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2006 Mitsubishi Outlander SE Review

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SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Mitsubishi

MODEL: Mitsubishi Outlander SE
ENGINE: 2.4-liter DOHC I4
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 160 hp @ 5750 rpm/162 lb.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 4-speed automatic with Sportronic
WHEELBASE: 103.3 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 179.0 x 70.1 x 66.3 in.
TIRES: P215/55R17
CARGO VOLUME: 60.3 cu. ft.
ECONOMY: 21 mpg city/36 mpg highway
PRICE: $25,000 (est.)

When Mitsubishi introduced the Outlander in 2002, it was one of the earliest of small sport utility vehicles. Now, the landscape is becoming overcrowded, but the Outlander is still a nice value and a strong competitor.

New for 2006 is the SE trim level, and this is what we tested. The SE, for "Special Edition," is merely a trim level, but it combines many of the features that Mitsubishi has discovered its Outlander customers are interested in.

For example, standard equipment in the SE includes a tubular roof rack with silver stanchions, color-keyed side mirrors, privacy glass, fog lamps and 17-inch wheels. Also standard in the SE is a premium Infinity sound system.

Under the hood of the Outlander is a 2.4-liter inline four that generates a healthy 160 hp. While the engine is peppy enough, I found it to be noisy at all speeds. There was a constant buzz from the engine compartment that isn't unusual in a four, but is one that we hope would either be silenced in some way or eliminated.

The engine transmits power to the front wheels (we had the front-wheel drive version; an all-wheel drive version is available) through a 4-speed automatic transmission that had a Sportronic, or manual shift, mode. We found that the manual shifter wasn't really necessary, even though the Outlander isn't overpowered. The Outlander isn't that sporty a vehicle to require manual shifts through most corners or on uphills, and the automatic does its job quite well.

In standard drive mode, the internal programming in the transmission controls the shifting action to match road conditions and the driver's accelerator movements. When the lever is pushed to the right, pushing or pulling the lever can manually activate clutchless shifts.

The front seats were comfortable and offered very good side support. We have driven sports cars with poorer side support, so kudos to Mitsu for these. In addition, they had an attractive cloth covering that was both tasteful and practical.

There is a pair of cupholders in the center console with a variety of configurations to hold nearly all cups. We even put our "inside" mug there one time with no problem. There's a good glove box and a small center console armrest between the seats. There is one 12V power outlet that may serve as a cigarette lighter in a different configuration. The rear seats offered good side support, even with the manual front seats pushed back.

However, if the front passenger chooses to ride in "airline reclining" mode, then there might be issues in the back

. The rear seat backs fold easily to increase luggage capacity. It's only a one-hand operation to pull the lever and the seat forward. A flat floor results when the seats are lowered. There's even a compartment under the rear cargo floor to store items that may roll around on top, or even get lost. Under that is the space-saver spare.

Between the rear seats is a fold-down armrest that includes a pair of cupholders for the passengers back there. Of course, if you're carrying three passengers, the armrest serves as the seat back for the center passenger.

For senior citizens who sometimes have difficulty entering larger SUVs, the entry height of the Outlander is good. There were no problems entering or exiting the vehicle.

Instruments are black-on-light gray and very neat. At light the lighting is inoffensive. In the center of the dash is an analog clock that looks as if it may have been lifted from a more luxurious car.

I liked the Outlander when I first drove it in 2002, and I like it more. I'm still amazed by the physical similarity with Subaru's new B9 Tribeca, at least on the outside. The Outlander has plenty of power for its class, is comfortable, and has plenty of cargo capacity.

2005 The Auto Page Syndicate