An often overlooked member of the “seven-passenger” club, the Mitsubishi Outlander lineup receives just a few changes for 2009. Unfortunately, those changes do not include addressing the Outlander’s lack of power or criticisms related to the general cheapness of the interior. Nevertheless, the Outlander does enough things right to warrant a look by those considering a purchase of a compact SUV.
Available in three trims and a choice of front-wheel or all-wheel drive, by the looks of it, you would not think that the Outlander would be able to seat seven people. However, an optional 3rd row bench seat, which comes standard on the XLS trimmed model, folds in and out of the cargo area to increase seating by two. While this third set of seating is a real advantage over other small SUV’s, the seat itself truly resembles a bench. In fairness, the minimal amount of cushioning and support is the direct result of having to fold and stow the seat in the floor of the trunk. Outlander’s AWD system can be set for front-drive only, for AWD or for a locked-in 50/50 front/rear power split. The lower two trimmed ES and SE versions are powered by a 168-hp 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The top-of-the-line XLS has a 220-hp 3.0-liter V6 a 6-speed automatic and a maximum towing capacity is 3500 lb. Although Mitsubishi has opted to use a rather wimpy set of engines to power the Outlander, fuel economy is not as significantly impressive as you would have expected. The thriftiest 2WD versions achieve a mileage of 22-mpg in city and 28-mpg in highway driving, while AWD versions lose a couple of mpg’s more from those numbers. Available safety features include ABS, traction control, antiskid system, curtain side airbags, and front side airbags. All Outlanders are available with a wireless cell phone link and a navigation system with a 30-gigabyte hard drive for storing digital music files.
In addition to the mixed feelings about the third bench seat, the rest of the interior elicits both positive and negative feedback. The material quality of the plastic and fabric unfortunately suffers from the same criticism as other Mitsubishi vehicles. But what it lacks in refinement, it makes up for in roominess and cargo hauling capability that other crossovers, such as the Toyota RAV 4, lack. With a price tag of around $20,000-25,000 potential buyers that are most concerned with being able to move people and their stuff and not just the look of a small SUV will probably be happy to make concessions in other areas to benefit from the Outlander’s utility.