2007 Mitsubishi Outlander: First Drive

While rumors about its tenuous position in the US marketplace continue to fly, Mitsubishi Motors is simply ignoring them. The company is busy planning its second 25 years in this country and is committed to making its upcoming products as appealing and competitive as possible. Mitsubishi first came to our shores in 1982 and, over time, offered such vehicles as the Tredia, Starion, Galant, Lancer and the exciting 3000GT-VR4.

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Twenty-five years into the market, the Galant has grown into a fine mid-sized passenger car, the Lancer is a strong small car with lots of soul and the Eclipse is a competitive sports car. The completely redesigned Outlander now joins the product line as the first vehicle based on Mitsubishi’s new global platform, one that will include the next-generation Lancer and Lancer Evolution models.

If these upcoming cars are as good as the new Outlander, buyers have something to look forward to. The second-generation 2007 Outlander is a little larger and a whole lot more innovative than its predecessor in every way. Gone is the anemic drivetrain. It’s been replaced by a 3.0 liter, 220-horsepower V6 engine coupled to a six-speed automatic Sportronic transmission. In keeping with global concerns about energy it runs on regular fuel, which means less money spent at fill-ups.

Gone is the cumbersome, often in-the-way tailgate so common to crossover SUVs and minivans. In its place is a clever flap-fold tailgate that acts like the tailgate on a pickup truck. It makes loading and unloading bulky, heavy items much easier and can handle up to 440 pounds. It’s a great place for people to sit at little league sports activities or the beach while not performing its utilitarian duties.

Three models are offered in the Outlander line, the ES, LS and XLS in ascending order of trim/price. All come standard with front-wheel drive and all have Active Skid and Traction Control, as well as air conditioning, six-speaker audio system with MP3, cruise control, keyless entry, power locks and windows and an engine immobilizer. LS models add Bluetooth pre-wiring; leather accents, roof rails and rear privacy glass along with other convenience features. XLS models add 18-inch wheels, climate control, FAST Key entry system (more about that later), fog lights and steering wheel shifter paddles for the Sportronic transmission, along with an underfloor-stowable third row seat.

The LS and XLS offer an optional electronically controlled 4-wheel drive system called All-Wheel Control (AWC). This system is selectable to allow 2-wheel front drive, 4-wheel drive automatically controlled mode or 4-wheel drive lock mode. This allows the driver to choose the best drive system for weather and load conditions while maximizing fuel economy.

A lot of engineering has gone into the platform to make it both rigid and stable. Mitsubishi even makes the roof in aluminum rather than steel. The weight savings not only lightens the vehicle by a few pounds, but also contributes significantly to its center of gravity because the laws of physics dictate that the further a weight is located from the center of rotation, the greater the inertia of that mass. In other words, the Outlander won’t lean over as far in a sharp turn as another, identical, vehicle would. Clever, those Mitsubishi engineers…

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Another clever innovation is the FAST Key entry system. It’s a “recognition” system that allows you to keep the fob in your pocket. Similar to other systems on the market, it recognizes when you are within a specified distance from the vehicle and unlocks the doors. What’s different is that you can program the fob to unlock/lock any combination of doors depending upon your desires and needs.

Looks are in the eyes of the beholder, but I think the Outlander will appeal to anyone who desires an SUV or crossover. Outside it appears slightly aggressive at the front and the narrowing window styling on the side suggests movement. The tailgate is nicely integrated into the rear treatment and the subtle fender flares take away any “flatness” without looking too threatening. Inside there’s an air of comfort and elegance that belies the price range of the Outlander. The dash flows with gentle curves that slant toward the driver, making all controls within very easy reach. Twin “podded” speedometer/tachometer instruments are separated by an LCD multi-information monitor that displays eight different types of information.

I found the overall driving experience to be quite comfortable and non-fatiguing in the Outlander. Handling, braking and acceleration are very car-like and the sense of stability is palatable. The six-speed transmission shifts are nearly imperceptible and even though it’s always moving up in gear ratio you never feel that the engine is lugging. Fuel economy is clearly the driving force behind the calibration and that makes a lot of sense.

The seats themselves were a bit firm but supportive, and there was a detectable “rumbling” sound in the exhaust system while decelerating, but that’s about all in the area of criticism I can muster. There’s no criticism of the 650-watt Rockford Fosgate sound system with SIRIUS satellite radio and well-placed speakers, nor is there anything lacking in the HDD 30-gigabyte navigation system that will record upwards of 1200 songs from your music collection. In fact, the NAV system has so many handy extra features that you have to study the manual to appreciate them.

Pricing as yet isn’t available but you can be sure it will fall in the $20-$26,000 range depending upon models and options. I’m betting the final fuel economy figures will fall into the mid 20’s for highway driving, which makes the Outlander a very efficient piece of machinery. It’s a worth competitor against the several fine products such as Honda CRV, Mazda CX-7, and Toyota RAV4.

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