Warren Clarke , Automotive Content Editor
These days, technology trickles down at blinding speed -- gadgets and gizmos that were once enjoyed only by the privileged few are now attainable for the masses. This is especially true in the automotive industry, and the affordable-yet-tech-laden 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander is proof.
Not so long ago, hands-free systems that allowed you to make telephone calls and program your navigation system via voice command were available only in more expensive luxury sedans. Today, you'll find this useful amenity in far humbler transportation -- transportation like the Outlander, which sees the addition of an available hands-free link system (dubbed Fuse) for the 2010 model year. Comparable to Ford's Sync, Fuse is easy to engage and enables you to select tunes on your iPod without shifting your gaze from the road.
Appealing technology isn't the 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander's only draw. The crossover is also genuinely fun to drive, with the sort of sharp handling that makes grocery-getting more than just a chore. All-wheel drive is available for travels in rough weather, and this Mitsu's bold sheet metal will likely resonate with compact-SUV shoppers in search of a vehicle that looks more assertive than your typical "cute ute."
Life isn't easy for small SUVs; thanks to a crowded pool of very worthy candidates, it's harder than ever to stand apart from the pack. The Toyota RAV4 V6 commands attention by delivering more horsepower and quicker acceleration than the Outlander, while the imposing Chevrolet Equinox tempts buyers with its polished good looks and spacious backseat.
There's also the universally competent Kia Sorento to consider, as well as the sporty Mazda CX-7. The budget-friendly Hyundai Tucson and the refined Honda CR-V are also excellent choices, provided their lack of V6 availability isn't a deal-breaker.
In the end, though, the 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander distinguishes itself with its appealing mix of attributes. If Fuse, all-wheel drive and superb handling sound good to you, add this crossover to your must-see list.
Motivating the 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS is a 3.0-liter V6 good for 230 horsepower and 215 pound-feet of torque, with a six-speed automatic transmission providing assist. The mill offers ample pep, enabling the crossover to easily thread through freeway traffic, and taking it from zero to 60 mph in a respectable 7.9 seconds.
Athletic handling is one of the Outlander's most notable strengths, and it charges over blacktop with well-planted authority. All-wheel drive helps the crossover to maintain this authority in all kinds of weather, as we discovered during an unusually rainy Los Angeles weekend. Despite the wet roads, the Mitsu felt remarkably stable through turns and in accelerative maneuvers.
In slalom testing, the Outlander snaked through the cones at a speed of 66.2 mph -- impressive for this segment, and ahead of rivals like the Toyota RAV4 V6 (61.6 mph). Braking distance is about average, with the Outlander stopping from 60 mph in 124 feet -- just behind the RAV4 (120 feet), but ahead of the Chevy Equinox (130 feet).
With an EPA rating of 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined, the Outlander's fuel economy is competitive with that of most other V6-equipped models in this segment. Still, its gas mileage trails that of the RAV4 V6; that crossover offers a very impressive 19/26/22 when equipped with all-wheel drive. For 2011, the all-wheel-drive Outlander is more efficient and returns 19/25/21.
Ride quality falls on the firmer end of the spectrum, but it's never unpleasant -- you're aware of potholes and road imperfections, but your bones aren't rattled by them. The Outlander's seats are meaty and solid -- their side bolsters are supportive without being overly snug (for those of average build, anyway) and the seats proved comfortable even on longer trips. Legroom and headroom up front are satisfactory, but drivers who like the added comfort afforded by a telescoping steering wheel are out of luck -- the Outlander's wheel is tilt-adjustable, but it doesn't telescope.
There's some wind and road noise to be heard, but the cabin is still quiet enough to allow drivers to have a conversation with passengers in the backseat. This Mitsu's performance in this area falls around midpack -- it's quieter than the CR-V but noisier than the Equinox.
The good news is that the 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander offers a third-row seat -- it's one of just a handful of models in the segment to do so. The bad news is that this seat is practically useless. With virtually no padding, the seat bottom is thin and not very supportive; as a result, passengers are forced into an excruciatingly intimate relationship with the seat frame. Legroom is barely adequate even for small children, and though the seat offers two seatbelts, it's just wide enough for one average-size person to sit comfortably. Those seeking a compact SUV with more usable third-row accommodations would be well advised to take a look at the Kia Sorento.
For some reason, our test car was missing an owner's manual. Fortunately, we didn't need one to operate our vehicle's Fuse system. All of the system's major functions are governed by three buttons on the steering wheel -- two for wireless cell phone use (as you'll find in most Bluetooth systems) and one that allows you to change the settings of your MP3 player via voice commands. We found Fuse to be very intuitive and extremely easy to use, and the system was able to recognize our voice commands with no errors.
Second-row legroom is adequate, but less generous than that of the Equinox and Sorento. With the second-row seats in use, there are just 14.9 cubic feet of space available for luggage, placing the Outlander behind choices like the Tucson and the Mazda CX-7. Fold the second-row seats and the Mitsu fares a lot better; its 73 cubic feet of maximum cargo room makes it one of the most spacious choices in the class.
In our real-world usability tests, a rear-facing child seat fit comfortably in the Outlander's second row. The rear storage compartment accommodated golf clubs and a suitcase.
Design/Fit and Finish
Face the Outlander head-on and you're greeted by a front fascia that's part Mitsubishi Lancer and part hammerhead shark. With frowning headlights and a huge trapezoidal honeycomb grille, the crossover's mug is both distinctive and audacious, and it received a positive reception from our editors. This Mitsu also boasts a strong profile, marked by well-placed character lines and exaggerated fenders.
Our test car featured a simple yet elegant black-and-gray color scheme. We found the design aesthetic reserved without being plain, and felt it endowed the car's cabin with a clean, modern look. There were a few questionable plastics here and there, but we were impressed with the double-stitched faux leather that provides soft, attractive padding for the doors and dash.
Who should consider this vehicle
Sporty handling makes the 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander an ideal choice for the shopper seeking a vehicle that's both practical for small families and entertaining to drive. Drivers in harsher climes will appreciate its all-wheel-drive availability, and its Fuse system should make it a hit with tech-loving audiophiles. However, if you're searching for a compact crossover with a genuinely usable third-row seat, we'd recommend bypassing the Outlander and taking a look at the Kia Sorento instead.
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