I recently wrote about what a great performer the Acura MDX is; that it’s essentially a sport sedan masquerading as a crossover SUV. While the MDX a formidable choice for a combination of performance and utility, it’s also priced in the neighborhood of $50,000 once you add all the cool options.
There’s also a smaller, much less expensive SUV that has sport sedan manners too, and is actually more fun to drive than the big Acura. The Mitsubishi Outlander GT kind of flies under most buyers’ radar (as does Mitsubishi as a whole), but it offers the choice of something that has lots of utility while still feeling very much like the company’s line of sporty cars.
New for 2010 is a bolder front grill for all the Outlander line, and it’s one of those love-hate things. Either you like the aggressive shape of it or you find it a little over the top. Whichever camp you’re in on the styling, it brings the Outlander into line with other Mitsubishi products.
For the Outlander GT, the performance is stepped up with a wonderfully smooth 3.0 liter V6 engine making 230 horsepower. There’s only one transmission choice: a very smooth 6-speed automatic with manual shifting handled by big paddle shifters on the steering column. The transmission also employs a fuel-saving trick that essentially puts it into neutral whenever you’re stopped at a light. (It’s only slightly annoying when it noticeably settles back into gear as you start to go again.)
All-wheel drive is standard on the GT model, and it’s more of a road-going system with a knob that the driver can use to shift from “Tarmac” (which means normal driving) to “Snow” or “Lock.” The last setting is presumably when you’re in really rough conditions or competing in a rally race. Mitsubishi has translated a lot of its rally heritage onto its street models, and the Outlander GT gets a dose of that too.
The little SUV drives great. It truly does feel like a performance sedan, albeit it one that’s a touch on the heavy side. The steering wheel is perfectly-sized and provides good road feel, the instruments are well laid-out, and the strong V6 pulls exceptionally well. And if you’re so inclined, you can manually shift gears via the magnesium paddles.
(I have a theory about paddle shifters, the current craze among car companies looking to give their performance cars an extra bit of flair. Most people will play with the levers when they’re on a test drive at the dealership, then they may use them once or twice the first two weeks they have the car, but after that they just sort of sit there.)
Beyond the sportiness of the GT model, the basic layout of the Outlander is one of my favorites in the category of compact cross-overs. First, it doesn’t sit artificially high for that faux-macho feel that others try to employ. It also has a couple of neat features that stretch its practicality. There are sliding adjustors for the rear seats, allowing them to be moved forward for maximum cargo capacity or slid back for more legroom. Also, the rear hatch has a flip-down tailgate below it for easier loading or to use as a seat at tailgate parties.
There’s also, curiously, a third row seat that can be popped up into place when needed. Needed for what, I have no idea, because it’s so small that I can’t imagine who would sit back there. Adults? No way. Kids? Well maybe, but the only ones small enough to actually fit should be in car seats or booster seats, neither of which would easy to squeeze in. So while Mitsubishi refers to the Outlander GT as a “seven passenger” vehicle, I’m going to categorize it as a five passenger one.
My test vehicle was fitted with the optional navigation system, which works well and has traffic information, but forces the radio controls onto an array of flat buttons for everything. I prefer a rotary volume knob, and having to tap a + or – to adjust the sound level makes me feel like I stepped back into the 1980s. I thought the auto industry had learned that most drivers prefer conventional knobs. At least there is a very intuitive volume control on the steering wheel.
While a base Outlander ES can be had for as little as $20,840, the much more loaded-up GT model carries a base price of $29,250. The only option is the $3000 navigation and leather package, which I would be temped to skip, but it’s the only way to get leather. The leather seats are really very nice, so I’d have to forgive the lack of a volume knob to keep my backside happy.
For those who are heading into the SUV segment kicking and screaming (young parents who enjoy driving for example), the Outlander GT bridges the gap nicely between a sport sedan and a vehicle with a big cargo hold.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz@pacbell.net