Long famous for its rugged body-on-frame SUVs and Eclipse sports car,Motors Corp. is looking to dig itself out of a hole in the U.S. by shifting focus to the hottest product trend in the industry: car-based utility vehicles.
Although the Outlander arrived in the U.S. just over three years ago, the cross/utility vehicle had been sold in Japan as the Air Trek, pre-dating the arrival there ofMotor Corp.'s RAV4, the first compact CUV in the U.S.
But the Outlander never achieved the RAV4's success in the U.S., or that of any other competing small CUV, and this year is running last in sales in Ward's Small Cross/Utility Vehicle segment.
For the '07 model year,has redesigned the Outlander with hopes the vehicle will propel the company out of a U.S. sales slump that has lasted the better part of the decade. The new CUV is taking hold in Japan, outselling 's latest-generation RAV4 by a small margin.
The new version once again rides on a passenger car-based unibody platform, but Mitsubishi engineers have revised the chassis, increasing dimensions to address the perception the CUV is too compact.
While the Outlander retains its MacPherson strut-type suspension up front and a multi-link suspension in the rear, the underbody has been redesigned so the vehicle's track now is 1.8 ins. (4.5 cm) wider in front and 1.4 ins. (3.5 mm) wider in the rear.
U.S. buyers get only one powertrain, a 3L SOHC V-6. Executives say a 4-cyl. model could be a future possibility, pending the sales performance of the V-6 Outlander.
The switch to a V-6 bumps engine output impressively: 220 hp and 204 lb.-ft. (277 Nm) of torque vs. the often wheezy-feeling 162 hp and 160 lb.-ft. (217 Nm) of torque available from the outgoing Outlander's 2.4L 4-cyl.
The horsepower still is nowhere near that of the new Toyota RAV4 V-6, a class-leading 268 hp, but is competitive, surpassing theTucson and Santa Fe, Jeep Liberty, Kia Sorento and Chevy Equinox — all with V-6s.
In an effort to infuse some of the Eclipse's sporty DNA, Mitsubishi has equipped the Outlander with a standard 6-speed automatic transmission, its first ever.
Steering is tight and concise at almost any speed and the suspension stiff, but still forgiving over minor bumps.
Buyers will be able to choose between front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive models. While most auto makers have moved toward full-time AWD systems, Mitsubishi's All-Wheel Control, which incorporates stability control and traction control systems, is driver selectable via a dash-mounted dial.
Overall interior design is appealing, with aluminum-toned accents on black being appropriately sporty.
Mitsubishi plans to make the now-you-see-it, now-you-don't third row, available on the top trim, as a selling feature, but tests of the seat reveal it to be clunky and complicated.
All in all, the Outlander is an attractive entrant in the small CUV category, with above-average power and features.
It goes on sale in November in the U.S. Pricing will be announced closer to the on-sale date, but a well-equipped model is expected to start in the low $20,000-range, Mitsubishi says.