- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2007

A dizzying array of new vehicles has arrived to the streets of America recently including the small car-based crossover Mitsubishi Outlander.

Mitsubishi seeks to cover as much of the marketplace as possible by offering five Outlander trim models.

Base ES models are front-wheel-drive only and come with air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control, automatic headlights, a CD/MP3 audio system with speed-sensitive volume, antilock brakes (ABS), tire-pressure monitoring, front side-impact air bags, curtain air bags, a tilt steering wheel and height adjustment of the driver’s seat.

Midlevel LS models arrive in both FWD and AWD format. Additional equipment includes alloy wheels, tinted glass, leather wrapping on the shift knob and steering wheel (with built-in audio controls), black roof rails and a rear cargo cover. The Entertainment Package yields a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with a 9-inch screen. Opting for the Sun & Sound Package includes a power sunroof and 650-watt Rockford-Fosgate audio system with IPod connectivity and Sirius satellite radio free for six months.

Finally, XLS models top the lineup, again offered in both front- and four-wheel-drive flavors. Automatic climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels, bright exterior trim, keyless starting, nifty magnesium paddle shifters and a third-row seat that expands passenger capacity to seven are all included.

The Sun & Sound and Entertainment Packages are again offered, but XLS buyers also enjoy the available Luxury Package, featuring HID headlights, navigation with a hard drive for storing music, leather seating surfaces with front heaters and power driver’s seat adjustment. For extra-audiovisual families, combining the Luxury and Entertainment Packages allows a DVD to play on both the navigational and rear screen simultaneously, at least when the gearshift is in Park.

Only one engine and transmission configuration is offered, although Mitsubishi is confident its powertrain will keep pace with the competition. A 3.0-liter V-6 engine with Mitsubishi Valve-timing Electric Control (MIVEC) develops 220 horsepower at 6,250 rpm and 204 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 revolutions.

This engine earns a Partial-Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) rating in California, a major achievement. Combined with the standard six-speed manual transmission, fuel economy is estimated by the EPA at 20 miles per gallon city and 27 highway for FWD models and 19 city/26 highway in AWD.

Six forward gears is a major step ahead, as the new transmission displaces last year’s five-speed manual and four-speed automatic gearboxes. Mitsubishi chose to outfit uplevel XLS models with magnesium paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, adding a highly sporty touch to this small SUV.

Mechanical highlights include fully independent suspension (MacPherson front, multilink rear), rack-and-pinion steering, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution and active skid and traction control (ASTC). Four-wheel-drive models include 2WD, 4WD Auto and 4WD Lock modes. Up to 40 percent of available torque may be delivered to the rear wheels if traction gives out in 4WD Auto mode, although over 40 mph that maximum decreases to 25 percent at the rear. Locked 4WD allows up to 60 percent of torque to rear the rear axles. Outfitted with 4WD, Outlanders tow a respectable 3,500 pounds, while front-drivers pull an even ton.

Outlander is attractive from many angles, appearing particularly muscular from the side where the bulky triangular-shaped D-pillars can be seen. The glass is well proportioned and the roof slopes back gracefully.

Headlights fall back into the fenders and wheel wells swell, yielding that popular “swept-back” look. Mitsubishi rightfully avoided tacked-on body cladding, allowing a clean, unbroken look. The rear end in particular looks tight and well organized.

Outlander’s interior is better suited for utilizing the maximum 72.6 cubic feet of cargo space than it is accommodating seven passengers.

The third-row bench is small and looks almost undeveloped; and more of a bench with little definition from bolstering. Space is tight back there, with only 27.7 inches of legroom available.

Better to stick with either an ES or LS model and enjoy the under-floor storage space that is otherwise compromised by XLS’s folding third-row seat. Dual glove boxes and a large dashboard-top bin provide great space up front.

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