Mitsubishi Outlander GT – worthy of a close look

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The small crossover sport utility segment has grown like a weed in a vacant lot over the past decade. The segment is populated with attractive products differentiated by little of substance.

The more popular models get the ink, big advertising dollars, and word-of-mouth endorsements and tend to lead the pack year-after-year. The top choices throughout the past decade — based on sales — have been the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Ford Escape. Second-tier players, include the Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Tucson, Subaru Forester, Volkswagen Tiguan and Jeep Liberty.

We haven’t mentioned the Mitsubishi Outlander, not because the Outlander isn’t worthy of purchase; quite the contrary. We found the 2010 Outlander GT very pleasing in all aspects including performance, handling, styling, interior layout, and safety.

The reason we put the Outlander, which entered the market in 2003 and was completely revised for 2007, into the also-ran category are slow sales. Nearly 40,000 Outlanders left dealer showrooms during its first year in 2003. But sales quickly fell, dropping to 11,000 in 2006. A second-generation Outlander pushed sales up to 23,285 in 2007, but they dropped to 10,283 in ’09. For perspective, the Honda CR-V sold nearly 200,000 and the Toyota RAV4 nearly 150,000 in 2009. Mitsubishi’s overall market share has been steadily shrinking and prospective buyers are becoming less aware of the brand. We think that would be a shortsighted mistake.

The big news for 2010 is the addition of the top-line GT trim with increased horsepower, some new equipment, and revised styling.

The GT displaces the still-available XLS at the top of the lineup. Both come equipped with a 3.0-liter V-6 making 230 horsepower and 215 pound-feet of torque mated to a six-speed automatic. That’s a 10 pony gain from last year and gives the engine enough guts to pull the 3,847-pound GT from 0-to-60 in the upper ranges of 7 seconds. It also endows the GT — and the XLS trim — the capability to pull up to 3,500 pounds, which should be enough to haul weekend toys such as small boats and jet skis.

We found the GT to be driver friendly, easy to keep in a straight line and willing to accelerate with ease past a slower-moving vehicle out on the highway. It also proved agile in city driving, particularly in tight parking lot maneuvers where its extremely tight 34.8-foot turning radius proved helpful.

Mitsubishi has added what it calls an Idle-Neutral Logic system to the six-speed that is designed to save gas and reduce emissions by putting the vehicle in neutral during complete stops. The moment brake pedal pressure is released the transmission shifts back to first gear. The system is entirely seamless, as we learned at the initial press preview last November.
Perhaps the headline feature of the GT is the new standard Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC). With this system, torque is not only moved front to back, but also side-to-side as conditions warrant. It uses an electronically controlled active front differential in tandem with electronic traction and stability control to accomplish its mission. As such, S-AWC balances the Outlander’s weight shifts, allowing greater acceleration in corners and reducing the chances of slipping and toppling.

At the preview we tested the S-AWC in lose sand where it performed beyond expectation. Unfortunately, we missed the chance to truly evaluate the S-AWC system, missing an ice and snow event by several days. By the time the Mitsubishi showed up in the driveway for our week long evaluation all was dry and back to normal. We know from the sand experience that the GT certainly would have performed admirably.

The Outlander’s other three trim levels — ES, SE and XLS — can be purchased with either front-wheel or the less spectacular version of all-wheel drive. The base ES with a 168-hp 2.4-liter 4-banger and a CVT starts at $21,625 including destination; the similarly equipped SE starts at $23,325 and the V-6-equipped XLS at $25,775. Bad weather peace-of-mind all-wheel drive can be added to any of the trim levels for $1,400.

The GT comes very well equipped for a base of $30,035. Our test vehicle with optional navigation with real time traffic, an excellent back-up camera and the leather seating was $33,015.

The interior is a strong point of the Outlander GT with generous passenger space highlighted by the upscale look of optional leather inserts and seating along with the standard drilled aluminum pedals.

Outlander also offers good sight lines, an excellent driving position and simple and intuitive gauges and switchgear. Some have called the dashboard layout too plain, desiring a more stylish design. We applaud Mitsubishi for keeping things simple and user-friendly and avoiding form over function.

The Outlander is especially friendly to second-row passengers. To give them a noticeable comfort zone, the second-row seats can be slid back several inches for increased legroom.
Maximum cargo capacity is a useable 73 cubic feet, but Mitsubishi's effort to keep up with the automotive Jones’ by installing a third-row seat is questionable. That being said, if you can manage to fold it out of the floor, it will hold a couple of very small kids. It might be the smallest third-row seat in the business. If you use the third seat, storage space is reduced to 14 cubic feet. Leave the seat in the floor, and rear storage ranges from 36 to 39 cubic feet depending on the position of the second row.

We like the Outlander and especially the rather pricey GT model which is extremely well equipped, from aluminum paddle shifters to a Rockford Fosgate audio system. The list seems endless.

You will have to get used to some exterior styling changes including the addition of the “jet fighter” grille made famous on the Evo X. We’re undecided, but it certainly stands out in a crowd. Overall the basic lines of the GT remain the same and that’s a good thing.

Our advice, find that nearest Mitsubishi store and take a test drive. You will discover there is a little-known vehicle available that can rival the best-sellers.

Base price: (GT trim) $30,035; as driven, $33,015
Engine: 3.0-liter V-6
Horsepower: 230 @ 6,250 rpm
Torque: 215 foot-pounds @ 3,750 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3/2
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
Length: 183.7 inches
Curb weight: 3,847 pounds
Turning circle: 34.8 feet
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
Luggage capacity: 14.9 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 73 cubic feet
Fuel Capacity: 15.8 gallons
EPA rating: 24 mpg highway; 18 mpg city (regular)
0-60: 7.5 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Chevrolet Equinox

The Good:
• Energetic V-6 engine
• Cutting-edge all-wheel drive system
• Spacious interior

The Bad:
• Miniature third-row seat best kept stored in the floor

The Ugly:
• The Outlander is on very few shoppers' radar