These days, Mitsubishi is probably best known for its smokin’-hot Lancer Evolution sports sedan. This fall, the Evo may be forced to share the spotlight when the company launches its redesigned Outlander compact SUV. While a mini-ute will never win fans in the fast-and-furious set that worships the Evo, the new Outlander will do something more important: grab would-be Honda and Toyota buyers from among the masses who like their vehicles high-profile and utilitarian-but-sporty. This ought to spread smiles at Mitsubishi headquarters like an Evo redlining down a ramp in third does for the speed racers.
Recently, the folks at Mitsubishi invited Gaywheels.com along for a ride-and-drive of the 2007 Outlander. We caught our first glimpse of Outlander metal in a parking lot in sight of the Ferry Building in downtown San Francisco. Our immediate thought was Mitsu has come to throw down. The exterior styling of the new Outlander is sleek and athletic, especially the muscular, flared wheel covers. Inside, the finishes of everything from the seat covers to the dashboard synthetics are similarly slick. This tight package is not only easy on the eyes, but it’s functional, too—there is seating for five adults and, on the available, hideaway third-row bench, two children.
After starting the Outlander with the simple turn of a knob (our test vehicle was equipped with Mitsu’s optional, keyless FAST-Key system), we shifted the standard six-speed automatic transmission into drive. We pulled out of the lot, took a big whiff, and smiled—there’s not much to smell in the Outlander thanks to its odor-eating head liner, which absorbs and decomposes fumes such as cigarette smoke and formaldehyde. As we headed out of the city, we worked the column-mounted, magnesium-alloy paddle shifters. Seen for the first time in a compact SUV, these optional paddles are a fine way to change gears on those occasions, such as on long upgrades or during spurts of youthful exuberance, that make you hunger for a manual tranny.
On the city streets leading to the Golden Gate Bridge and the open freeway north of the Gate, the performance of Outlander’s solely offered, 3.0-liter, 220-hp, 24-valve V-6 engine was downright sprightly. Thanks in part to the use of weight-saving aluminum in the roof and engine block, this sporty performance comes with a respectable fuel economy of 20/27 mpg city/highway when the Outlander is in two-wheel-drive mode. While the base Outlander is equipped with front-wheel drive, Mitsubishi’s All-Wheel Control system is an option. With this drivetrain, drivers can select any of three settings with the turn of a center-console dial: 2WD for best fuel economy; 4WD for variable driving conditions; and Lock for greater off-the-line traction and high-speed stability.
After we left the freeway and hit the twisty two-laners of Marin County, the Outlander’s communicative steering and redesigned suspension systems really showed their stuff. When we pushed the Outlander through eucalyptus-shaded corners at maximal speeds, the suspension both minimized body roll and put the sport in sport-utility vehicle. We arrived at our lunch stop in Bodega Bay, the coastal town best known for the feather-ruffling visit of Tippy Hedren, and the Outlander’s all-new brake system, which features 11-plus-inch front and rear disks, stopped us swift and straight-line sure.
Lulled by our full stomachs and the music coming from the optional 650-watt, nine-speaker Rockford-Fosgate audio system, we took it easy for the first few miles of the return drive to San Francisco. SIRIUS satellite radio is available on the Outlander, but you are better off opting for the Outlander’s hard-drive-based navigation system; six of the hard drive’s 30 gigs are available to store 1200 of your favorite songs. The Outlander’s tech wonders serve more than your ears—without using your hands, you can talk yourself blue in the face with the available Bluetooth connection; while in the back, passengers won’t even listen to your conversation as they’ll be so enthralled by the optional DVD entertainment system.
We reached the entrance for the southbound freeway that leads back to San Francisco. As we started down the ramp, we downshifted with a flick of the paddle shifter and pressed our foot hard on the accelerator. The engine growled and we relaxed back into our seat as the Outlander sprung forward. Who says you need an Evo to put a smile on your face?
Pricing for the 2007 Outlander is not yet available from Mitsubishi, but look for a figure competitive with that of Toyota’s RAV4.
Mitsubishi is a gay-friendly company.