2009 Mitsubishi Outlander

Outlander outshines many compact SUVs

2009 Mitsubishi Outlander

Mitsubishi’s Outlander is a spirited and versatile sport utility/crossover that does a good job of distinguishing itself from the competition. The Outlander is the most popular selling SUV-like vehicle from the Japanese automaker since the demise of the off-road-capable Montero five years ago and the aging mid-size Endeavor.

FAST FACTS

1. The Outlander is a “compact” crossover/SUV that offers a third row.

2. ES and SE models come with a 168hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine while the XLS gets a 220hp 3.0-liter V6.

3. The Outlander is based on the same platform as the Lancer compact sedan.

The first-generation Outlander debuted in the 2003 model year with Gen II arriving in 2007. Some would pigeon-hole Outlander as a compact. If so, it’s a large compact with plenty of room and an available third row. This versatile second-generation offering is longer and wider than Gen I.

Based on the same platform (Mitsubishi Motors’ global “C” architecture) as the compact and sporty Lancer sedan and tuner-friendly Lancer Evolution, Outlander has always been nimble and fun to drive.

FOUR-CYLINDER RETURNS FOR 2009

Gen I offered a rather underpowered four-cylinder engine standard while 2007 Outlanders came exclusively with a 3.0-liter V6. In 2009, both four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines are available.

Outlander’s 2009 base ES and mid-grade SE (Special Edition) models come with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine cranking out 168 horses and teamed with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) while the top-grade XLS sports a 3.0-liter V-6 generating 220 horses and is married to a six-speed sporTronic automatic transmission. Like the compact Lancer, Outlander has large and easy to operate paddle shifters on the steering wheel to manually shift gears (when desired) without the need of a foot clutch. A mid-level LS trim level previously offered is no longer on the plate. All 2009 trims are available with two-wheel (front-wheel) or easy-to-operate four-wheel drive.

FULLY LOADED TOP-LINE MODEL FOR UNDER 30 GRAND

Starting price for a two-wheel-drive ES is $20,380. Our tester, a four-wheel-drive XLS checked in at $25,780. This baby included all the optional packages including the luxury ($1,650), navigation ($1,950) and upgraded sound system ($1,610) for a bottom line of $29,990. A 2009 Honda CR-V, available only with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, starts at $21,095. The popular CR-V SUV is sold with front wheel or all-wheel drive, but no third-row seat.

Inside, Outlander’s deep set instrument panel has two circular analog tube-like structures with a digital window in the middle consisting of a fuel bar and secondary transmission indicator. Four vertical vents are spread across the dashboard (with brushed aluminum accents) with a covered, shallow storage bin at the dashboard’s middle top. Three easy to grab dials control ventilation functions. To the far left of the dash is a retracting single beverage holder. The fuel gauge release lever is on the floor left of the driver’s bucket seat.

The Outlander starts with an assist from an electronic key fob and a large tab on the steering column’s right side. Just push the foot brake and twist the tab, and the engine purrs to life. No ignition key is needed. This “Fast Key” system comes standard in SE and XLS models.

LOTS OF INTERIOR ROOM FOR A “COMPACT” SUV

Need lots of headroom? Bring your top hat because the Outlander delivers outstanding first row headroom. Maneuvering into the Outlander’s front bucket seat requires an easy sit down, not a step up motion. Our XLS test model featured the fold-into-the-floor third row, which is best left for the pre-teen set. Headroom is much tighter than rows one and two and knees must be held fairly close to the torso for any adults sitting there. Still, the third row is a breeze to fold up and down thanks to well-marked and step-numbered straps and large, visual instructions. The small bench third row props up quickly from the back cargo area. Maneuvering into the far back row is made easier by second row 60/40 split seatbacks that fold down after which the entire seat tumbles forward. Second row seats, like row number three, are not removable from the vehicle.

For 2009, four-cylinder SE models offer the third-row seat as an option in both two-wheel and four-wheel drive models. The top-level XLS continues with the third row standard. The top XLS trim is the only model available with a luxury package option (adding rain-sensing wipers in 2009). Returning in the luxury package are heated front seats, leather seating surfaces in the first two rows and Xenon headlamps. An in-dash navigation system with 7-inch in-dash touch screen is also optional only in XLS. New in this package for 2009 is a rear back up camera. The top XLS trim also distinguishes itself with standard chrome accents on exterior strap-like door handles and the on front grille.

PLENTY OF FUNCTIONAL SPACE AND FEATURES

Be sure to check out the back door. The rear hatch (with wiper), hinged at the top, folds up while the bottom bumper region folds down with the slide of a lever-type tab to create a small load floor capable of handling 440 pounds. For hearty sports fans, this doubles as a seat during tailgate season.

When ordering four-wheel drive, the chrome dial switching between the two systems is found between the front seats along with a hand-operated parking brake and dual cup holders. More cup holders are found in all four doors also. Although four-wheel drive is offered, Outlander is intended for on-road travel.

Midwestern travelers will find the four-wheel models very effective in the snow and ice. When these ‘cute utes’ burst on the scene a dozen years ago, four-wheel drive was in scarce demand. Offering great piece of mind, it’s easy to use (just a twist of a between the seats dial) and more road-gripping traction is apparent.

Outlander also registers as one of the top safety picks in the small SUV category by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) thanks to such standard fare as stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, dual front air bags, front seat side-mounted air bags, energy-absorbing interior pillars and curtain air bags covering the first two rows. In addition, all editions include as standard equipment air conditioning, cruise control power windows, power outside mirrors and audio system with compact disc player and MP3 capability.

THE VERDICT

What many may not know is that the Outlander is covered by a 10-year 100,000-mile limited powertrain (whichever comes first) warranty and a five-year/60,000 bumper-to-bumper limited warranty. In addition, five years of free roadside assistance is offered which includes towing to the nearest Mitsubishi dealer. No other compact sport utility vehicle with three rows of seating offers this extensive coverage. Some may cost less, but for those desiring nimble handling in a compact crossover, Outlander is tough to beat thanks to its sporty Mitsubishi Lancer underpinnings.

PLUS

One of the only compact SUV/crossovers with an available third row. Fold out tailgate extension capable of holding 440 pounds Insurance Institute of Highway Safety top pick.

MINUS

Available third row is diminutive yet kid friendly. Most up-level amenities only available in top-level (read most expensive), six-cylinder XLS

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