CUV’s are nothing more than oversized station wagons on stilts. If you think about it– and not many American motorists have– CUV’s don’t work like a truck OR handle like a car. I wouldn't say they’re the worst of both worlds, but others have. In fact, the modern CUV may just be a marketing-driven gimmick designed to take one last shot at emigrating gas guzzlers before they get down from their perch and do something really sensible, like buy a car. No wonder Mitsubishi’s website says the Outlander doesn’t like labels any more than I do.
“Stylish” certainly fits. The Outlander's sheetmetal is sports sedan crisp with just enough static lines and ground clearance to assure the macho-minded that “Outlander” isn't the ancient Scottish term for “mall rat.” The CUV’s front end translates the usual SUV design cues into a host of smooth textures, understated lighting pods and clean surface transitions. The rear follows suit with ample glass, logical lines and an integral diffuser in its snazzy rear valence. It’s all very chi-chi.
Thankfully, the Triple-Diamond Boys left the SUV genre’s hose-it-down heritage outside the doors. The Outlander offers a symphony of touchy-feely polymers, panel gap precision and Audi-esque minimalism. Clock the way the Outlander’s beat box integrates into the dashboard’s horizontal sweep. Seamless. Even the nasty stuff– like the imitation aluminum trim surrounding the motorcycle-chic gauge cluster– looks cool.
Tick the right boxes and the Outlander’s got the right box of tricks. The optional 650-watt Rockford Fosgate stereo (named after the Firebird Esprit-driving TV detective) has more than enough power to make your dental fillings shake and shiver. It’s a Sirius piece of kit. The sat nav system can store 1200 songs, keep track of your Bluetooth and guide you to your dentist. And you can order a drop-down DVD system to keep the kids amused.
Clearly, Mitsubishi decided to go down the high content route for their latest foray into Crossover County. Even the base Outlander’s luxurious velour-trimmed body huggers are a welcome surprise at this price point, providing all-over comfort for humans both large and small. While the second row slides forward, there’s only one failsafe way to avoid Amnesty International’s condemnation of the Outlander’s “compact jump seats”: opt for the cheaper two row model.
The Outlander’s trick flap-fold tailgate is its party piece. The gate’s flush-fitting lower half unfolds from the bumper for slide and schlep Home Despots and/or doubles as a picnic table for pee-wee football tailgaters. On paper, the Outlander has a class average cargo hole. In real life, the model’s chunky-hunky D-pillar makes it possible to fit big ass square pegs into a moderately sized square hole.
More proof of the Outlander’s value-oriented proposition lies underhood. The MIVEC-tuned 3.0-liter V6 puts out a respectable 220hp and 204 lb-feet of twist (albeit high atop its powerband). Hooked-up to a standard six-speed autobox, there’s plenty of poke and reasonable fuel efficiency for city commuting (20mpg) and highway cruising (27mpg).
Hang on. Peep the strut tower brace under the hood and [optional] magnesium shift paddles. Could the Outlander’s Lancer underpinnings and available full-time four-wheel drive indicate that we’ve rocked-up in a family-friendly EVO in crossover guise?
Nope. The Outlander’s powerplant has less low-end grunt than your grandmother's vintage Osterizer, while the steering is completely vague about the whole torque steer issue. Push it hard into a bend and the softly sprung dynamics serve up a major slathering of understeer on a supersized body roll. The 3500lb Outlander is tuned for touring duty and nothing more.
Much like the omnipresent road noise at highway speeds, the Outlander’s dynamic bits get old in a hurry. While Mitsubishi touts "rally inspired control and fun unheard of in a family vehicle," the rally involved must have been political and the fun in question has a lot more to do with scaring kids than thrilling adults. Any off-roading more ambitious than an unplowed driveway is equally off limits.
The Mitsubishi's ride strikes an ideal balance between road feel and comfort. As long as you drive responsibly, the chassis will iron out irregularities and crush potholes. Motorsport heritage aside, it’s obvious Mitsubishi put a strut brace under the hood to avoid family fatigue during your next road trip.
In fact, the Outlander is a modern day station wagon, with all the stylistic charms, family friendly gadgets and timeless comfort that implies (“Mommy! He hit me!”). Its dash of panache, impressive standard features, trick tailgate and under 25 large asking price make the Outlander an attractive value proposition. That is, after you buy into the need for a tall station wagon.