Otherwise, Outlander is similar in size and character to the CR-V and RAV4. Like those two popular vehicles, Outlander is a car-based sport utility, with four doors and a roomy cargo area that's easily accessible. Like other small crossover sport-utes, Outlander offers elevated seating for better visibility.
We found the Mitsubishi Outlander smooth and quiet, and rock-steady at highway speeds. Outlander is neither tall nor tippy and its compact size helps it negotiate the often-hostile asphalt jungle.
All-wheel drive is available for improved traction and handling stability on snow and ice or gravel. For 2006, anti-lock brakes and seat-mounted side-impact airbags come standard on all models.
A new 2006 Outlander SE replaces last year's XLS. The SE combines the same content with more brightwork and bling-bling, inside and out. And for 2006, the Limited model adds automatic climate control to its list of standard conveniences.
Mitsubishi Outlander LS 2WD ($17,799); LS AWD ($19,899); SE 2WD ($20,679); SE AWD ($23,429); Limited 2WD ($23,629); Limited AWD ($25,479)
A wide nose section splits the grille and flows back over the hood. The aggressive look is enhanced by large, tinted headlight covers and fog lamps mounted at the edges of the bumper on the SE and Limited models. Gray cladding on the bumpers and side sills adds to the aggressive appearance, and the 16-inch wheels lend substance to even the base model. SE and Limited feature handsome body-colored cladding.
The aerodynamic design minimizes wind noise going down the road. Mitsubishi Outlander presents a wind-cheating, wedgy profile that's more slippery than the 2006 RAV4, CR-V, or Forester. Its standard rear spoiler and the optional roof rack with tubular rails give it a substantial appearance. Getting in is aided by well-designed door handles that are easy to grab.
The seats use high-density foam padding and the standard cloth is nice. The driver's seat offers height adjustment and effective lumbar support. The Limited's leather seats feel a little firmer than the cloth. The passenger seat and the back seat are comfortable and the vehicle feels confident, making it a good place to spend the miles.
We found all controls easy to operate. The instrument panel features an analog clock in the middle of a large, titanium-texture trim panel. The clock is easy to set and has a black face in the LS model and a white face in the SE version. Instrumentation includes a large speedometer and tachometer. The SE comes with lightface gauges and appear easier to read; besides, they match better with the titanium. At night the gauges glow with orange lettering on black faces; the clock looks a little incongrous with its orange on white. Standard heating and air conditioning controls are plain and simple, easy to operate. A variety of storage pockets is available. Rubber retainer bands hold things securely in the lighted glove box.
The rear seat is designed with additional lumbar support. It's split 60/40. There's no need to remove the headrests before folding the rear seats. Folding the rear seats reveals an extended, though not perfectly flat, cargo area. There is 24.4 cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seats, and 60.3 cubic feet with the seats folded down. The rear seat has three headrests and three sets of shoulder belts. It also has a fold-down center armrest with two cup holders.
A single rear liftgate makes getting into the cargo area easy. A thin, divided storage area beneath the cargo floor cover offers some convenient storage, and the cargo area includes grocery bag hooks and a 12-volt power outlet. The cargo floor is about 30 inches off the ground to ease loading and unloading. A rear cargo cover is available for the Outlander to hide valuables. Mitsubishi cleverly designed a place under the cargo floor to stash the cargo cover. Other SUVs don't provide such a place, so the cargo cover takes up space in the vehicle and in your garage and is susceptible to damage.
One of the first things we noticed about the Outlander is that it feels very stable at high speeds. We found it to be more stable than the CR-V in crosswinds and at higher speeds. (Keep in mind Mitsubishi has extensive race and rally experience.) The Outlander's 103.3-inch wheelbase (the distance between front and rear tires) is the same as that of the Honda CR-V, but longer than the Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Forester.
Outlander leans in corners, but handles well. Steering is on the slow side and there's a small amount of play, but it's easy to steer smoothly, providing a nice, comfortable ride for your passengers. It's easy to drive.
Braking is accomplished with four-wheel discs and ABS, which allows the driver to brake and steer at the same time in an emergency stopping situation. Our Outlander stopped promptly, calmly and quickly.
Outlander is no rocket, but its acceleration puts it square in the middle of the pack of compact, car-based SUVs. Mitsubishi's 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is rated 160 horsepower, matching the output of the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Mitsubishi tuned the Outlander's engine to deliver the bulk of its torque at lower engine speeds. Part of the credit for being able to do this goes to Mitsubishi's MIVEC electronic variable-valve setup, which helps the engine to operate at peak power and efficiency throughout the rev range. A two-wheel-drive Outlander with five-speed manual transmission is rated by the EPA at 22/28 miles per gallon City/Highway.
The four-speed automatic transmission has a Sportronic manual shift feature. Shift into Drive and it works like a regular automatic transmission; or the driver can slide the shifter to one side to select gears manually.
Generally, we found two-wheel-drive Outlanders felt smoother and peppier than all-wheel-drive models. Indeed, we found the front-wheel-drive Outlander worked quite well for zipping down big-city freeways.
The Outlander is built on a rigid unibody chassis and benefits from Mitsubishi's extensive experience in international rallies. The Outlander benefits from such body-strengthening techniques as MASH seam welding and what Mitsubishi calls its RISE design (Reinforced Impact Safety Evolution). Much of this technology was developed from the company's winning efforts in the Paris-Dakar raid as well as its involvement in the World Rally Championship with the Lancer Evo.
Mitsubishi Outlander equals its competitors in powertrain competence and efficiency. It's smooth and quiet. It feels stable at high speeds and handles well on winding roads. Its diminutive proportions make it easy to park and maneuver in tight, busy places. Outlander makes a strong styling statement in the compact sport-utility class. Available all-wheel drive adds capability and safety in wet or winter weather, but the front-wheel-drive model feels more agile and is a little more enjoyable to drive. Outlander offers carlike handling with roominess and versatility.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Larry Edsall is based in Phoenix, with editor Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.