When taking another zig-zagging section of road that climbs a steep ridge, we used the magnesium paddle-shifters to click through the gears and noticed that the engine goes into a raspier, deeper-breathing mode at about 4,700 rpm on up, and the transmission will stay in whatever gear you select.
The EPA fuel economy ratings, at 18 mpg city and 24 highway, seemed about right for the Outlander GT; we saw a respectable 21 mpg in a well-rounded mix of about 100 miles of city and highway driving. And on a separate 20-mile freeway cruise at 70 mpg, we averaged about 23 according to the trip computer.
Overall, the Outlander might just be enough to sate those who've given up a sport sedan for a little more practicality but don't want the bloated feel of a larger ute. Although we prefer the more enthusiastic power delivery of the Subaru Forester XT, the Outlander GT is quite possibly the best-handling of the "compact-plus" utes. The Acura RDX and Mazda CX-7 are two other worthy alternatives, but neither has a third-row seat. Although the RDX also comes with a performance-tuned all-wheel drive system, it doesn't feel quite as buttoned-down in tight corners.
Our test car, outfitted with the Premium Leather and Navigation Package, which includes power heated front seats, a digital music server, real-time traffic, and an auxiliary video input—altogether bringing the bottom-line price to about $33k, which is about $2k less than a base Acura RDX or $2k more than a equally well loaded Subaru Forester XT Limited.
And for those who like the packaging of the Outlander GT but don't need quite as large or heavy of a vehicle, take note that the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is on the way. With a smaller size and sporty appearance, it should take on the Scion xD and xB, along with the Toyota Matrix and Suzuki SX4 and be a more 'normal' alternative to the Kia Soul or Nissan Cube.