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Overachieving Outlander

may030210-vis.jpg (end image) (set caption) The 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander was given a midlife touch-up that includes an aggressive facelift from the Lancer line and a more refined interior.

may030210-vis.jpg (end image) (set caption) The 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander was given a midlife touch-up that includes an aggressive facelift from the Lancer line and a more refined interior.

BY MARK MAYNARD

The Mitsubishi Outlander doesn’t redefine automotive expectations, but clever and considerate engineering make it an overachieving family vehicle that is wrapped in top, five-star crash ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The five- or seven-passenger crossover has been given a midlife touch-up that includes an aggressive facelift from the Lancer line and a more refined interior. There’s also a new, top-of-the-line GT model that is performance tuned with full-time all-wheel drive, Sportronic six-speed automatic and V-6.

Interior upgrades are mostly the addition of soft-touch materials to create the appearance of a higher-quality vehicle. The improved touch points help, but Mitsubishi says there is still work to be done.

The plan is to move Outlander a little farther upscale to make room in the lineup for the new smaller Outlander Sport crossover that will go on sale this fall. The five-passenger Sport will emphasize fuel economy, a spokesman said. It should weigh about as much as a Lancer sedan (about 2,900 pounds) and will include such lightweight features as “green” plastic fenders. Outlander, Outlander Sport and Lancer share architecture.

Outlander is sold in four-cylinder and V-6 models in front or all-wheel drive, with pricing that ranges from $21,605 to $30,015. The XLS tester with 230 hp, 3.0-liter V-6, All-Wheel Control (AWD) and third-row bench was $28,805 with options.

Outlander competes with such vehicles as the Hyundai Santa Fe, Toyota RAV-4, Subaru Forester and Mazda CX-7, but not one of those is an apples-to-apples comparison.

Outlander has some unique features and smart engineering for fuel economy and function:

— Idle Neutral Logic is a seamless algorithm that shifts the transmission to neutral when the vehicle is at idle. It takes the load from the engine, saves fuel and reduces emissions.

— An aluminum roof removes about 11 pounds of metal from the top of the car to lower the center of gravity, which helps handling and lowers the risk of rollover. NHTSA gives Outlander four out of five stars for low rollover risk and five stars for both front passengers in front and side impacts. When the physics of the vehicle are improved, it reduces the need for electronic rollover mitigation, Mitsubishi says.

— All-Wheel Control provides three drive modes, selected by a dial on the center console: front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive (with variable amounts of torque distributed front to rear) or locked in four-wheel drive.

I liked the Outlander V-6 because it was straightforward to use and drive. Its turning circle is a trim 34.8 feet, and there are just so many ways to use its cargo and seating capacity.

But there is also noticeable wind noise from the mirrors at highway speed. The interior sonic alarm, which detects a break-in and motion inside the vehicle, means people or pets left in a locked vehicle will set off the anti-theft alarm. And the doors and body panels sound hollow, but that has nothing to do with quality or safety.

As a compact, wagonlike vehicle, Outlander makes the most of its interior space with a range of cup holders, door-panel storage, two glove boxes (including one that locks and is lighted), and a front seat, dual-level center console with armrest and auxiliary audio inputs and a USB port on uplevel models.

Much thought went into the engineering of pieces that flip-fold-push-pull, which work without grunts, groans or pinched fingers.

The second-row seats have fore-aft adjustment, seatback angle can be adjusted and then fold and tumble for cargo or to step into the third row. Maximum legroom is a comfortable 36.8 inches. The center position is narrow, but foot room is good and there is a head restraint.

The third row bench is a design marvel. The seat folds flat into the cargo area and is easily released by pulling on one strap, then another. The two-child seat springs upward, and it takes a push to latch it into position. It’s not much better than a jump seat, but it does have two head restraints and gives capacity to carry two more from school, to the game or home from the mall.

Dropping the tailgate lowers access to the cargo floor to ease loading of bikes, boxes, kennels or other gear. And then it is an ideal bench, with a 440-pound capacity, for changing shoes. The liftgate is light to open and close, and the rear wiper covers a complete arc, when many designs just give a partial swipe.

The 2.4-liter engine has 161 horsepower for California and other states with such emissions standards and 168 hp elsewhere. It has fuel-economy ratings of 21 mpg city, 27 highway and 21/25 4WD, on regular unleaded fuel. The two-wheel-drive model is considered a Partial Zero Emission Vehicle.

The 230-horsepower V-6 provides a balance of power and fuel economy. Performance is finessed by the six-speed automatic, which gives quick shifts from magnesium-alloy paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Using premium fuel, the XLS 2WD model has mileage ratings of 19/25. AWD models, including the GT, are 18/24.

This eager crossover is another example of a compact vehicle helping owners do more with less, but it is Outlander’s little details that make a big impression.

SPECS BOX

2010 Mitsubishi Outlander 3.0 XLS AWC

Body style: seven-passenger, compact, all-wheel-drive crossover vehicle

Engine: aluminum, 230-horsepower, SOHC, 3.0-liter V-6 with Mitsubishi Innovative Valve-timing Electronic Control system

Transmission: six-speed Sportronic automatic with Idle Neutral Logic

EPA fuel economy estimates: 18 mpg city, 24 highway; premium fuel recommended

Front head/leg/shoulder room: 40.3/41.6/56.4 inches

Length/wheelbase: 183.7/105.3 inches

Curb weight: 3,770 pounds

FEATURES

Standard equipment includes: Fast Key unlock-lock and ignition, automatic climate control, third-row bench (folds into floor), Fuse system for voice-activated phone and streaming audio, dual glove box, fog lights, heated side mirrors, six-speaker audio system, steering-wheel controls for cruise and audio, 18-inch alloy wheels and touring tires and leather-wrapped wheel and shift knob

Safety features include: six air bags, stability control, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution

PRICING

Base: $27,155, including $765 freight charge; price as tested, $28,805

Options on test vehicle: Luxury package, $1,650, includes auto-leveling Xenon headlights with auto on/off; leather-trimmed seats (front and second rows); heated front seats, power driver’s seat; rain-sensing wipers

Warranties: 10-years/100,000-miles powertrain limited coverage; 5-years/60,000-miles bumper to bumper new vehicle coverage

Where assembled: Okazaki, Japan

Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at Mark.Maynard@uniontrib.com.

COPYRIGHT 2010 THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE.

DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM.

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