By Chris Doane
Wednesday, Apr 1st, 2009 @ 3:04 pm
 
Every car on the market has at least one redeeming quality, whether it is exceptional fuel economy, a ferocious motor, the finest leather, a great price. After spending a week in Mitsubishi's Outlander, we discovered that its shinning attribute is a 10-inch subwoofer.

I'm afraid to say it's a bit downhill from there.

What is it?
The Outlander is the younger brother in Mitsubishi's SUV pair, though with the larger Endeavor on its way out, Outlander will soon be an only child. Outlander can seat five comfortably, or you can opt for the third row jump seats and have room for seven. Sort of.

What's it up against?
In what can only be described as a very crowded segment, the Outlander is at war on many fronts. On the American front, you've got the Chevy Equinox, Ford Escape, Jeep Liberty and Dodge Nitro. In the Korean and Japanese theaters, you have the Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-7 . . . you get the idea. It's a tough battle field.

Any breakthroughs?
Gadget-wise, the Outlander in midlevel SE trim can be pretty pleasing if you're willing to option it up. Sirius satellite radio, MP3 capability and an audio input jack are standard. But if you want Bluetooth, Navigation and a 40GB hard drive, prepare to check a few boxes on your order sheet.

Standard on the SE we tested is the 650-watt, Rockford Fosgate sound system. Nine speakers throughout the cabin and the aforementioned 10 inch enclosed subwoofer all the way in the back make up the blood and guts of this sound system. I expected the Outlander to be several things, but a ghetto blaster was not one of them. Once you figure out the needlessly complicated audio controls on the touch screen and boost the bass even a little, this car booms. Mirrors shake, interior trim pieces rattle, people wonder, "Is that noise seriously coming from that car?"

Yes, this soccer mom's grocery getter can bump.

Past the booming bass notes, however, there isn't a whole lot left. This system is very good at being loud, but the overall sound quality lacks the richness or clarity of better systems. Your ears won't be smiling, but very well may bleed.

How does it look?
Get your Outlander in Diamond White Pearl, squint hard enough, and it might just have a Star Wars storm trooper look to it. A speeder bike it isn't, however. Past any evil aspirations, it's a pretty safe, atypical crossover design. A narrow, two bar grill and a large, silver skid plate with off-road aspirations anchor the front end.

Fairly slab-sided doors, bulbous fender flares and modest, rising beltline take you to the rear. In back, the funky LED taillights and angular glass might actually make this the best view of the car. The red LED glow makes for an angry anime look. Mitsubishi Outlander Dragon Ball Z Edition?

It's worth noting that an interesting partnership with PSA has given birth to the nearly identical Citroen C-Crosser and Peugeot 4007 for European markets.

And on the inside?
The interior of the Outlander is exceptional, which is to say, exceptionally unacceptable. The sticker on this particular model came in at $28,644. For a car that's getting close to 30 grand, the quality of the material used is simply shocking. For a $15,000 Honda Fit, yes, it would be fine. For this Outlander, are you kidding me? In short, the gray and silver plastic feels very cheap and looks even worse with its poor texturing.

It would be one thing if the material choices were low rent, but unfortunately the styling isn't there either. While the dash has one nice "swoop" in the design, there just isn't anything else compelling about its overall blandness. The touch screen and three large knobs adorn a center stack that ends abruptly in favor of additional storage space. Most of the switchgear has a very "tacked-on" look and feel to it. Not surprisingly, the interior isn't very resilient. The dash and door panels had several ugly marks that we don't typically see in new cars, even well-used press cars.

Our tester featured the third-row seat option. The good news is that it stows away into the floor, which makes for a perfectly flat cargo area. The bad news: Reasonably shaped humans would never choose to occupy it. It is so tight that it makes the jump seat a flight attendant sits on look comfy. And it's certainly not worth the $500 you'll cough up to add this option, even for small children. If you're looking for a three-row SUV/crossover, look further.

The basic problem lies back in the list of vehicles the Mitsubishi competes with. You can find plenty of vehicles with much nicer interiors and for thousands less.

From what we've seen of the new 2010 Chevy Equinox at auto shows, for example, absolutely destroys the Outlander's interior.

But does it go?
The Outlander shares a few things with the Lancer GTS in the powertrain department. You'll find the same 168-horsepower, 2.4-liter MIVEC four-cylinder motor and the same magnesium paddle shifters as the sporty compact car. While that might sound good, guess what happens when you ask the Lancer's 2.4 to pull around the Outlander's extra 55 pounds and brick-like styling? The answer: You had better not be running late.

Spec-wise, the Outlander needs at least a 10-count to get to 60 mph. In more real life applications, you'll want to think before you jump out into moving traffic with only a small gap between cars, lest you hear an angry horn, or worse, a crunch. Highway passing or on ramps also can be a drawn out task.

If you're dead set on an Outlander, a 3.0-liter, 220-horse V6 is available for a mere $600 more as part of the XLS package, which even includes automatic climate control, the third-row seat, 18-inch wheels and Bluetooth. Choose wisely.

Now, about those paddle shifters. What on earth are these doing in this CUV? This is not a sporting vehicle by any stretch of the imagination and paddle shifters aren't going to "fun it up." More importantly, the money used to slap these on the steering column could've been put to better use on a higher quality interior.

Fortunately, the ride is pretty nice in the Outlander. Bumps and most craters that grace the roads in metro Detroit are smoothed out to be quite tolerable. Keep a firm grip on the steering wheel, though, as the Mitsubishi's front wheels err toward the jumpy side. A moderate dose of body roll also awaits you at every bend in the road.

Why you would buy it:
Your dad owns a Mitsubishi dealer? If you really want one, the Outlander is due for a refresh fairly soon. You might want to wait and see if the interior has been improved.

Why you wouldn't:
An interior in a near $30k car that looks like it came out of a $15k car - need we say more? The Outlander has been on the market since late 2005 and it's not aging well. Almost all of its competitors offer a much better vehicle at a better price.

2009 Mitsubishi Outlander SE AWD base price, $25,180. As tested, $28,644.
Third row seat, $500; Navigation, $1,999; Bluetooth, $250; Destination, $715.

Words and photos by Chris Doane.