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New Car Review 2003 MitsubishiOutlander

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SEE ALSO: Mitsubushi Buyer's Guide

by Marc J. Rauch, Exec. Vice President & Co-Publisher

Going inland with the Mitsubishi Outlander

Mitsubishi Motors continues to make impressive inroads into the North American auto market with the introduction of their all new Outlander sport utility vehicle. Classified as a “crossover” vehicle, the high-style, entry level Outlander promises the ride and handling characteristics of a sedan combined with some of the utility and roominess of their full-sized SUVs, the Montero and Montero Sport.

Mitsubishi seems to have found a niche in the 20-plus something market as evidenced by their excellent television commercials, which feature strong contemporary songs and evocative rhythms. I’m not sure if they captured that market because of the commercials, or if the commercials are merely a reflection of the position, but in the end the result is the same. The Outlander will undoubtedly help Mitsubishi to exploit this younger market to its fullest potential by providing an "evolutionary" alternative to the Lancer and Eclipse, that is, the natural "evolution" that seems to occur as people age (they go from a limited cargo space vehicle to one that permits hauling around lots of stuff).

I recently had the opportunity to test drive the Outlander along the beautiful Columbia River near Vancouver, Washington. Coincidentally, I had just finished test driving the Honda CR-V, one of the Outlander’s more important competitors, on a weekend trip to San Francisco and the Bay Area’s beaches. At first glance I thought the Outlander would simply be an updating of the old Colt Vista, a vehicle that Mitsubishi once produced for Chrysler under the Dodge badge. I actually owned one back in the late eighties and really liked it. The Colt Vista was a fun, easy to drive, wagony-thing, that provided good space and economical operation. It was ahead of its time, back then, so consequently it never really received the accolades and acceptance that I believed it should have. With that in mind, it seemed likely to me that in this SUV frenzy-era that Mitsu would have updated and re-launched it.

However, the Outlander is nothing at all like the Colt Vista, except that it is also fun and easy to drive. Similar to the Honda CR-V, and its other competitors, the Toyota RAV-4 and Subaru Forester, the Outlander feels much more like an SUV than a little commuter city-car. Climbing and cruising the mountains around Mount St. Helens I found the Outlander to drive and perform at least as well as the CR-V, with a far better interior design. Considering that Mitsubishi vehicles often are behind the eight-ball when it comes to interior design, the Outlander is a welcome improvement.

The Outlander's exterior is based upon the Airtrek, a Mitsubishi model sold in Japan. It shares the Lancer platform, which is why it lives up to its advertised promise of car-like handling. It will be available in All-Wheel Drive and Front Wheel Drive versions and in two design packages: the LS base model and the up-graded XLS. Among other refinements and features, the XLS can be equipped with heated leather seats and comes with power windows, power side mirrors, and cruise control. A high-output 4-cylinder engine propels both versions. ABS brakes are also optional on the XLS model. It's interesting to note that ABS brakes, which had been enjoying near universal acceptance and usage, are actually in a bit of a declining mode. It seems that consumers in warm weather markets are opting out of buying them. Since the need for ABS is less in those areas not affected by snow and ice, buyers prefer to spend their money on other items. And as to be expected Mitsubishi provides some attractive accessories to take up the slack. A bicycle rack, fender flares, and a trailer package are available for either model.

The Outlander is being built in Japan and will be in showrooms by October. Exact pricing wasn't set at the time of my test drive, but the Outlander will range from about $19,000 to $24,000, depending upon equipment and model selected. The XLS will start around $20,000. Mitsubishi has long suffered from an urban legend myth that their vehicles are inferior to other Japanese makes, causing Mitsubishis to be less desirable than some of their competition. I've always found this notion of inferiority to be totally fallacious and completely without merit (in fact, it may be just the reverse - Mitsubishis may be superior). However, from a consumer's perspective, there is one very, very positive effect of a lower demand: Mitsubishi's vehicles are almost always priced considerably lower than its comparable competitors. Therefore, as I always recommend, you get great reliability, great engineering, and you can save hundreds or thousands of dollars.