- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

If you've been paying attention to the latest automotive advertisements, you've probably noticed that Mitsubishi is targeting youthful buyers. Mitsubishi has a good reputation with this crowd. It also has a strong following in the sport utility constituency. To fortify this strong following, Mitsubishi is delving into the ever-growing market for crossover vehicles with an all new sport utility.

The Mitsubishi Outlander is a smaller, car-based SUV that will satisfy a great number of loyal Mitsubishi customers and give new customers another reason to venture into a Mitsubishi showroom.

The new Outlander is more than just a stop gap to retain customers; it will no doubt attract customers who may not have thought of Mitsubishi. That is exactly what Mitsubishi is counting on.

The Outlander's exterior design is smart looking and isn't one of those extremely new designs that tends to alienate many buyers. This vehicle rests firmly on the Mitsubishi SUV heritage with its muscular shoulders and wide stance.

The interior is well designed; gauges and switches are placed in easy-to-use and -see positions. The instrument panel is available in two distinct versions, black numerals on white face or white numerals on black. The latter is traditional, while the former with white faces lends a sporty appearance to the package. A distinctive analog clock is located in the center of the dash with the center stack just below offering the sound-system controls above the heater/air conditioning.

The center console accommodates the shifter and large cup holders, which surprisingly handle commuter mugs as well as large soda cups. The front seats are quite comfy, and remained so even after my many long test drives. Because the seats are equipped with height adjusters, I had more than ample head room. Even after adding the optional sunroof, which lowers the ceiling, I still had plenty of head room.

Sometimes when a manufacturer bases a vehicle on a passenger-car platform it can lose some off-road ability. The Outlander, loosely based on the Lancer sedan, performed well on all my rigorous testing. This design philosophy gives the Outlander excellent road manners and instills good ride quality, making it an excellent basis for a smaller SUV. One that will offer the on-road and off-road abilities desired by today's buyer.

Powered by a 2.4-liter SOHC 4-cylinder engine similar to the one found in Mitsubishi's Eclipse sports coupe, the Outlander has adequate power. I would like to see more torque and horsepower in this vehicle, but with 140 horsepower and 157 foot-pounds of torque the Outlander beats or is equal to most competitors. Keeping a rein on costs is always a factor, particularly in this segment, so one must make trade-offs.

Regrettably, anti-locking brake system and front side air bags are available only as options. With the Outlander these important safety items are available solely on the up-level XLS model. I believe these items need to be available throughout a vehicle lineup, not just at the upper end.

Other car companies do the same thing, so it isn't just at Mitsubishi. I believe there needs to be more access to these safety features, particularly ABS.

Although I quibble about the power ratings, I enjoyed driving the Outlander. Keeping in mind that nearly all of the buyers in this segment are looking for better and better fuel economy, the powertrain Mitsubishi selected makes sense. In fact, the entire package Mitsubishi has assembled in the Outlander makes perfect sense.

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