Style-wise, the 2007 Outlander marks the beginning of a new design language for Mitsubishi. There's less metal in the new verbiage, more openness, giving the overall presence a lighter look and feel. It's less angular, more round, smoother and softer but with a touch more character.
In ways material and mechanical, the 2007 Outlander may look a lot like the 2006 models, but it isn't, not really. It's still independently sprung at all four corners. The four-wheel-drive setup is still closer to a pavement-friendly, all-wheel-drive system than it is to a true, backwoods-capable, off-road setup. But beyond these fundamentals, there's a lot more new than old, and the changes to the underpinnings are significant.
Topping the list is a standard, electronic skid and traction control system, offered for the first time on the '07 Outlander. The front suspension has been beefed up to improve directional stability and steering response. To the same end, internal components of the power-assisted steering system have been strengthened and refined. The rear suspension is a new, more rigid, yet more compliant design. Brakes are larger, the better to handle the added power and weight. Shock absorbers are more robust for enhanced ride control.
A number of interior features move the 2007 Outlander upscale, putting it into play with such formidable competitors as the Honda CR-V, the Mazda CX-7 and the Toyota RAV4, in addition to the Ford Escape and Chevrolet Equinox. Besides the not unexpected automatic climate control and leather-trimmed seats, there's an optional, rear-seat entertainment system, with a nine-inch, LCD screen and wireless remote and headphones.
Also available is a GPS-based, navigation system featuring a seven-inch, touch-screen and employing a hard disk drive for speedy data retrieval with a portion set aside for recorded audio tracks. The Outlander XLS features spiffy, Formula 1 racecar-style, magnesium shift paddles mounted on the steering column; a keyless ignition system; and a fold-down, compact third-row seat that qualifies the Outlander as a seven-passenger, compact SUV. All models come with a full complement of occupant safety features.
Competitive performance, fuel economy, and interior space makes the 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander a compelling vehicle at a compelling price.
Mitsubishi Outlander ES ($21,370); LS 2WD ($22,410); LS 4WD ($23,770); XLS 2WD ($23,650); XLS 4WD ($25,010)
Gone is the signature, massive centerpiece splitting a multi-sectioned grille. In its place is an understated, more traditionally shaped opening with the three-diamond trademark floating on thin, horizontal bars. The lower portion of the front bumper opens into a large air intake above a skid plate-looking under panel. Headlight covers blend cleanly into the surrounding fascia and fenders.
The side aspect shows a sleeker, rounder shape. Deeply creased fender blisters outline circular wheel wells. The optional 18-inch wheels look better than the 16-inchers. The side glass tapers toward the back end, playing to the wedge look and ending in a substantial, sharply angular D-pillar. Front and rear bumpers flow seamlessly into their respective quarter panels. Easy-to-grip door handles sit atop full-round indents.
The rear view, in contrast to the collage of the '06, looks all of a single piece, or maybe two. Which it mostly is, in fact, as the liftgate reaches all the way down to the top of the bumper, which functions also as a fold-down tailgate, albeit an abbreviated one; with an eye toward tailgate parties, Mitsubishi says the bumper-cum-tailgate will support up to 440 pounds. A nice feature about the tailgate is that when you open the liftgate your cantelope doesn't coming rolling out onto the ground, something that sometimes happens on SUVs that don't have a tailgate.
The body side panels bend inwards toward the top, adding a distinctively aero-look to an otherwise mostly boxy shape. Many of the seams and lines draw the eye to the Mitsubishi trademark centered in the lift gate. The spoiler topping the backlight extends directly from the roof; there is no gap as there was in the pre-2007 models.
The front seats are markedly improved over the previous-generation models. Deeper bottom cushions give better thigh support. Side bolsters do their job without being overly confining. Lumbar and height adjustment offer sufficient range to accommodate 'most every body shape and dimension. The Outlander competes with the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-7, and Toyota RAV4. Compared with those vehicles, the front seats of the Outlander offer headroom that's firmly in the upper half of the class and comparable legroom, though hip room is relatively tight.
The second row of seats are more like bench seats than bucket seats, but with much-appreciated, fore-and-aft and seatback recline adjustments. Second-row legroom in the ES and LS is among the best in the class. In the XLS, however, the presence of the third-row seat exacts a penalty of almost three inches, dropping second-row legroom into the lower half of the class. Headroom and hip room for second-row passengers is below average for the class.
Access to the third-row seat in the XLS model is surprisingly easy for a sport utility of this size. The second-row seat folds flat and then rocks forward against the back of the front seat, opening an expansive path to the rearmost seat; there's even a small courtesy light on the second row seat bottom that illuminates the floor when the seat bottom is released. Once back there, the third-row seats are not comfortable for adults. The seat bottom and seat back are mere inches in thickness, and the seat sits so close to the floor that adult occupants' knees come to about shoulder height. The Outlander's third-row seat comes up short against the RAV4 by a couple inches in every direction. The RAV4 seat is also a real one, with cushions instead of pads.
Collapsing the third-row seats into the cargo floor is relatively easy, requiring little more than pulling a couple straps and pushing where noted. Not so retrieving it. Even with the short tailgate, getting to a couple of the requisite straps and then leveraging the seat elements up out of the floor and locked into place makes for some awkward stretches and strains. Still, for kids or short jaunts, it fulfills its purpose.
In cargo room, the Outlander bests all the competition save the RAV4, and it loses to that one by less than one-half a foot-square box. Another note about that short tailgate: It incorporates a feature we've noticed only on high-end SUVs, a flap that folds down when the gate is open to bridge the gap over the gate's hinges. Thus, not only is there a short tailgate that eases loading and unloading cargo, but also it's a lot easier sliding awkward and heavy boxes into and out of the back. The tailgate helps prevent groceries and other cargo from falling out when you open the liftgate, something that sometimes happens with a one-piece liftgate.
Storage elsewhere is respectable. A bi-level glove box fills the top and bottom of the right side of the dash. All four doors have bottle holders, the front ones sharing space with maps and the like. The front console has four cup holders, the second-row fold-down center another two. Even the third-row seat has cubbies on the side. Atop the storage compartment in the center console is a padded cover that adjusts fore and aft a couple inches.
Sight lines from the Outlander's driver's seat are good most ways around. Front end extremities stay in view, easing parking and some maneuvers in close quarters. The rather robust D-pillars make slicing and dicing in fast-moving, heavy traffic a challenge. And as we're discovering as rear seat entertainment systems appear in mo
First, there's the engine, at 220 horsepower a major step up in both performance and smoothness from the '06's 160-hp, inline four-cylinder. The new-for-'07, six-speed automatic manages the delivery of that power with much greater finesse.
The package is not perfection, however, as the engine and transmission computer mapping seems focused more on gas mileage than silky gear changes and optimal power delivery. This is most apparent at moderate road speeds in the higher gears and under light loading, when what feels like torque-converter lockup holds the engine at relatively low rpm, producing a low thrumming sound, kind of like the buffeting from when only a single rear side window is open. It also shows up in what's charitably described as languid kickdowns for passing or for merging onto freeways. It's not all negative, though, as the ample torque (204 pound-feet, up 42 lb.-ft. over the '06's torque) does minimize downshifting on upgrades.
The Outlander delivers in fuel economy, too, earning mileage estimates just 1 mpg lower than the '06's four-cylinder and equal to or better than the V6-powered competitors.
Throttle tip-in from a stand-still is a bit anxious, requiring some tempering of the right foot for smooth starts, something we're seeing a lot in compact SUVs nowadays. Also, there's a trace of torque steer, a phenomenon common on front wheel-drive vehicles, where the steering wheel pulls to the right under hard acceleration.
But once underway, the new Outlander handles freeway and even extra-legal speeds with ease. Almost too much ease, as at least initially, careful attention to the speedometer is vital to avoiding roadside discussions with the authorities.
Refinements to the MacPherson strut front suspension have improved the new Outlander's steering response. These include bars bracing the strut towers against the cowl, stronger and lighter components and retuned bushings. The rear suspension, too, has been revised, with, again, lighter and stronger components and new geometry enhancing both straight-line and turning stability. Larger shock absorbers front and rear allow more varied tuning and longer suspension travel for a ride that's both more comfortable and better managed. It has a wider track (the distance between the tires side to side) than the previous models, putting the Outlander in the mainstream of the competition. A wider track means more stability.
The steering rack is more robust and more rigid for better feedback, with emergency maneuvers monitored and managed by electronic skid and traction control, a new, standard feature for 2007. Larger disc brakes have dual-piston calipers in front and single-piston calipers in back for firm pedal feel and sure stopping, backed by standard ABS and EBD.
The four-wheel-drive system is a new design, too, featuring three selections controlled by a single knob mounted in the center console just aft of the shift lever. One setting, the most fuel efficient, is for front-wheel drive. Another setting is 4WD Auto, which apportions power between front and rear wheels as dictated by speed differences between front and rear wheels, but with some power (up 40 percent) always going to the rear wheels for more balanced handling. The third setting is 4WD Lock, which is actually a misnomer, as it doesn't truly lock front/rear power distribution as the term is commonly used. What it does is give the rear wheels preference in power distribution, directing as much as 60 percent their way under full throttle on dry pavement. This is the more fun, more agile setting. It thoroughly suppresses any front-wheel drive contortions yet provides front-wheel traction when needed but all the while responding to power
The Mitsubishi Outlander has been re-made for 2007, moving it substantially upscale from last year's models. There's more power, a better transmission, improved ride and handling and much more sophisticated, optional four-wheel-drive technology. The interiors are comfortable, spacious and user-friendly, with available state-of-the-art entertainment and navigation systems. Top-notch occupant safety equipment and crash avoidance features are standard across the line.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Northern Virginia.