Full 2009 Mitsubishi Outlander Review
What's New for 2009
Minor changes make their way onto the Mitsubishi Outlander for 2009, including optional three-row seating on SE trims and various interior upgrades for XLS models. In addition, the optional navigation system for the XLS now includes a rear back-up camera, and the nav system's hard-drive storage capacity has been upped from 30GB to 40GB. The midlevel LS trim has been dropped from the lineup.
An outlander is defined as a foreigner or alien. A quick search for recent uses of the word in pop culture yields the name of a series of romance novels set in Scotland, a sci-fi movie about monsters from another planet and Vikings. When it comes to the 2009 Mitsubishi Outlander, this compact crossover might at first seem dull in comparison to these other examples. By most measures, this is your average, conventional crossover SUV that's comfortable, has enough storage space for singles and small families, and is available with all-wheel drive.
However, the Outlander has enough subtle distinctiveness to make good on its name. Its sharp exterior styling helps it stand out from the crowd, and its handling and steering are unusually sporty for this type of vehicle. The Outlander's flip-down tailgate, third-row seat, versatile AWD system and modern convenience features such as xenon headlights, Bluetooth, keyless ignition and a hard-drive-based navigation/music server system further make this small SUV into something outside the norm.
Of course, different isn't always better. Many of those modern gadgets, for instance, are only available on the top XLS trim level. Nor does the Outlander stand out in the big areas like comfort or fuel efficiency. As such, we still think conventional picks like the refined Honda CR-V and the powerful Toyota RAV4 are better choices for most people. But if you want to break away from the crowd and go for something different -- even foreign or alien -- look to the 2009 Mitsubishi Outlander.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Mitsubishi Outlander is a compact crossover SUV available in three trim levels: ES, SE and XLS. The entry-level ES is equipped with a four-cylinder engine and comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, a six-speaker CD stereo, cruise control, a trip computer, full power accessories and reclining rear seats. An optional convenience package (standard on AWD ES models) adds alloy wheels, heated sideview mirrors, roof rails, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth, steering-wheel audio controls and an auxiliary audio jack.
The SE bumps the wheel size up to 18 inches and adds remote keyless ignition and entry, fabric sport seats, a 650-watt Rockford Fosgate stereo, satellite radio and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The top-of-the-line Outlander XLS is powered by a 3.0-liter V6 and comes with all the above-mentioned features plus a third-row seat, automatic climate control, a six-CD changer, fore-and-aft adjustment for the second-row seats and voice-activated Bluetooth phone connectivity. The third-row seat is optional on the SE trim level.
Most other options for the 2009 Mitsubishi Outlander are available solely as part of packages, and many of these are available for the XLS trim only. The Sun and Sound package adds a sunroof and the upgraded audio system with satellite radio. Another option for the XLS is a navigation package that includes a hard-drive-based navigation system that can also store and play digital music files. A luxury package provides xenon headlights, leather upholstery, front seat heaters and a power driver seat.
Powertrains and Performance
The Outlander ES and SE are powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 168 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of torque. The XLS has a 3.0-liter V6 good for 220 hp and 204 lb-ft of torque. (Models sold in California and California-emissions-level states produce 213 hp but have a top PZEV emissions rating). Four-cylinder Outlanders come standard with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), while the V6-powered XLS uses a traditional six-speed automatic. Both have manual-shift capability. In our testing, a V6 Outlander accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds.
All Outlander trims are available with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive. The AWD system offers an unusual amount of flexibility for this class. Twist the console dial to "2WD" and power goes only to the front wheels to save fuel. Choose "4WD Auto" and some power is always sent to the rear wheels — up to 40 percent when driving at full throttle. Choose "4WD Lock" and the system sends a greater percentage of torque to the rear wheels -- up to 60 percent under full-throttle acceleration (this is a bit misleading, however, as "lock" typically indicates a fixed 50/50 split between the front and rear wheels). Properly equipped, Mitsubishi's compact SUV can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
EPA fuel economy estimates for the 2009 Mitsubishi Outlander are 20 mpg city/25 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined for all four-cylinder models. The front-wheel-drive V6 achieves 17/24/20 mpg, and AWD models get 17/23/19 mpg.
All major safety features are standard on the Outlander, including antilock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. (On the seven-passenger XLS, the airbags extend farther back to cover the third row.) Whiplash-reducing front head restraints are also standard.
In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal offset and side impact crash testing, the Outlander earned the top rating of "Good." In government crash tests, the Outlander earned an equally impressive five-star rating for front and side impact protection.
Interior Design and Special Features
The build quality of the Outlander's interior is solid, and the design is attractive, although a few of the plastics and controls feel a bit low-grade. One drawback in terms of comfort and ergonomics is the Outlander's lack of a telescoping steering wheel. We like the available hard-drive-based navigation and music server system -- drivers can even tailor their navigation directions based on carpool lanes. However, the interface is not intuitive and takes some getting used to. Overall, though, it's one of the most comprehensive and useful systems on the market for a vehicle in this price range.
The third-row seat that comes standard on the XLS (and optional on the SE) is small and flimsy, and although it will fit small children, we'd think twice about putting them back there. A thick piece of mesh fabric substitutes for a traditional padded seat bottom, and the seatback is very close to the rear tailgate. The third row folds flat into the floor, but a confusing muddle of pull straps makes the procedure more complicated than necessary. Total cargo space measures nearly 73 cubic feet with the second- and third-row seats folded. We particularly like the Outlander's dual-opening rear hatch, as the upper portion provides convenient access to groceries, while the lower portion (built into the rear bumper) drops down to form a tailgate capable of supporting 440 pounds.
Crossover SUVs are not necessarily known for being fun to drive. The 2009 Mitsubishi Outlander, however, breaks this stereotype. With nicely weighted steering, a well-tuned chassis and strong, progressive brakes, the Outlander provides an enjoyable driving experience with a considerable amount of driver feedback.
In terms of power, we find the 3.0-liter V6 to be a little shy on low-end torque, but the Outlander moves along just fine once it gets revved up. (At this time, we haven't tested the four-cylinder models, however.) Shifts from the six-speed automatic are crisp and succinct, and the paddle shifters found on the XLS trim are surprisingly effective and fun to use. Not only does the Outlander please in terms of sportiness, but it manages to do all this while maintaining a comfortable, well-mannered ride.