Join Date: Mar 2001
First Drive: 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander (CanadianDriver.com)
First Drive: 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander (CanadianDriver.com)
Santa Barbara, California - An upbeat-looking Larry Futers, President of Mitsubishi Motors Canada, greeted the assembled auto writers in Santa Barbara, California recently with the following statement: "Ninety-eight percent of Canadians do not consider a Mitsubishi when buying a car."
So why is this man upbeat, you might ask? Because his company is launching a new Outlander compact SUV and Lancer compact sedan to the Canadian market over the next few weeks, both of which are significant improvements over the vehicles they replace. Mr. Futers is hovering over them like a proud parent of newborn twins, eager to show them off to everyone interested in a new car, impatient to get them (and news of them) to market.
In many ways, these are the kind of vehicles Mitsubishi should have offered three years ago, when the company first entered the Canadian market - but better late than never.
Starting at $25,498 for the front-wheel drive LS version, and climbing to $36,998 for the top-line four-wheel drive XLS, the 2007 Outlander takes an honest but somewhat uninspiring initial effort and replaces it with a much more appealing product.
The former four-cylinder engine is upgraded to a smooth, 3.0-litre, 220 horsepower V6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, which provides the kind of power and responsiveness that you hope for in a vehicle of this type. Torque is a healthy 206 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm.
The 2007 Outlander also features an all-new platform (shared with the Lancer) which increases body stiffness considerably. The LS gets 16-inch steel wheels with covers (alloy optional), and the XLS comes with big 18-inch alloys. The new look and several clever and unique features round out the package.
Front-wheel drive is standard in both trim levels, but if the four-wheel drive option is chosen (it's available on LS and XLS), drivers can select between 2WD, 4WD Auto and 4WD Lock from a knob located in the centre console. Also part of the XLS 4WD package is column-mounted paddle shifting for those who want a sportier driving experience. Fuel consumption is rated at 12.0/8.1 L/100km for the XL 2WD, and 12.2/8.5 L/100km for the XLS 4WD.
The new Outlander is slightly wider, taller and longer than the outgoing model, and features an aluminum roof which contributes to a lower centre of gravity, and better handling. A longer wheelbase increases rear seat legroom and improves the ride.
Safety equipment is comprehensive, including standard anti-lock brakes, active skid control, side curtain airbags, front thorax airbags, active head restraints and seat belt pretensioners.
The most innovative feature is the fold-flat tailgate. Mitsubishi designers and engineers have lowered the cargo floor by 201 millimetres compared with the outgoing model. This considerably increases cargo capacity (you can wheel a bicycle into the cargo area with the second row seat folded) and permits the inclusion of a small, useful, tailgate whose 200-kilogram capacity can be used to support large, heavy, objects as you slide them into the truck; or you and a couple of friends can sit on it.
Even though the floor is considerably lower, Mitsubishi engineers have figured out a way to package a slim, third-row seat in the XLS, which can be used occasionally to transport an extra pair of passengers (children, presumably). A space saver spare tire fits below the third row seat.
The interior of the Outlander is patterned after a sports sedan, according to Mitsubishi designer Dan Sims. It is indeed more car-like than you might expect from an SUV, which is consistent with current trends in this segment. To maximize cargo space, the 60/40 rear seats fold flat and tumble forward, as well as sliding and reclining.
A navigation system that comes bundled with a rear-seat DVD entertainment system is available in the XLS for a somewhat hefty $4,000. The navigation system is hard-drive based, and six gigabytes of its 30-GB capacity can be used to serve music. A Rockford-Fosgate "Punch" audio system, along with a sunroof, is standard on the XLS, and available as part of a "Sun and Sound" package on the LS model.
Other available interior amenities include Bluetooth cell phone compatibility and keyless remote entry and starting.
The exterior of the Outlander is distinctive without being quirky, but the rear is perhaps more boldly rendered than the front. From either end, though, its pleasant lines complemented by angular accents make this a vehicle you can readily identify.
On the road, power comes on smoothly from standstill, and pulls the Outlander to highway speeds with authority. On the twisting roads through California's Santa Ynez mountains, the paddle shifters quickly engaged selected gears as required, and usefully maintained chosen gears on ascending and descending grades.
The suspension, while described as "sport-oriented" is not aggressively firm, and nowhere near as firm, in my opinion, as found on other "sport tuned" vehicles like the Mazda CX-7. The downside is that body roll is noticeable when slaloming through tight turns at speed. The upside is that handling is moderately sharp, and passengers don't experience a jarring ride over bumps and other road imperfections.
The availability of paddle shifters is a performance-oriented touch, but these are fixed to the steering column, which means that in some situations when turning the Outlander, you can't reach the shifter to change gears. It would be better if the paddle shifters rotated with the steering wheel.
I didn't get to experience the Outlander over rugged terrain, but towing capacity for the 2WD Outlander is 2,000 pounds, while 4WD versions can tow a trailer up to 3,500lbs.
Despite innovative features, and Mitsubishi's laudable seven-straight victories in the tough (extremely tough) Dakar Rally, the Outlander faces some stiff competition in this segment. Vehicles like the Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-7 and Toyota RAV4 are very strong contenders. This new Outlander, however, is a significant improvement on the model it replaces.