Thumbs Up: Styling reminiscent of the Evo X, S-AWC all wheel drive
Thumbs Down: Interior materials could be better
Buy This Car If: You want an Evo X but really need a crossover
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll confess up front that I’ve owned two Mitsubishi vehicles over the years. The first was a 1977 Plymouth Arrow, which was a sporty hatchback built by Mitsubishi but sold through Plymouth dealers. It had the proper front engine, rear drive layout, even if the live axle, rear leaf springs and under-powered 1.6 liter, four cylinder engine excluded it from being an actual sports car. It was, for the most part, reliable and entertaining transportation, and it sure looked cool next to other compact cars of the day. My next MItsubishi was a 1991 Eclipse GSX (the AWD Turbo variant), and the car was flawless in the six years I owned it. It was fast and possessed with utterly predictable handling, even at the absolute limit. To this day I haven’t found a car that was as good driving to the track as it was driving on it, like my old GSX.
That said, I have a favorable impression of the three-diamond brand permanently ingrained in my head. The 2011 Outlander 3.0 GT S-AWC did nothing to diminish that brand image, but that’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement. At just over $30,000, the Outlander is priced on par with the Toyota RAV4, but the Toyota benefits from a lot more advertising and media coverage. The Mitsubishi’s interior shows a lot more cost-cutting than the Toyota’s, and the Outlander gives up a significant amount of horsepower to the Toyota. Where the Outlander shines is in its AWD system, which uses technology pioneered by the Lancer Evolution. Like Ford’s Terrain Management system (available on the 2011 Explorer), Mitsubishi’s S-AWC (for Super All Wheel Control) allows the driver to set up the AWD system based on conditions. Tarmac is for paved roads in dry or wet weather, Snow is for surfaces with limited grip and Lock is for maximum traction is the worst of slippery conditions. I didn’t have a chance to drive the Outlander in snow, but I know what vehicle I’d rather be driving when conditions go from bad to worse.
Exterior styling borrows from the Lancer Evolution, including the scowling samurai front end. That’s not meant to be criticism, and in fact I like the angry appearance of the Outlander’s front fascia. I like the aggressively flared fenders as well, and the lower door character line actually reminds me of the side sills on my old Eclipse GSX. It’s familiar styling, but I see that as a good thing: the Outlander, while still a box-on-box crossover, carries a style that’s unique and far more distinctive than offerings from Honda or Toyota. It’s sportier in appearance, too, and that counts for quite a bit when you’re transitioning from the car you want (like the Evo X) to the car you need (like the Outlander) due to a growing family or changing needs. No, the Outlander won’t accelerate, brake or corner like the Evo, but at least it still looks cool parked in your garage.
Inside, I give the Outlander’s leather trimmed cloth front seats a thumbs up for comfort and support, They’re not heated, but that’s less of an issue to me with cloth seating surfaces than with leather, and opting for the Touring package on GT models will get you heated leather front seats. The front seats are manually adjustable unless you go with the Touring package, so buyers can set the level of content as their budgets allow.
The rear seats are cloth with a faux suede trim, and the rear seat backs recline for passenger comfort. Rear seats fold and tumble forward in a 60/40 split for maximum cargo room or to allow access to the Outlander’s third row seats. These aren’t intended for adults, and even kids will be cramped back there on trips longer than cross-town. I suppose that any third row seats are better than no third row seats (at least to marketing department types), but trust me on this: they’ll stay in the stowed position most of the time. With the seats folded, the Outlander gives you a reasonable amount of cargo capacity, on par with other small SUVs and crossovers in its class.
The sporty theme of the Outlander’s exterior is carried over to the inside as well. XLS and GT models (like my tester) use a soft plastic atop the dash, but there’s still a lot of hard plastic on the doors, center console and dash trim. It’s not as bad as in some vehicles, but it probably won’t pirate buyers away from Toyota. I liked the conventional layout of the audio and HVAC controls, and the Rockford Fosgate Punch Premium sound system seemed to be tuned well to the Outlander’s cabin. Aluminum pedals and paddle shifters add to the Outlanders sporty-crossover theme, but don’t get your expectations set too high on the paddle shifters, which really don’t do anything to speed up gear changes.
The Outlander’s instruments, set in chrome-trimmed pods, are easy to read across a wide variety of lighting conditions. The content-rich, LCD driver information display splits the tach and speedometer, and gives the driver fuel and temperature gauges, as well as information on fuel economy or trip data. The brightly lit LCD was easy to view even in full sunlight, and the information display was simple enough to scroll through with a dash mounted button.
Under the hood, the Outlander packs a 3.0 liter V6, good for 230 horsepower and 215 ft lb of torque. That’s good enough to get the Outlander GT from zero to sixty in under eight seconds, but it still returns a respectable 19 MPG city and 25 MPG highway. The EPA tells you to expect a combined fuel economy of 21 MPG, and I saw an actual 20.8 MPG in a mix of city and highway driving.
On the road, the Outlander GT handled better than comparable models from Toyota, Honda or Jeep. The steering never felt too light, which is usually the case with crossovers and small SUVs. There was some body roll in corners (this is, after all, still a crossover vehicle) and noticeable understeer at the limit, but that never took away from the Outlander’s enjoyable feel. It won’t replace a sports car in your garage, but if you’re switching from a sports car to a crossover, the Outlander will be far more amusing to drive than most.
My 2011 Mitsubishis Outalnder 3.0 GT S-AWC had a base price of $28,575, including a destination charge of $780. The single option package on my tester was the $1,700 Sun & Sound Package, which included the Rockford Fosgate sound system, Sirius Satellite Radio and a powered sunroof, for a total sticker price of $30,275. That’s not inexpensive, but it is on par with crossovers from major competitors. A similarly equipped Toyota RAV 4 Sport with a 3.5 liter V6 would sticker at $29,505, while the four cylinder only Honda CR-V EX would sticker at $26,025. Step up to the Subaru Tribeca 3.6R Premium and you’ll end up with a sticker price of $31,920; opt for the Nissan Murano SV, and you’re looking at a sticker price of $33,595. The Mitsubishi Outlander has pros and cons compared to all of those vehicles, so it really comes down to what you think of Mitsubuishi as a manufacturer. In my experience, they build a good product.