The 2005 Mitsubishi Outlander is the least expensive of the Japanese manufacturer's three sports utility vehicles. It's compact, nicely designed and offers more standard features than many SUVs nearly twice the price.
But the Outlander faces a tough challenge. In a popular category that includes best-buy choices like the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester, the Outlander doesn't offer any outstanding qualities that could sway potential buyers.
My test drive for the week was the new all-wheel drive limited edition Outlander. It joins the previous LX and XLS models and features an impressive list of upgrades from previous models.
All Outlanders offer a 4-cyclinder, 160-horsepower, 2,4-liter engine. With its standard automatic transmission, the vehicle performs adequately in city driving. But it lacks acceleration for highway journeys, and it struggles on long inclines, even with only two adult front-seat passengers.
Steering and handling are adequate and the automatic transmission shifts smoothly. Mitsubishi's all-wheel drive system is a plus and it's reminiscent of the original AWD feature Subaru first offered. The Outlander limited edition includes 17-inch alloy wheels and four-wheel independent suspension. But such features don't ease the tough go over city street speed bumps, even at slow speeds.
In several other basic areas – front and rear-seat room, ride noise, interior materials and instrumentation function – the Outlander is adequate. The gauges, for example, are simply designed and easy to use. But if average is the best Mitsubishi can do, how can the Outlander compete with heavy-hitters in the compact SUV market segment?
For all of its less-than-spectacular features, the Outlander rebounds in several areas.
From the driver's seat, visibility is good. The vehicle's leather seats are comfortable and front and rear seat access is spacious. Despite the Outlander's compact SUV status, there's plenty of cargo space behind the rear seat. And the rear lift gate is nicely designed and functions with ease.
The Outlander's best feature, though, is its vast array of standard features, particularly in the limited edition. Consider: air-conditioning, cruise control a 210-watt Infinity AM/FM stereo (six-disc CD and MP3 features), power doors, windows and sunroof, remote keyless entry, leather seats, heated front seats, a 10-way adjustable driver's seat, dual visor vanity mirrors, integrated fog lights, a nicely designed roof rail, a 60-40 split reclining rear seatback and daytime running lamps.
Still, the Outlander doesn't have the workmanship of other vehicles in its class and its resale value can't match the more well-recognized SUVs offered by Ford, Honda and Subaru. Further, the Outlander is an SUV with an underpowered engine. Isn't that a contradiction?
2005 Mitsubishi Outlander
Safety features - Dual front and front side airbags, antilock brakes, daytime running lamps
Fuel Mileage (estimates) - 21 mpg (city), 25 mpg (highway).
Warranty - Bumper to bumper, 5 years/60,000 miles; Powertrain, 10 years/100,000 miles; Corrosion, 7 years/100,000 miles; Roadside assistance, 5 years, unlimited miles
Base price range - $25,179.00
James Raia, a journalist in Sacramento, Calif. , is the author of the syndicated automotive column, The Weekly Driver Review, and co- author of the e-book “How To Buy A Car Without Getting Ripped Off. "
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