Mitsubishi has often been accused of lacking a cohesive line of cars in North America, as well as an unclear definition of what they stand for as a brand. The good news is, the ship is turning around. While diehard car nuts begged Mitsubishi for years to send us the Lancer Evolution, the answer from Japan was always “It will never sell in North America.” They caved, and it did sell. The buyers of the first Evos to land on these shores were the members of Generation X who stayed up after midnight in darkened living rooms while their parents slept, watching Audi Quattros and Celica All-Tracs tearing it up on rally stages on ESPN.
Times marches on, and the Evo, for all its technical wonder, rawness, and performance, is not exactly the whip you can stick with for life. Those first Evo owners got married and had kids, only to find an abundance of SUV’s and crossovers that offered plenty of capability but nothing in the way of a rewarding drive. A bitter pill to swallow, to be sure. For 2010, Mitsubishi is throwing a bone to the Evo fan with kids to haul in the Outlander GT. Is it enough to satisfy the auto enthusiast in Dad, or will he reduced to crying in his beer, missing the Evo of his youth? Read on…
You are forgiven for not noticing, but the current Outlander has been around since 2006. A competent crossover, sure, but otherwise a wallflower. For 2010, the Outlander receives its first major refresh. Mitsubishi wisely cashed in on the equity the Evo has brought to the brand, seen mostly on the new nose. The aggressive face of the Outlander moves the car from wallflower status to stand-out. New side sills, mirrors, rear bumper and wheels round out the changes. Evo fans will appreciate the aluminum roof, to lower the center of gravity. Overall, the Outlander GT presents itself as a suitably sporty crossover, while a “just right” approach to chrome, and bi-xenon headlights offer a premium appearance.
The sporty theme continues to the interior. The driver is greeted with a firm, supportive bucket seat. The magnesium paddles shifters are among the best in the industry (I touch them for fun, is that bad?), and the aluminum pedals remind you this is a crossover with purpose. The dashboard is simple and uncluttered, almost sparse in appearance save for the three knobs for the standard automatic climate control, and info/navigation screen. Mitsubishi improved interior quality for the 2010 model, adding chrome accents, and stitched synthetic leather on top of the dash. A new FUSE system allows for voice-activated command of iPod/MP3 players. and Bluetooth 2.0. The standard 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system (9 speakers and a huge 10″ subwoofer) provided good sound quality. Our GT, equipped with optional GPS navigation also included a 40GB music server, rear-view camera, and Real Time Traffic service (with no fees!).
The interior is not without a couple faults. With most places you touch feel of good quality, the naked eye does come across some cheap looking plastics. What was especially unsettling were the squeaks. With just under 10,000 miles under its belt (high miles for a press car), there was a regular squeak whenever the car encountered the slightest bump. I could not isolate it, but wondered if it came from the stowed third row seat. The Outlander was otherwise screwed together well, but I would be after my local dealer to fix that squeak.
On paper, the Outlander GT will likely sound disappointing to an enthusiast. It’s 3.0L V-6 produces 230hp, which is an improvement in power over last year’s car. On start-up, the Outlander has a little bark that is a nice surprise, and the engine sounds great throughout the rev range. It’s no slouch, and power delivery is strong and smooth. Drivers expecting Evo-caliber engine power and response will walk away disappointed, but this is way more entertainment you will ever find from the mill in a CR-V. The 6-speed automatic is a willing companion-ready to drop a gear, and you have permission to rev to redline. And the option to shift yourself is always there if you want to take charge.
It is the handling of the Outlander GT that stands out. The GT uses Evo-derived Super-All Wheel Control, utilizing an active front differential and an electronically controlled center differential that can distribute driving force from front to rear and and left to right to the front wheels. The driver also has the choice of selecting Tarmac, Snow, or Lock modes to suit your driving situation. In simpler terms, the Outlander GT offers driver fun and involvement rarely seen in this class. Handling is hard to fault here, and if you vowed no fun could be had at the wheel of a crossover, try this. The ride is sporty and firm, but never punishing or harsh. Just the right balance. Credit Mitsubishi’s restraint to stick to 18″ wheels for some decent compliance.
With an as-tested price of $32,990USD, the Outlander GT is priced competitively with other V-6 crossovers. True, a RAV4 V-6 has more power, and the competition offers better fuel economy, but none can match the sporty handling and character of the Outlander GT. If the CR-V’s and Equinox’s out there leave you a little cold, the Outlander is definitely worth a look. If the Outlander GT is a success for Mitsubishi, I surely can imagine more performance oriented versions in the future. Does it channel the spirit of the Evo? Not quite, but the GT is proof that having a crossover with room for a family and their gear doesn’t mean you need to abandon driving fun at the car dealer’s door. And for those of us who recall sneaking to watch rallying on TV after Mom and Dad went to bed, well, your crossover has finally arrived.