My first inclination was to play air guitar on the roof. Instead, I called my husband.
"Hello?" he said.
"Listen to this," I shouted over AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long."
"Who is this?" he asked.
This is the 37-year-old mother of one who just found the 30-gigabyte hard drive hidden within the nine-speaker 650-watt Rockford Fosgate stereo system in her 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS test vehicle. Some previous tester had thoughtfully loaded old school metal on the stereo's hard drive, and Mom was rocking out.
The need for kid-friendly transportation shouldn't force you to deny your Camaro Z28 past, and the all-new Mitsubishi Outlander, with its low swoopy roof line, is a good example of what manufacturers are doing with compact SUVs to appeal both to young hipsters and the young at heart.
Not only does the all-new Outlander SUV offer cool features like the hard drive stereo and magnesium paddle shifters, it comes wrapped in a sporty, coupelike package. Compared to the stolid Toyota RAV4 and solid Honda CR-V, the 2007 Outlander is now stylish enough to differentiate itself from the rest of the compact-SUV crowd, and help Mom feel like she's still got it goin' on.
Powerful new V6
A 220-horsepower 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine is the only power plant available in the 2007 Outlander, a notable step up from the anemic 160-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder that has been powering the compact SUV since 2004. This new single-overhead-cam engine has an aluminum block, variable intake valve timing and lift, and 24 valves, and it moves the Outlander's 3,791-pound girth with spunk if not speed. Add the standard new six-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift mode and steering-column-mounted paddle shifters and suddenly driving a compact SUV no longer means waving a white flag to Whitesnake.
As a result of the efficient new powertrain, fuel economy hasn't been seriously hampered by the larger engine or the Outlander's 250-pound weight increase. Officially rated at 19/26 mpg for city/highway, this preproduction Mitsubishi earned an 18.6 mpg average during our two weeks with the truck. Comparatively, we've averaged 19.3 mpg in a recent RAV4 test, and 16.6 mpg in the new turbocharged Mazda CX-7 with its premium fuel requirement.
At the test track, the part-time four-wheel-drive Outlander recorded a 0-60-mph time of 8.2 seconds, slower than the CX-7 (7.7 seconds) and much slower than the 269-hp RAV4, which cuts a full second off the Outlander's best run. The Outlander's 16.5-second quarter-mile run at 85.8 mph is also slower than the Mazda and Toyota.
Even though it's not the quickest, the Outlander feels satisfactory out on the open road, and doesn't leave you high and dry in passing situations. The abrupt throttle response takes some getting used to, but overall the engine is smooth and quiet.
Good steering, so-so brakes
A small, sporty leather-wrapped wheel and tight 34.8-foot turning circle enhance the Mitsubishi's coupelike feel. The steering feel is also much improved thanks to a new power-assisted rack-and-pinion setup that's much quicker and more precise than the unit in the old Outlander.
Despite the standard four-wheel antilock disc brakes and electronic brakeforce distribution, overall pedal feel is as unremarkable as the measured stopping distance. During brake testing, the Outlander didn't close the gap as quickly as we'd like, eating up 128 feet before hauling down to a stop from 60 mph. Good for the class, but still behind the RAV4's (120-foot) and the CX-7's (112.9-foot) performance.
Stiff and stable ride
The Outlander continues to use a fully independent suspension design with struts in front and multiple links in back, but the ride isn't as compliant as moms might like. One feisty 6-year-old complained on the freeway that she could feel the rear-seat vibration through her Britax booster seat.
Although the Outlander was generally unhappy on the skid pad, displaying plenty of body roll and squeal from the 225/55R18 Goodyear Eagle LS tires, it still maintained decent grip at 0.80g. Slalom runs were respectably quick for a crossover or compact SUV. At 63.9 mph, the four-wheel-drive Outlander was stable, predictable and well-behaved, with much better speed and grip than its center of gravity would indicate. It even surpassed the taller RAV4's 61.3-mph run, but the CX-7's 64.3-mph speed is still tops for the class.
Coupe attitude can be asset and liability
Points for sporty exterior styling may go to the Outlander, but Mitsubishi could still learn a thing or two about interior refinement from Toyota or Honda. Plenty of attractive brushed metal accents dress up the cabin nicely, but looks aren't everything. The climate controls are easy to operate with three large dials, but the dials themselves feel clickety and cheap, without smooth rotating action.
Fine quality leather, an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat, heated front seats and xenon HID headlamps make up the Luxury Package which helped our Outlander XLS tester price out at $30,615 — right in line with the CR-V, CX-7 and RAV4.
The seats are attractive with contrasting white stitching and the bolsters are well shaped, but the bottom cushion is a little too flat and firm. Rear-seat bottoms are also slightly short which diminishes thigh support, and at 39.6 inches, the Outlander's rear legroom measures an inch more than the RAV4's rear footwell.
Fun follows function
Third-row seats are a hot commodity these days, and after stretching the wheelbase nearly 2 inches and the overall length more than 4.5 inches, the Outlander earned itself a coveted, if little used, third row. The difficulty isn't in folding the seat into place as it springs up fairly easily; the real issue will be in convincing people above the age of 4 years to give it a whirl.
With the second and third rows safely stowed, maximum cargo capacity measures 73 cubic feet. That's the same as the RAV4 can handle, but Mitsubishi trumps the Toyota nicely with its lightweight, fold-down rear tailgate. Lift the hatch and the lower portion of the tailgate folds down flat to offer easy access to the cargo area and a good seat for Mom at Lollapalooza, I mean, for changing diapers.
High tech for the cool kids
Slick paddle shifters that look like Spock's ears protruding from the sides of the steering column come standard on the Outlander XLS, but the Rockford Fosgate stereo and a navigation system are on the options list, even on the top trim level. The nav system is easy to figure out, but the short, little joystick and the sea of black buttons are far from user-friendly, and there's no knob for quick volume control.
A trip computer is nestled between the speedometer and tachometer. And with the push of one button the red illumination offers six different screens of information, including average speed, average fuel economy, instant mpg, fuel level and ambient temperature, and that's just on one screen. Other screens show additional info, including distance to empty for those too cool to fuel prior to the warning light.
Mitsubishi builds a real competitor
After two weeks rockin' out in the Outlander we're impressed with Mitsubishi's latest crossover. It might not be quite as sporting as the Mazda CX-7, but it offers plenty more space and just enough flair to keep us interested. Plus, we understand there's a tuned-up Ralliart version just around the corner, which should take things up a notch or two.
But what if you think AC/DC is the power outlet in the Outlander's center console? Well, the Outlander has more than enough comfort and built-in practicality to earn a place on your shopping list, too. Just don't crank up the Kenny G, please.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
How does it sound: B
Overall the sound is very good but perhaps not as rich as we expected given how Mitsubishi has made high-quality sound systems and hip music a cornerstone of the brand. Bass is rich and deep but distortion in the highs comes in too soon. Midrange sounds good, too, and you don't have to dial the mids out in order to get good clean sound — that's a definite plus.
The system has the added feature of Digital Signal Processing (DSP) which allows for various sound profiles. Although settings like "Rock," "Pop" and "Jazz" work well, we found the "Normal" setting sounded best. There are also settings such as "Hall" and "Live," which add an extra dimension to the sound and "Hall" especially gives a noticeable surround-sound feel.
If you like loud, you'll love this optional system. Considering the Outlander's price and taking into account the optional hard drive, the whole thing is enough to keep the audiophile on a moderate budget happy.
How does it work: B-
With the optional navigation system and Rockford Fosgate audio system, the Outlander's head unit is trying to accomplish a lot in a limited space. For the most part all features work well. One area of compromise we don't like is the lack of a typical round volume control knob. Volume control is the one thing that absolutely should be a round rotating knob — most consumers expect it and there's little reason to deviate from that norm. We can almost accept a radio tuning mechanism that opts for an "up/down" rocker switch but even then most people prefer the round knob there, too. Accessing the bass and treble adjustments is easy enough once you figure it out but isn't instantly intuitive.
On the other hand, we like many of the Outlander's thoughtful features. For example, while listening to music from the hard drive you can scroll through the list to find or sort songs, and while you're doing so there's a touchscreen button that pops up that allows you to get right back to the track that's currently playing. Also, the Gracenote software that automatically names stored CD tracks is an excellent feature that makes keeping track of your stored music that much easier.
Special features: A 30-gig hard drive is an included part of the navigation system but of those 30 gigabytes, 24 are taken up by the nav system leaving 6 for storing music. It doesn't sound like much but that should be good for close to 1,000 songs depending on the size of each file. Thanks to the included software the hard drive has interesting features like "Top 50" that shows you the 50 songs you've listened to the most within the last 30 days. Don't blame us if High School Musical shows up closer to the top than you thought it should, computers don't lie.
Conclusion: Recently, Mitsubishi has made a serious push to offer in-car audio systems that are in keeping with the brand's youthful image. The Eclipse, Gallant Ralliart and now the Outlander are all examples of a car company "Getting it" when it comes to big bang without the big buck in car audio. — Brian Moody
Engineering Editor Jay Kavanagh says:
Mitsubishi's engineers are clever. They realize that squeezing a third row of seats into an SUV the size of an Outlander is a no-win situation — the seats have no choice but to be uncomfortable, but the marketing wonks have put their foot down. So the engineers managed the compromise by paring the third-row seat down to the bare minimum, making it easy to operate and totally nonintrusive when folded. Horribly, laughably uncomfortable when upright, yes, but the packaging made this a given anyway.
Another example is the folding bumper/tailgate, which minimizes liftover height and forms a handy seat.
Those same engineers must be overworked, though. Considering how well thought out the above (relatively complex) features are, I'm puzzled by the execution of certain frequently used controls. The omission of a volume knob and the fiddly nav screen interface are head-scratchers. Similarly, the interior is exceedingly handsome, but the HVAC controls feel fragile. And the Outlander's engine is something of a letdown with its hesitant throttle tip-in and so-so output.
Fortunately, it steers and rides smartly, and has sharp styling. Other than those few minor gripes, the Outlander is an impressive package. Definitely worth a look.
"I have only had the car for a short time, but I haggled about what to buy for three weeks, test driving all kinds of cars. The only one I could compare this drive to would be the Subaru Tribeca, which was like $5,000 more expensive and took premium gas. I don't think you could get a vehicle filled with more features that drives as well as this for the same money. Don't be scared off by the estimated gas mileage either, I have been averaging around 22 mpg, which is not that bad. The 650W Rockford Fosgate system is amazing! Add that to the navigation system, Sirius Satellite Radio and the 30-GB hard drive with 2,500-song downloading capabilities and it's unreal! The heated leather seats are super comfortable and the Bluetooth is really handy. The paddles for the sport shift are great! The third-row seats are kind of useless as I would not want to stick anyone in those things. Plus, I wish they had some chrome roof rack cross bars, but at the time they did not. Other than that the car has been great." — TKO, November 28, 2006
"Mitsubishi hit the nail on the head with this one. I test-drove the competition: the CX-7, RAV4, CR-V, Murano, Santa Fe and Tribeca. Nothing came close for features, quality and price. The Murano and Tribeca had slightly more front legroom, but aside from the small details, I couldn't justify the price. The CX-7 was OK (no BT feature), but couldn't justify the premium fuel requirement. Honda and Toyota weren't willing to deal at all (nasty attitude). Hyundai had no features and poor gas mileage. Our Outlander came loaded with HIDs, LED tails, navigation, Bluetooth, heated leather seats, and a 5yr/60K bumper to bumper, 10yr/100K powertrain warranty. FYI, you can get beige or black leather depending on color. The Rockford Fosgate 650w sound system, FAST key system, voice activated navigation/BT, HID headlamps, LED tail lights, 6-speed auto tranny and smooth V6 engine, fold-down tailgate, great warranty, safety features, and how the 4WD system = no torque steer — (try driving a turbocharged FWD car, then complain about torque steer) are all great. It needs more front passenger legroom. Add a backup camera, auto up/down for the passenger side window, lighted vanity mirrors (for the wifey), a power passenger seat, and driver's lumbar." — blackb13, November 25, 2006
"I just took home my Outlander. I am definitely happy with it. The inside is very comfortable. I have the aqua metallic XLS fully loaded. The audio system is awesome. It sounds like you are in a theater with the awesome surround sound. The seats (extra) are pretty hard to fold down, I'm still working on that. Anyway, I love it and you should definitely test drive it. I will check back later to remark on the gas mileage and if I have any problems. Everything, the navigation system, seat comfort, and overall look of the vehicle are great. I wish the steering wheel was telescopic, and that it had some better vanity mirrors and easier to handle third-row seats." — camerona2003, November 24, 2006
"I had a 2005 Toyota RAV4. I bought it for its "reliability, but I had so many problems with it! So when I saw that Mitsubishi had a new Outlander coming out I test-drove it and got rid of the Toyota. The quality amazed me. I didn't expect it from Mitsubishi. I read all the time about Mitsubishi doing things wrong. I think they're seriously underrated. I'm very satisfied. I love the fast key. The Outlander is big, but it's cool and the paddle shifters are NICE! The 3rd row is more for kids than adults. The a/c is amazing! In the previous review something was said about torque steer, I haven't really encountered it at all. I could go on about this. Mitsubishi has REALLY stepped up on this one. You can't beat the price and warranty! I LOVE the paddle shifters. This vehicle's materials are high quality and seem very sturdy. The tailgate, steering wheel functions for audio/Bluetooth, six-speed automatic/manual transmission, fast key and a/c are great. Make the 3rd row have more legroom." — robcal1, November 17, 2006