy-feeling plastic knob (our tester had the keep the fob in your pocket feature) on the side of the steering column and fuel and water temperature are displayed between the dials upon the engine lighting up. That multi-color digital display tries to cram a lot of info into a too-small space, but it does give you the flexibility to know what your average mpgs are or what all-wheel drive mode you are in, just not all at once.
That all-wheel drive mode is selected by a large knob between the seats, and switches between “Tarmac” and “Snow” which basically mean dry and wet. The Outlander has S-AWC (Super All Wheel Control) which is a fancy electronic LSD for the front end. The rear wheels are also driven, via a tail-shaft taken off the back of the front diff, and are independently sprung via coils.
The other controls in this up-scale GT are all analog, including a hidden pair of seat heater rocker switches and a flimsy-feeling three-knob climate control set up that’s more confusing than most – seriously Mitsubishi, two knobs need to be set to “Auto”? Seriously? The remainder of the interior, from the quality of the leather seating surfaces with contrasting stitching, to the resolution of the optional HDD-driven nav/audio/back-up camera screen speaks to the upscale nature of the GT package and puts the Outlander in a different league from the class sales leader, the Escape. The voice command system, allowing hands-free calling, is one of the best and easiest to use that I’ve ever experienced. And with the 710-watt Rockford Fosgate® sound system you could probably just Lady GaGa people out of your way on the road.
But what’s it like to drive? Well, Mitsu sells the Outlander in base form with a 2.4-litre 168-bhp four cylinder, but this being Redusernab, we opted for the 230 pony, 3.0 v6. That engine is only available with Mitsubishi’s 6-speed automatic which comes with manual mode and the aforementioned flappy paddles. Not only does the V6 Outlander feel quick, it is quick, with zero to sixty dashes taking around 8 seconds by my rudimentary calculations. But it’s not just in coloring between the straight lines that show’s off the Mitsu’s strengths. I took the Outlander up onto the winding roads above Cal Tech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory where recent heavy rains have caused mud slides making for some treacherous sections.
The oak-studded San Gabriel mountains have a lot of hoon-worthy roads, and, while short and semi-residential, these foothill hugging two lanes did not disappoint. I’ve noted that the Outlander lives up to the Utility portion of its SUV moniker, and I was about to discover that it more than represents when it comes to the Sport part. Surprising for a crossover was the amount of feel through the nicely weighted power steering, despite little bump-steer. The suspension has a lot of travel, but never feels floaty, even when bombing through a series of ess turns, or aggressive freeway transitions. In fact, the Mitsu kept its composure no matter what I threw at it- sandy turns, rising grade switchbacks, or quick braking maneuvers at stop signs that weren’t there pre-storm and which face a slide-narrowed part of the road that’s now a single lane for both directions! Those brakes, by the way, rock. And while I didn’t get the chance to do any extreme testing for fade, their performance during my energetic tour proved confidence inspiring.
Inside, the seats exhibit moderate bolstering which will keep all but the lardiest of butts in place, and the flappy paddles are well placed in relation to the 11 and 2 position I prefer. Whether using those paddles, or letting the 6-speed box do its own thing, shifts are crisp and it’s not hard to find the right gear when you need some extra go speed racer, go. Aiding that is the 3-litre DOHC six’s dual-length intake that helps flatten the torque curve and provide some interesting intake noises.
So, the Mitsubishi Outlander is a viable contender for your crossover seeking dollars. It’s down with the clown on the Utility side, although you might want to un-check that third row option unless you really need the capability to transport the occasional masochist.
It’s also a crossover that won’t leave you staring longingly at the Sentra or 20-year old Escort in the next lane, ruefully lamenting their advanced handling prowess over your own ride. The Outlander acquits itself nicely and, at least in V6 GT form, feels a lot more entertaining to drive that you might expect it to.
It’s also not bank-breaking with a starting point in the low 20s for that four-banger version. The V6 GT I tested comes in with an MSRP of around $33,500, but as Mitsubishi products don’t have the best resale value, I’d expect you could get one out the door for less. In fact, if the dealer even so much as mentions MSRP, you’d want to get up and walk, as he’s going to have to eat some of that first year depreciation.
But, is it Hoon-worthy? Well, even Hoons need something practical every now and then, and the combination of sport and utility (hey, that’s what they should call these things!) along with moderately decent fuel economy – the EPA rates the Outlander at 18/24, but I was only able to manage 16 with my lead foot – should put this solidly into the Hoon consideration set. The Lancer Evo homage look, both inside and out, should seal the deal for fans of that rally ricer.
Plus, if your neighbors are annoyingly pretentious, you can mess with them by throwing a junk yard Audi emblem on the keystone grille and telling them it’s the new Q5.5.