2007 Mitsubishi Outlander First Drive

2007 Mitsubishi Outlander First Drive

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2007 Mitsubishi Outlander SUV

(3.0L V6 6-speed Automatic)

The stranger assimilates

Here's one that'll win you money at the local pub.

Which of these vehicles has magnesium paddle shifters? A) Chevrolet Corvette; B) Aston Martin DB9; C) 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander; D) A and B but not C; E) B and C but not A.

The answer is E, the Aston Martin DB9 and the new Mitsubishi Outlander. Unless you're trying this at the karaoke bar up the street from Mitsubishi's Okazaki proving grounds, this bit might put your kids through college.

Leftovers from the upcoming '08 Evolution X, which needs them for its new sequential manual transmission, the paddles make an important statement about the personality of the redesigned Outlander. Its predecessor may have been a shy, funny-looking stranger in the small SUV class, but this Outlander is an athlete destined for the popular crowd. And Mitsubishi knows it. The company has dressed its star in a sharp, new wardrobe, equipped it with an all-new V6 and even packaged in a coveted third-row seat.

After years of building alternatives, Mitsubishi has finally built a vehicle for buyers who don't take risks. In other words, buyers who don't buy Mitsubishis.

Distant relations, practical payoffs
Transformation begins with a new platform. Actually, it's a version of the next-generation Lancer platform that underpins the Dodge Caliber and Jeep Compass. But development work wasn't complete at the time of the big breakup with DaimlerChrysler, so the two sides finished up on their own: Basic design is the same; specific components and tuning are different.

Mitsubishi enlarged the chassis slightly for the Outlander and, compared to last year's model, the new sport-ute stretches 2 inches longer from wheel to wheel, and almost 4 inches longer from nose to tail.

These may be modest increases, but they gave Mitsubishi enough room to install a kid-size, third-row bench that drops into the floor without encroaching on second-row legroom or shrinking the cargo bay to Little Tikes dimensions. In fact, cargo capacity has increased substantially to 69 cubic feet. Although it's still a little less than the 73-cubic-foot max in the similarly sized Toyota RAV4, Mitsubishi squeezed the spare tire under the floor instead of bolting it to the tailgate as Toyota does on the RAV4.

Do what you do best
Following Subaru's lead, Mitsubishi is branding its new philosophy All Wheel Control. This ad-friendly wrapper refers to the Outlander's electronically controlled 4-wheel-drive system, integrated stability control system and carefully tuned, fully independent suspension. The company is also proud of the SUV's aluminum roof, which it says reduces curb weight by 11 pounds while lowering the center of gravity.

Usually, there's not much to say about 4-wheel-drive systems on car-based SUVs, since most spurn human intervention. But the Outlander's system puts a surprising amount of responsibility in the driver's hands.

Twist the red console dial to "2WD" and power only flows to the front wheels, which saves fuel. Choose "4WD Auto" and at least 15 percent of engine torque is routed to the rear axle at all times. Under full throttle, the front/rear power split changes to 70/30, and when accelerating on packed snow, the rear wheels can accept up to 60 percent of the power. Choose "4WD Lock" and you've locked the front and rear axles together in a 50/50 split for maximum traction. Of course, a less expensive front-wheel-drive Outlander will also be available.

Although the 2007 Outlander continues to use a straightforward suspension design with struts in front and multiple links in back, additional travel allowed for greater tuning precision and a smoother ride. Mitsu also added a strut tower bar up front and specified monotube rear shocks.

You like to drive, right?
Even with such hardware onboard, we didn't expect to get excited about the driving experience. This is, after all, a budget SUV, a grocery getter, a utilitarian implement. And while the 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander isn't exactly an Evo, it behaves in a way that's, well, less utilitarian.

It's about feedback. Lots of it is transmitted through the steering wheel and driver seat, and when you know what a car will do next, it's always more fun. Plus, the steering feels quick for an SUV, and the standard four-wheel antilock disc brakes, which include electronic brakeforce distribution, offer a progressive pedal feel.

Tire bite impressed us. Although ES and LS models ride on rather small 215/70R16 tires, the high-line XLS models we sampled come standard with 225/55R18 tires mounted on 18-inch alloy wheels. We tried both front-wheel-drive and 4-wheel-drive versions and both felt agile, though the 4WD Outlanders were less susceptible to understeer when pressed.

Just the right amount
With the '07 Outlander weighing 3700 pounds, Mitsubishi knew four cylinders wouldn't get the job done this time, so the company created a new SOHC 3.0-liter V6 with an aluminum block, variable intake valve timing and lift, and 24 valves.

Standard on every Outlander, this engine is rated 220 horsepower at 6250 rpm and 204 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. Outlanders sold in California-emissions states make only 213 hp and have a PremAir catalyst-treated radiator to minimize their contributions to the smog layer. These are good numbers for the budget SUV class, though the Outlander is still far behind the 268-hp, V6-equipped RAV4 in the horsepower race.

Mitsubishi pairs its V6 with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Outlander ES and LS owners can call up manual gearchanges by bumping the console shifter, while those who spring for the XLS can use the shifter or those nifty paddles to keep the engine up around its 6500 rpm redline.

Although we haven't experienced the Outlander in real-world traffic, our time on the proving grounds suggests it has enough power to satisfy most shoppers and its delivery is smooth. Mitsubishi claims an 8.5-second 0-60-mph time for both front-drive and 4WD models. That's nowhere near as quick as the RAV4's 7.1-second 0-to-60, but the Outlander doesn't exhibit the Toyota's torque steer.

If Mitsubishi's fuel-economy estimates are on target, the Outlander will also return lower mileage than the V6 RAV4. The company pegs front-drive ES models at 20 mpg city, 27 highway, while loaded 4WD XLS models drop to 19/25. On the plus side, these figures aren't much lower than the old 4-cylinder Outlander's and 87 octane is all that's required.

Seats five or seven, comes in three trims
Inside, everything comes together in comfortingly normal fashion: Sight lines are good, controls are simple and seats are comfortable. Although Mitsu isn't offering a telescoping steering wheel, we didn't have much trouble finding the right driving position.

Five-passenger seating is standard on the base ES and midlevel LS, and the 60/40-split second-row bench offers three notches of seat-back recline and four notches of fore/aft adjustment. We counted eight cupholders.

Basics like air conditioning, an MP3-compatible CD player, power accessories and cruise control are also included, as is a catalyst-treated headliner that "absorbs stench factors." Perfect. Around back, a modified clamshell hatch combines the convenience of an overhead liftgate with the fun of a tailgate.

Equipment differences between the ES and LS are small, though the ES forgoes various cabin conveniences, like accessory outlets and a cargo cover, and can't be equipped with 4-wheel drive or alloy wheels. Buyers who want a third row will need to get the XLS, which also adds automatic climate control, a CD changer, keyless startup and Bluetooth capability. Too bad a confusing muddle of pull-straps makes the third-row seat more complicated to fold than it should be.

You can pick up safety features like stability control, front seat-mounted side airbags, and first- and second-row side curtain airbags with a rollover sensor with a visit to the options list. Or you can just load up on technology.

The current Eclipse's 650-watt Rockford-Fosgate has been recalibrated for duty in the Outlander, its rear subwoofer tucking unobtrusively into the 39-cubic-foot cargo bay, and an auxiliary input jack for MP3 players is now included. There's also a touchscreen navigation system that runs on its own 30-gigabyte hard drive instead of a DVD, thus speeding up performance. About a third of the hard drive space is available for owners to store MP3s.

Other extras include a rear entertainment system, Sirius Satellite Radio, leather upholstery, heated seats, xenon headlights and a 115-volt AC outlet.

Cozying up to the RAV4
According to the carmaker, when the 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander hits dealers in November it'll come well equipped in the low $20Ks. That's about where a V6 RAV4 starts, and when you consider the Outlander's 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain coverage, in addition to its many capabilities, this looks like one of the more interesting battles in the small SUV segment.

And that's just it: This is a battle. And for the first time in a long time, Mitsubishi won't be watching from the sidelines.

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.

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