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2006 Mitsubishi Outlander Review

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By Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
Detroit Bureau

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Mitshubishi

Winter is getting oppressive here in Michigan and my pretty blonde has arranged a week of R&R for us on Edisto Island, just down the coast from lovely and historic Charleston, South Carolina. We visited that quaint and quiet island spot about 10 years ago so we’re interested to see if it has changed much. Our pal and frequent accomplice, Joe, will tag along and our Friends at Mitsubishi have loaned us a new Outlander for the trip. Just for fun we’ll swing by Chattanooga, Tennessee on the way to explore the town and visit the only tow truck museum in the world.

The Mitsubishi Outlander is a small crossover sport-utility, with unibody structure, built from a passenger car platform. Taller and more squared off at the rear than the cars from which they come - for both cargo and image reasons - this segment of the market is flooded with good products from foreign and domestic producers. The Suzuki Grand Vitara is one we’ve recently tested here at the Detroit Bureau. Most are in the neighborhood of $20,000. This one, in my purely subjective view, is one of the better looking of the bunch with its classicly Mitsu nose.

Joe pulled into the driveway just as I was loading our stuff in the back of the Outlander. The first decision was which side of the 60/40 split rear seat we would fold down to accommodate our golf clubs. After a packaging assessment we decided to fold the ‘40’ side, slide the clubs full forward then stack the big suitcases behind the ‘60’. That plan worked out fine and our big bags of groceries and road snacks fit nicely next to the back seat passenger. The 60.3 cubic feet of cargo space were more than enough for our stuff. We didn’t even use the nice little hidden cargo area below the rear floor.

On the road we were entirely comfortable inside. The black fabric seats were exceptionally comfortable and had a good quality feel. The driver’s seat felt great even after many hours on the road, and the whole ambiance inside was first rate. The silver-ringed analog clock in the center of the dash is a nice touch. The dash design, with a double-scalloped gauge brow over the speedo and tach is functional and just unconventional enough to be interesting. Seat adjustments, both front and rear, allow for just about any size of occupant.

Power really becomes an issue as we cross into Tennessee and begin the steep climb into the Cumberland Mountains for the run into Knoxville on I-75. Through Kentucky the hills are gentle and rolling but as soon as we cross the state line we begin the long climb that requires us to bump down to a lower gear. The competent 4-speed automatic transmission Mitsubishi calls Sportronic allows for manual sift mode, helpful because most automatics, including this one, don’t kick down in time to maximize power and torque. Most are calibrated for fuel mileage. We bump ‘er down into 3rd and confidently climb the long stretch upward looking over our shoulders to the right for a dramatic view of the valley.

The 2.4-liter, single overhead cam, inline 4-cylinder engine sports 160 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque, is adequate though certainly not exceptional. It has four valves per cylinder for maximum breathing efficiency. The valves are also electronically controlled for lift and timing resulting in the 2WD with manual transmission version being designated as a “Low Emissions” vehicle. With a 15.7-gallon fuel tank this Mitsu is rated at 22 to 28 mpg. We observed about 25 mpg throughout our thousands of miles of varied driving conditions. City or highway emphasis didn’t seem to make much difference

As we reloaded the back of the Outlander after our first stop in Chattanooga to visit the Museum of Tow Trucks (see the Chattanooga feature elsewhere in TheAutoChannel), we discovered that the rear seats have about a half-dozen clicks of recline. Of course our baggage restricted that some. We were also pleased to note that the release procedure to fold down the rear seats is a one-hand, two-finger operation. You would be surprised how many vehicles, in this age of paying attention to such details, require fully two hands to do that simple job. A second full day of driving gave me even more appreciation for that wonderful driver’s seat that fit my back side so well – no cheek fatigue after an all-day drive.

We took only back roads from north of Atlanta through McCormick, Georgia and Savannah Lakes on to Edisto Beach. The Outlander is a remarkably pleasant road-trip vehicle. The window controls have such a nice, smooth action my pretty blonde had to ask me to stop playing with them. The ride is balanced without undue sway or jumpiness and the handling is precise. Suspension is fully independent with McPherson struts in front and a multi-link arrangement and coil springs in the rear. Ours was the two-wheel-drive version.

Our road-holding assessment was reserved for the final drive home, particularly since we experienced no real challenges along the route until then. As we sped north on our non-stop jaunt from Edisto Beach, SC to Mid Michigan (estimated at about 14 hours) the weather along I-77 was dry and mild, at least until we crossed into West Virginia. As we gained elevation the clouds gathered and a light rain quickly turned into a wet snow. The road surface didn’t become noticeably slippery, just wet, but visibility was intermittently poor. It wasn’t until we were about 30 miles into Ohio that the snow began to collect and suddenly became extremely slippery as I froze into thick slush. Traffic was continuing to move along briskly and I decided to test the road surface by hitting the brakes as soon as there was no traffic behind me. Finally traffic cleared and I eased firmly onto the brakes. We were sliding almost immediately. “Wait a minute,” I thought,” where’s the ABS? Don’t all cars come with ABS these days.” To its credit the Mitsu slid perfectly straight but the ABS did not work. A check of the sales book later confirms that ABS is standard on all models of the Outlander.

[Just a couple words to the woman who whisked past us in a huge Ford Excursion with a cell phone in her ear at about 80 mph as the slush was freezing. “SLOW DOWN!” She was about a hundred yards ahead of us when she lost it, spun 180-degrees slamming into a bridge railing sideways, then spun another 180 and hit the other side of the bridge on her other side, then another 180 and she was facing traffic as she lurched to a stop. She appeared uninjured as we called 911 for her and then we got out of the way of traffic ourselves. Many of the other motorists weren’t slowing down either. And many found their way into the ditch and median in the next 20 miles as well.]

The Interstates – 77 and 80 – were freezing and slippery well past Cleveland. The Outlander, even without the ABS, handled well on these treacherous surfaces. The standard 17-inch wheels shod with all weather treads worked fine and the suspension felt well-balanced in the slippery stuff.

It would be hard to beat the warrantee that comes with this little squirt: Ten years/100,000 miles on the powertrain, 5-year/60,000-miles on the rest of the vehicle and 7-year/ 100,000 miles anticorrosion/perforation. Roadside assistance is included for 5-years with unlimited miles.

The Outlander comes in three iterations, LS, SE and Limited. Our test vehicle was the middle of the road SE with a base price of $21,999. The impressive list of standard features include: AC, premium sound system with 6-CD changer, heated seats with lots of adjustments, power windows, locks and mirrors, stainless steel exhaust, disc brakes all around with ABS, dual front and side air bags, 17-inch alloy wheels, roof rails and lots more. The equipment and content level of the Outlander is certainly as good as anything in its class. With the $595 destination charge, our tester bottom-lined at $22,594.

The small cross-over sport-utility market is mature and, as we said, full of great products. The size, practicality and costs of these “cute-utes” make them a good value for youngsters, oldsters and lots of folks in between. If you’re in this market I would recommend you take a look at the Mitsubishi Outlander.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions