- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2006

In 2005, after DaimlerChrysler broke its ties with Mitsubishi and huge quality problems and scandals in Japan added insult to injury, nobody thought the Japanese company would survive. But miraculously, Mitsubishi is still present with new products such as the Eclipse, the Eclipse Spyder and the Galant RalliArt.

Of course such niche models cannot get a slew of customers back into the Mitsubishi dealerships. That is a task for the new Lancer and while waiting for its market launch, the 2007 Outlander will do the warming up. The new generation will be arriving at dealerships in November and it has to get Mitsubishi back on track in the compact SUV segment.

During its peak years, the Outlander generated sales of about 28,000, but last year the outgoing model could not exceed much more than 10,000 units. Although Mitsubishi does not volunteer any projected sales figures, the rumored goal is “over 35,000 cars” in North America next year. The first test drive with the new Outlander has to give us an idea if that is a realistic figure.

The new Outlander can be considered as a CUV, a crossover. It is built on the platform that has been designed by Mitsubishi and DaimlerChrysler just after the latter acquired a 37 percent stake in the Japanese car manufacturer. Then, it also was decided that both car manufacturers would highly differentiate in developing their models.

DaimlerChrysler uses the platform for the Dodge Caliber and the Jeep Compass, while Mitsubishi is using it for the Outlander. Also the new Lancer and Lancer Evo, a larger SUV and a Japanese MPV will be built on these underpinnings.

According to Mitsubishi, their new models are setting themselves apart with performance, capability and quality. That is why AWC, all-wheel control will be available for all models. For the Outlander, it means that Mitsubishi’s four-wheel-drive system, combined with active skid and traction control and a specially tuned suspension will not be available on the base LS version, but will be an option on the ES and the luxury-equipped XLS.

All Outlander models will be equipped with the new aluminum 3.0-liter MIVEC V-6 that is 55 pounds lighter than the outgoing V-6. The engine has 220 horsepower and 204 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm. Ninety percent of the maximum torque is available from 2,000 rpm. The V-6 is teamed with a new sequential six-speed Sportronic automatic transmission. The combination should result in a 5 percent better fuel economy than the current V-6 with five-speed automatic (20/27 miles per gallon city/highway for the 2WD and 19/26 for the AWD model).

In Europe, the Outlander will be available with different engines. The 2.4-liter I-4 is also a result of a joint venture: it is the so-called world engine that Mitsubishi developed together with Hyundai and DaimlerChrysler. Word is that this engine will be available in North America in a later stage. The other power plant that will be available for the European Outlander is a 2.0-liter turbo diesel built by Volkswagen.

When you get behind the steering wheel of the new Outlander and drive off, you immediately notice that this second generation feels much better than the outgoing model. The rigidity has been improved by around 30 percent and the suspension has been fully reworked with MacPherson struts up front and multilink in the rear. After driving its cousins from DaimlerChrysler not too long ago, the Outlander feels stiffer and more stable and shows less body roll in corners. Not only in four-wheel drive, but also in front-wheel drive, the Outlander feels stable and confident.

The optional AWC-system has three modes that can be engaged on the fly by a knob in the center console. For normal conditions and optimal fuel economy you can use 2WD, while the 4WD mode divides torque automatically to the axle that needs more grip with maximum 60 percent to the rear axle. The Lock mode is a fixed 50:50 division to the front and rear axles and meant for really bad road conditions or driving on unpaved trails.

The V-6 can really handle the weight of the Outlander. It forms a good combination with the Sportronic transmission that shifts seamless and on the right moments.

When you want to have fun on twisty roads you can shift manually or with the optional magnesium paddles mounted at the steering column. Then you really enjoy the quick turn in response and willingness to obey a sporty driver. Really noticeable is the minimum body roll that you would normally have to accept from other models in the segment.

The new Outlander is longer, wider and taller than its predecessor. The longer wheelbase creates more legroom for passengers on the second row.

As it has to compete with the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV-4 and the like, it’s price should be competitive and may range from $20,00 to $26,500. It means that you may not expect expensive upholstery in the cockpit.

Nevertheless, Mitsubishi has nicely executed the cabin with excellent seats and a good-looking dashboard. Even the hard plastic door panels are designer molded.

Designers paid attention to the IP with its two main gauges that look as if they were taken from a motor bike. The overall feel is good and all looks nice and well-crafted.

The Outlander is available with three rows of seats, but as Mitsubishi realized the third row is only for hauling youngsters on shorter distances, they made it of the fold-down type that you can easily stow away under the cargo floor, creating a flat floor and a lot of space. The seats of the second row (60/40 split) can independently slide fore/aft over 3.15 inches. As the load floor is nearly eight inches lower than on the original model, loading is much easier, especially with the flap-folds tailgate that can also be used as an “outdoor” seat and carry 440 pounds.

The Outlander comes standard on 16-inch wheels with 215/70 R16 tires, while the XLS has 18-inch wheels with 225/55 R18 rubber.

Its standard safety equipment includes a dual front air bag supplemental restraint system (RSR), front seat-mounted side air bags and front and second-row curtain air bags. Also ABS with electronic brake-force distribution and a tire pressure monitor system is standard.

In-car technology has not been forgotten and the XLS comes with standard FAST Key entry system. For the ES and XLS models, a HDD 30-gigabyte navigation system with music server is available, as well as a 650-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system, Sirius radio (with six months’ prepaid subscription), Bluetooth wireless and a DVD rear-seat entertainment system.

But the 2007 Outlander does not need these “gimmicks” to impress us. That has already been done with excellent handling and good looks, both inside and outside.

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