Second Drive: 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander GT

June 1, 2010
While Mitsubishi has struggled to stay relevant with its larger vehicles—like the Mitsubishi Galant sedan and Endeavor SUV—it's managing to offer some excellent choices ranging from compact to mid-size. The automaker has infused its lineup of 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer and Outlander variants with a unique mix of sport and practicality.

And for 2010, Mitsubishi has injected just a little more high-performance character from the Lancer Evolution into its Outlander utility vehicle—without affecting its inherent practicality or comfort.

That was our take after driving the 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander GT for the first time earlier this year in the wide-open areas around Palm Springs. But a few weeks back we had the chance to take the Outlander GT on a follow-up drive in normal day-to-day city conditions, and came to admire this vehicle's size—just large enough to fit comfortable accommodations for five, and an abbreviated (very abbreviated) third row, but compact and maneuverable enough for feeling comfortable on tighter streets.

With rearward visibility the only remaining issue, the Outlander is very city-friendly, with a nice view outward from the front seats and, refreshingly, a beltline that won't make shorter drivers feel claustrophobic. Yet the front seats in the Outlander are more generously sized than most you'll find among compact crossovers, and feel great for taller drivers like this one—firm and supportive enough for a highway haul, yet bolstered just a little bit around the side to help out on the twisty stretches of road. The two-piece tailgate takes a bit of getting used to, but we see how it would ease loading for larger items. About the only thing missing, as we reported before, is a telescopic adjustment for the steering wheel.

The most significant change given to the new Outlander GT model—in addition to all the cosmetic changes like the most aggressive snout and air dam, redesigned fenders, chrome accents, and soft-touch surfaces inside—is the addition of the Evo's Super-All Wheel Control (S-AWC) all-wheel-drive system, with an active front differential and electronically controlled center diff, along with a slew of electronics that pair the system with the stability control system to ensure smooth delivery—and enable almost 100 percent of torque to be sent to the rear wheels when needed.

With a good set of winter tires, the Outlander GT should be one mean skiers' or snowboarders' vehicle.

Up in the mountains above Palm Springs we had dry, well-surfaced roads, but on a slightly damp steep stretch of road in the Oregon Cascades, we tried to upset the system's composure. Thanks to the tenacity of the grip and the fleet-footed nature of the system, that proved difficult even there. Leaving it in Tarmac mode and going deep into the accelerator just before mid-corner—as you're not supposed to do—the system very gently intervened, reapportioned torque to the wheels with more grip, and simply went where we pointed the steering wheel, with no sliding, no drama. Tap into the gas just out of the corner and the system will allow you the slightest bit of oversteer—a very unusual luxury for driving enthusiasts in a utility vehicle. All the while, its center of mass feels lower than it should be for such a tall vehicle—perhaps due to the aluminum roof and upper panels.

The Outlander GT's 3.0-liter V-6 is a pretty sweet engine. Its 230-hp rating is respectable but not downright impressive today, and it's hardly torquey—from a standing start a very aggressive throttle calibration tries to fake an abundance of oomph—but the engine is super-smooth and refined and comes into its own above 2,500 rpm, working well with the wide-spanning ratios of the six-speed automatic transmission.

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.

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