2010 Mitsubishi Outlander

October 21, 2011

The 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander is a quirky ride for a quirky family. It's definitely not the same old thing, and it's great for someone who doesn't want to blend into the crowd. While more sporty than luxurious, the Outlander still offers nifty stuff like Bluetooth streaming music and LED lighting.

That's not to say this small SUV doesn't have some luxury features including optional leather seats with contrast stitching. Other features were almost nostalgic such as actual knobs for audio tuning and climate control.

Driving the Mitsubishi Outlander was a pleasant surprise. I expected some kind of compromise on the engine's power considering the modest price, but the Outlander performed beautifully on the brutal hills of my hometown. Acceleration with the optional V-6 was downright perky. While there was some noticeable engine noise, it wasn't obnoxious. The ride is definitely on the firm side, but I would say it's more bouncy than hard. I wouldn't call it relaxing, but driving the Outlander was never uncomfortable.

The Mitsubishi Outlander starts at $20,840, but my test car, a four-wheel-drive XLS model, cost $28,850.

EXTERIOR

For 2010, the Outlander had some work done in the front, and the result is, well, from the front it looks like a manta ray. I like manta rays, but it looks strange on a car. The rest of SUV looks much less sea-lifey, though, and rather cute. The Diamond White-colored test car I drove was particularly sporty looking, especially with darkly tinted windows and body-colored trim.

The Outlander is light on chrome, only using it to outline the grille and headlights and to line the bottom of the doors. In all, it's a crisp look. The profile is bowed rather than rounded and ends in a small roof-mounted spoiler. Black roof rails echo the roofline and add definition. A huge rear window dominates the back end, with angled LED taillights perch at the corners. The bumper is two-toned, creating an illusion of a higher vehicle. The chrome-tipped exhaust seems to float in midair, which is a nifty effect.

Getting in and out of the Outlander is no struggle since it doesn't sit much higher off the ground than a sedan. Getting into a vehicle that sits slightly higher is always easier for me because there is less danger of whacking my head on the roof. True to form, I was head-injury free during my time in the Outlander. My kids didn't struggle with getting in or out, either, thanks to a flat step-in area that reaches all the way to the third-row entry. There is plenty of headroom for everyone, even my freakishly tall brother who likes to complain, but he couldn't in the Outlander. The liftgate opens easily with one hand, because who has more than that to spare with kids around?

My test four-wheel-drive Outlander came with the optional 230-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 engine, which requires premium gas. The four-wheel-drive Outlander gets an EPA-estimated 18/24 mpg city/highway. The front-wheel-drive Outlander with a V-6 engine gets 19/25. If you're looking for better gas mileage, the Outlander's base engine, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that takes regular gas, gets 21/27 mpg with front-wheel drive and 21/25 mpg with four-wheel drive.

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times

INTERIOR

Inside, the 2010 Outlander is a modern world of black leather, metallic accents and red lighting. The lighting brings a bit of racetrack flavor and unexpected spice to an interior that could have been rather vanilla.

There's nothing plain about the Outlander. The front row's optional heated leather seats are part of a $1,650 Luxury Package, which includes a power driver's seat, leather seats in the second row, xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights and rain-sensing windshield wipers. There's an appealing simplicity to the dashboard, with its big knobs and clean arrangement. In an era when most cars have too many buttons to count, the Outlander evokes a pleasant nostalgia and ease of use. Of course, some of that is simply because my test car didn't come with a navigation system.

The leather-wrapped steering wheel felt solid in my hands and its mounted cruise and audio control buttons were right within thumb's reach. Phone calls were hands-free, thanks to Bluetooth connectivity, and the center console offers an MP3 jack, USB input and power ports, in addition to a deep well for storage. In fact, there was more storage than I expected. Between the center bin, dual-level glove compartment, three cupholders in front, two cupholders in back, door bins with bottleholders and cubbies in the third row, I had more places to stash stuff than I knew what to do with.

Both the first- and second-row seats are comfortable. A nice touch is the 60/40-split reclining second row. It makes for comfier passengers and easier installation of child-safety seats. The second row slides fore and aft, which makes for more legroom in the third row. The third row is standard in the XLS trim, but optional in other models.

That third row is interesting. It's my least favorite thing about the Outlander. While I love having a fold-flat third row that creates extra seating when I need it, the overly complicated process to lift it up and put it away made me never want to use it. Ever. There is a six-step diagram in the cargo area that shows how to use the seat. It should never take six steps to fold and use a seat. Even with the illustration, using the third row is just plain difficult. Additionally, it's not comfortable at all. Giant, flat head restraints fold upward, and the seat itself has almost no cushioning. The third row is definitely not a place I'd like to ride, even if it does have cupholders.

Cargo space is ample when the third row is folded, and it's fair when the third row is in use. While there was sufficient room for my needs, the cargo area seemed unfinished. The floor isn't flat, and there's nothing to stop items in back from sliding under the seats, even under the second row. There are exposed hooks for tying down cargo, but the loose straps for folding the seats flop around. The overall look is just messy.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Excellent

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample/Galore

SAFETY

In crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the 2010 Outlander received the top score of Good in frontal-offset and side-impact tests. In rear-impact and roof-strength crash tests, the Outlander received the second-highest score of Acceptable.

Though my Outlander had three rows in it, it only had two sets of Latch anchors, which were located in the second row. The anchors are visible through slots in the seats. While they aren't the most accessible ones on the market, they aren't the most difficult to use, either. The second row slides forward and back, making it easier to fit rear-facing car seats. The second row's flat seating surface allows booster seats to sit firmly without sliding or leaning to the side. However, the seat belt buckles in the third row are floppy, which can be difficult for kids to manage.

The Outlander has standard four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, front-wheel drive, stability control, traction control and six airbags, including side curtains for the first and second rows. Third-row side curtain airbags aren't available. Four-wheel drive, rain-sensing windshield wipers, the third row and auto-leveling xenon headlights are optional.

[KickingTires Highlights (2)]

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