Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Hauls cargo like an SUV, drives like a car.
The 2003 Mitsubishi Outlander is an all-new sport-utility similar in size and character to the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. And it measures up well against those two. Built on a car platform, it's smooth and quiet, and feels rock steady at highway speeds. It has four doors and a roomy cargo area, and loading stuff in back is easy.
Like other small crossover sport-utilities, the Mitsubishi Outlander offers elevated seating for better visibility. But it is neither tall nor tippy. Its compact size helps it negotiate the often-hostile asphalt jungle. All-wheel drive is an option when the pavement disappears beneath snow and ice or dissolves into a dusty, rocky trail.
Taut and toned, the Mitsubishi styling is bolder, more aggressive than the Honda, Toyota, or Subaru. The Mitsubishi Outlander is a good alternative to those vehicles and is priced aggressively against them. The Outlander ranges from a suggested base price of $17,997 to a fully loaded suggested price of $23,390.
Mitsubishi Outlander is available in two models: LS and XLS. Each is available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Mitsubishi expects 65 percent of Outlander buyers to opt for the upgraded XLS version and anticipates 55 percent of buyers will want all-wheel drive.
All Outlanders are powered by Mitsubishi's 140-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. All are equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission. EPA-estimated fuel mileage is 21/26 mpg City/Highway for Outlanders with two-wheel drive and 20/25 mpg with all-wheel drive.
Front airbags, three-point seatbelts for all five seating positions and child safety seat anchors are among the standard equipment. Side airbags for the driver and front-seat passenger and anti-lock brakes are optional equipment on the XLS model.
LS is not a stripped down model and comes standard with air conditioning; cruise control; power windows and locks; power folding rearview mirrors; a height-adjustable steering wheel; height-adjustable driver's seat; a 140-watt, four-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system; analog clock; center console with storage; two 12-volt accessory outlets; 60/40 split, folding and reclining back seat; intermittent windshield and rear window wipers, and 16-inch steel wheels. Options for the LS include a convenience package with a cargo cover, floor mats, keyless entry, and roof rails. There's also an appearance package with privacy glass and alloy wheels.
XLS adds a rear spoiler, premium cloth seat fabric, a 140-watt audio system with six speakers, white-face gauges and clock, see-through headrests, and alloy wheels. Options for the XLS include a sun and sound package with an Infinity audio system and sunroof and a luxury package with an auto-dimming mirror with compass and temperature readouts, heated outside mirrors and heated leather seats and side airbags.
The all-new 2003 Mitsubishi Outlander presents a bolder appearance than the other sport-utilities in this class. Mitsubishi says styling is very important to its customers, so it wanted its entry-level SUV to be distinguished from the Toyota RAV4, the Honda CR-V, and the Subaru Forester. Mitsubishi anticipates that most Outlander buyers will be women, typically 30-45 years of age, most of them married and with a young family or a large dog.
Mitsubishi believes Outlander buyers want an SUV with a muscular, masculine, aggressive appearance. To achieve this look, designers created a wide nose section that splits the grille and flows back over the hood. Mitsubishi thinks this thick, dynamic pillar with the triple-diamond emblem in the middle demonstrates that the Outlander's owner isn't about to be intimidated by those driving the other cute-utes. Its styling reminds us of the Toyota Matrix and Pontiac Vibe.
This attitude is enhanced by the large, tinted headlight covers, and especially by the fog lamps mounted at the edges of the bumper on the XLS model. Gray cladding on the bumpers and side sills adds to the aggressive appearance, and the 16-inch wheels (the same diameter as those on the RAV4 and Forester, but larger than those on the CR-V) lend substance to the Outlander's stance.
The Outlander's styling doesn't turn many heads, but neither does it create a lot of excess noise going down the road. Mitsubishi's Outlander presents a wind-cheating, wedgy profile that provides an 0.43 coefficient of drag, making its sleeker than the CR-V, RAV4, and Forester. Yet its standard rear spoiler and especially its optional roof racks with tubular rails give it a substantial appearance. More important, it has great door handles that are easy to grab.
The Mitsubishi Outlander offers a roomy and comfortable interior, a benefit of its long wheelbase. We found all controls easy to operate.
Getting in and out is easy. The Outlander's h-point, the distance your hips sit off the ground when you are in the vehicle, was designed to offer easy of entry. The Outlander's h-point is 25.79 inches, which means it is easy for nearly anyone to enter or exit the vehicle. Once seated, you have a commanding vantage similar to that in a minivan. Low-slung sports cars have low h-points, while tall SUVs and 4X4 pickup trucks have high h-points. Once in, there's a good amount of headroom for taller drivers.
The seats use high-density foam padding and the standard cloth is nice. The driver's seat offers height adjustment and effective lumbar support. Leather-covered seating is an option on the XLS model, and the leather seats feel a little firmer; the package includes heated seats and side-impact airbags for the driver and front-seat passenger. The passenger seat and the back seat are comfortable and the vehicle feels confident, making it a good place to pass the miles. Both front seats feature seatbelt pretensioner and force-limiter technology, which can help reduce injuries in an accident.
The instrument panel features an analog clock in the middle of a large, titanium-texture dashboard trim panel. The clock is easy to set and has a black face in the LS model and a white face in the XLS version. Instrumentation includes a large speedometer and tachometer. The XLS comes with light-face gauges, which we find much easier to read; besides, they match better with the titanium. Heating and air conditioning controls are plain and simple, easy to operate. A variety of storage pockets is available. Rubber retainer bands hold things securely in the lighted glove box. There's no compass, though.
The rear seat is designed with additional lumbar support. It is split 60/40. There's no need to remove the headrests before folding the rear seats, which reveals an extended, though not perfectly flat, cargo area. There is 24.4 cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seats, and 60.3 cu. ft. with the seats folded down. The rear seat has three headrests and three sets of shoulder belts. It also has a fold-down center armrest with two cup holders.
A single rear liftgate makes getting into the cargo area easy. A thin, divided storage area beneath the cargo floor cover offers some convenient storage, and the cargo area includes grocery bag hooks and a 12-volt power outlet. The cargo floor is about 30 inches off the ground to ease loading and unloading. A rear cargo cover is available for the Outlander to hide valuables, and Mitsubishi cleverly designed a place under the cargo floor to stash the cargo cover. Other SUVs do not offer a place to store the cargo cover (other than your garage), meaning it takes up space and is subject to damage when not in use.
The Mitsubishi Outlander is smooth, quiet and comfortable. Outlander's long wheelbase and carlike suspension work together to provide a comfortable ride. There is little road or wind noise. The primary sound that can be heard is wind noise from the large side mirrors, and we would not want to give up the nice, big mirrors. The Mitsubishi isn't as smooth as the Honda and some road vibration can be felt through the steering wheel. Two-wheel-drive Outlanders feel smoother and peppier than four-wheel-drive models.
One of the first things we noticed about the Outlander is that it feels very stable at high speeds. The Mitsubishi feels more stable than the Honda CR-V In crosswinds and at higher speeds. The Outlander's 103.3-inch wheelbase (the distance between front and rear tires) is longer than that of the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Subaru Forester.
The Outlander leans in corners, but handles well. Steering is on the slow side and there's a small amount of play in the steering, but it's easy to steer it smoothly, providing a nice ride for your passengers. This is an easy vehicle to drive.
Like many vehicles in this category, the Outlander has disc brakes in front and drums in the rear. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) are optional. It's easy to modulate the Outlander's brakes to prevent wheel lockup, and it stops calmly and quickly in an emergency, as we learned. However, we recommend opting for ABS, which allows the driver to maintain steering control in a panic-braking situation. (In an emergency stopping situation in vehicles with ABS, you should maintain firm pedal pressure until the vehicle is stopped.)
Horsepower is not the Outlander's forte. It's powered by Mitsubishi's 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that is also used in the Galant and Eclipse. The Outlander's engine is tuned with a larger throttle body and less restrictive exhaust system, but its 140 horsepower rating still isn't impressive. (By comparison, the Toyota RAV4 offers 142 hp, the Honda CR-V weighs in with 160 hp and the Subaru Forester with 165.) Mitsubishi says it opted for reduced friction and improved durability over a higher-revving engine with more power. It generates a fairly substantial 157 pounds-feet of torque to help launch you away from a stoplight. But the Outlander does not accelerate as quickly as its competition. We found the 2WD Outlanders peppier than the 4WD versions.
It speaks well for the Outlander that its chassis is stout enough to handle a 240-hp turbocharged engine in a version of the Outlander in Japan called the Airtrek. Mitsubishi has done exceptionally well in international rally and endurance racing, with the Lancer Evo and with the Pajero (sold in North America as the Montero) sport utility vehicle that has dominated the Paris-Dakar marathon race for so many years. The Outlander benefits from such body-strengthening techniques as MASH seam welding and what Mitsubishi calls its RISE design (Reinforced Impact Safety Evolution). The 2002 Lancer sedan on which the Outlander is based earned a 'Good' rating, the highest possible, in the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety crash-testing program and was listed as the 'best pick' in the small car class.
A totally new vehicle, the 2003 Mitsubishi Outlander is based on the successful Lancer sedan platform, but adds the option of all-wheel drive and the styling and versatility of a compact sport-utility vehicle.
The Mitsubishi Outlander is smooth and quiet. The Honda CR-V seems a little smoother, while the Toyota RAV4 feels more solid. But the Outlander feels more stable at high speeds. It handles well on winding roads. Its diminutive proportions mean it's easy to park and maneuver in tight, busy places. It has excellent brakes. Available all-wheel drive adds capability and safety in the winter.
While the Mitsubishi Outlander may not offer some of the special features or the horsepower that come with some of its competitors, it is competitively priced and provides an attractive choice for those who want carlike handling, but also need room and versatility.
Outlander LS 2WD; LS AWD; XLS 2WD, XLS AWD.
Options As Tested
convenience package includes cargo cover, floor mats, keyless entry, roof rails; appearance package includes privacy glass, 16-inch alloy wheels.
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