- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

Several of Mitsubishi’s coupe, convertible and sedan models more than adequately support this automaker’s “Driven to Thrill” campaign. From the rally-inspired Lancer Evolution to the newly reworked Eclipse GT to the upcoming Galant Ralliart, Mitsubishi offers models that reward drivers with impressive power, stable handling and affordable packaging.

However, another model is poised to enter the performance-oriented mix, but this time not in a traditional vehicular configuration. The 2007 Outlander compact SUV goes on sale this fall. Generous horsepower, balanced driving dynamics, plentiful standard features and luxurious available options are among Outlander’s many virtues.

Potential customers should first note that Outlander shares its compact platform with the upcoming next-generation Lancer and Lancer Evolution sedans. In case you’re not familiar with these Mitsubishi products, Lancer Evolution is one of the world’s most highly regarded rally-bred performance cars. While sport utility and sedan dynamics are certainly different, the use of this manufacturer’s Reinforced Impact Safety Evolution (RISE) unibody structure — to be used in the next-generation Lancer — signals Mitsubishi’s commitment to superior driving characteristics.

Fully independent suspension makes use of strut tower bars up front to stiffen the frame and improve steering precision. An aluminum panel roof saves 11 pounds over a steel counterpart, thus lowing Outlander’s center of gravity and subsequently decreasing unwanted handling characteristics such as body roll. (Remember, SUVs are notorious for being top-heavy, so efforts to reduce second-story weight are greatly appreciated.)

Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and rack-and-pinion steering are also included.

All U.S.-bound Outlanders will be powered by a 3-liter V-6 engine producing 220 horsepower and 204 foot-pounds of torque. All-aluminum engine construction, four valves per cylinder and Mitsubishi Innovative Valve-timing Electronic Control (MIVEC) yield both efficiency and high performance in a lightweight package. Although peak torque occurs at 4,000 rpm, Mitsubishi says almost 90 percent is available after 2,000 rpm.

A six-speed automatic transmission is the only gearbox offered. Sportronic shifting allows some manual control by the driver, if desired. Base LS models shift via the floor console shifter only, while XLS Outlanders include paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. Pulling the right paddles signals an upshift, while tugging the left one yields a downshift. Regardless of the steering wheel’s position, the paddles remain optimally located.

Both LS and XLS models arrive in either front-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive format. All FWD and 4WD Outlanders are supplemented by Mitsubishi’s Active Skid and Traction Control system. Input from wheel speed sensors, the engine’s control unit and a yaw sensor determine the traction control system’s activity. Those customers who chose 4WD actually have the ability to switch between front- and four-wheel grip, depending on preference and conditions. A center console-mounted dial allows “FWD,” “4WD Auto” and “4WD Lock.” Auto and Lock mode differ in that more torque may be directed to the rear in Lock conditions, which is particularly helpful on low traction surfaces, such as snow or loose stone.

Seating for five or seven passengers is available, as top XLS models include a flat-folding, third-row seat. Otherwise, that space serves as under-floor storage in five-passenger LS models. Both configurations include a 60/40-split second-row seat, and each section reclines independently from one another. The unique “flap-fold” tailgate allows for easy loading of packages, and the lower section, when down, doubles as a seating surface for up to 440 pounds.

LS models arrive standard with air conditioning, cruise control, an alarm system with built-in engine immobilizer, keyless entry, power windows/ locks/mirrors, a six-speaker audio system with AM/FM/CD/ MP3 capability and 16-inch steel wheels inside P215/70R16 tires.

XLS Outlanders add the third-row seat, automatic climate control, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, a six-disc CD changer, tinted glass, dual tailpipe outlets and 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped by 225/55 series tires. Fast-Key Entry, another XLS feature, allows the driver to unlock the vehicle without using the key fob, as long as it is within proximity (in a pocket or purse, for instance). An optional Luxury package adds leather seating surfaces, a power driver’s seat and front-seat heaters to XLS models.

Additional options include satellite navigation, rear-seat DVD entertainment, a powerful Rockford-Fosgate audio system, SIRIUS satellite radio, xenon HID headlights and a sunroof. Safety equipment is highlighted by dual front air bags, standard front seat-mounted air bags and curtains for first- and second-row passengers.

Available later this year, Mitsubishi will offer a five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty on the new Outlander.

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