Until the past few years, shopping for a compact SUV could be a real snoozer.
Not that there was anything wrong with vehicles like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV-4, but that they, along with most offerings in this segment, shared the same unimaginative, trucky styling.
Thanks to increased competition, today’s exteriors are more inspired, but none are more distinctive than the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander.
A makeover in 2010 gave this previously competent but bland SUV the company’s signature ‘jet fighter’ front end, borrowed from the rally-proven Lancer Evolution. This aggressive new treatment, with its large, blacked-out mesh grille, sharp hood creases and wedge-shaped projector-style headlamps is accompanied by a redesigned rear quarter panel fascia and door mirrors.
On the top-trim XLS models, a chrome grille surround and seven-spoke, 18 inch alloy wheels complete the look.
But the 2010 changes are more than cosmetic. The XLS model, for example, now also benefits from an upgrade to Mitsubishi’s slip-and-grip 4WD system in the form of its Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC) along with Active Front Differential.
The Outlander has also received some tweaks to its available 3.0-litre V6 engine, boosting horsepower from 220 to 230, and with improved fuel economy.
The current-generation model may not outsell Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV-4, but at roughly 8,300 units sold this year in Canada, it is nearly tied with the Lancer and all its variants as Mitsubishi’s top selling vehicle. The 2011 Outlander is, for the most part, a carryover from 2010.
Despite a relatively small dealer network, much of its sales success can be attributed to a competitive price point with plenty of standard features and available content.
The ES 2WD base model starts at $25,498 and comes with a long list of standard items.
This includes power windows, keyless entry, air conditioning, heated front seats, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, 60/40 split fold/tumble second row, dual glove box, three 12-volt power points, six-speaker 140-watt CD/MP3 player with speed compensated volume, MP3/aux inputs and steering wheel audio controls, Bluetooth hands-free phone interface, heated power side mirrors, multi-information display, privacy glass, 16-inch alloy wheels and more.
Outlander also gets a full suite of standard safety features such as four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution, active stability control (ASC), traction control and a tire pressure monitoring system.
Add 4WD and you also get hill start assist, bringing the price to $27,998. Both ES models are powered by Mitsubishi’s 2.4-litre 16-valve, DOHC inline four-cylinder that provides 168 hp and 167 lb/ft of torque, mated to a CVT Sportronic transmission that can be shifted manually, if you so choose.
The LS trim level, starting at $29,498, comes standard with 4WD and gets the more powerful 3.0-litre, 24-valve SOHC V6 engine that delivers 230 hp and 215 lb/ft of torque. That may not sound like a lot next to RAV4’s 269 hp and 246 lb/ft (which is more juice than necessary in this kind of vehicle), but it’s competitive with other V6 competitors like the Escape. The CR-V, Rogue, Hyundai Tucson and Suzuki Grand Vitara are only available with four cylinder engines.
Mated to Outlander’s 3.0-litre V6 is a six-speed Sportronic automatic transmission. This smooth-shifting unit comes with steering wheel paddle shifters in XLS trim.
The LS also features a compact third row seat, with fore/aft sliding on the second row to help passengers get in and out. Other amenities include a Fast-Key system (allowing you to keep the fob in your pocket or purse), fog lights and LED repeaters in the side mirrors.
Move up to the XLS S-AWC (starting at $34,498), and in addition to the LS features, you get 18-inch alloys, automatic climate control, leather seating surfaces in the first and second rows, power driver’s seat, rain-sensing wipers, power sunroof and the head-pounding 710-watt Rockford Fosgate Punch Premium sound system with six-CD changer.
Another big step up is the previously mentioned Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC) system with Active Front Differential.
Similar to the S-AWC used on the Lancer Evolution, this system analyses and reacts to driver intent in real time.
It can move torque from left to right and front to rear, depending on vehicle dynamics and road conditions. And making it more driver-friendly than typical 4WD systems is a three-position dial labelled ‘Tarmac,’ ‘Snow’ and ‘Lock.’
This system works seamlessly with the vehicle’s traction and stability control systems, cutting power or applying brakes at each wheel to help keep the Outlander on its intended path.
During my week of testing, I had the opportunity to try it on all kinds of asphalt—wet, dry and snowy—and believe me, it works.
I had expected the system to apply a heavy hand in the snow, but it wasn’t overly intrusive—even when giving a little extra throttle around turns.
S-AWC (with ASC activated) also works on dry pavement in more spirited maneuvers. The system applies brakes on the inside wheel during understeer and outer wheel during oversteer, and transfers torque where needed to improve cornering stability.
Lean is minimal in the turns, and on the straighter stretches, Mitsu’s surprisingly responsive 3.0-litre V6 provides gutsy acceleration. And delivers it with a nice, raspy exhaust note.
The vehicle’s crisp handling and good driving dynamics can also be attributed to a rigid unibody built on Mitsu’s global performance platform and sport-tuned suspension.
Up front is a MacPherson strut independent suspension with strut tower bar and stabilizer bar. In back is a multilink and coil system with stabilizer bar.
The Outlander’s maximum cargo capacity, at 2,056 litres, is competitive with other mid-size SUVs. With the compact third-row bench folded flat and the 60/40 second row tumbled forward, there’s plenty of space for a couple of bikes or for your next big-box shopping trip.
With the second row upright, there’s still a very usable 1,025 litres of space with a flat cargo floor. And with the flap-fold tailgate dropped (and hatch raised), loading is easy. The small tailgate can also serve as a seat, able to support 200 kilograms.
Pop the third row, which is a two-step procedure that takes some practice, and you still have 422 litres.
The shallow depression where the seats are stowed contributes little space, unlike minivans and other SUVs that typically have a deep well behind the third row. But the Outlander’s is less commodious for a reason. The rear seat is little more than fabric stretched over a steel frame, with little pop-up ‘ironing boards’ as headrests.
I would call this ‘emergency’ third-row seating, unless you like riding with your knees under your chin. Still, the kids seem to get a kick out of riding back there, and it’s easy enough to access as both sides of the second row tumble forward in a single motion.
The Outlander’s interior fit and finish is good—on par with any of the segment leaders. My XLS tester had a few niceties not found on the base model, such as the double-stitched leather seating surfaces and centre armrest, double-stitched faux leather in the doors and instrument panel, giving it a premium look and feel.
Ergonomics are generally good, but my one gripe is that the high-low switch for the heated front seats is positioned well back from view on the centre console, making it difficult to find while driving.
The top-trim Outlander can be optioned up further with the $2,500 Navigation Package that includes music server, lane guidance system, rear view camera and video input jack.
There’s also an available rear seat entertainment system and loads of cargo accessories like roof racks, bike carriers, trailer hitch, ski and snowboard carriers and more.
Overall, the Outlander has a lot to offer compact SUV buyers, and provides a driving experience that I would expect from a more premium product.
Pricing remains the same as last year, with some changes in packaging—check the company web site for more details.
Mitsubishi Outlander XLS S-AWC 2011
Body Style: compact sport utility
Drive Method: front-engine, all-wheel-drive
Engine: 3.0-litre, 24-valve SOHC V6 (230 hp and 215 lb/ft of torque)
Towing Capacity: 3,500 lbs with V6 engine
Fuel Economy: (as tested)—11.0/7.9/9.6 L/100km (city/highway/combined)
Price: (base) $25,498; XLS S-AWC $34,498