Even though Mitsubishi already had a pair of sport utility vehicles, marketers recommended a third model for the Japanese automakers lineup. Youthful buyers had been gravitating toward smaller SUVs, and because Mitsubishi caters to that end of the age spectrum, the compact Outlander SUV was introduced for the 2003 model year. It is smaller than the companys Montero and Montero Sport and remains the smallest Mitsubishi SUV even as the new Endeavor debuts for 2004. A fully independent suspension is intended to give the entry-level Outlander a carlike ride.
The 2004 Outlander gets a more powerful and fuel-efficient 2.4-liter engine, which produces 160 horsepower and 162 pounds-feet of torque; that represents a 20-hp increase from last years model. The new engine features the Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing and Lift Electronic Control (MIVEC). An engine immobilizer is installed on 2004 models. LS and XLS trim levels are available with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
Built on a unibody frame, the exterior of the four-door Outlander has a bold character. The two-tone body blends painted metal with gray bumpers and chip-resistant urethane side sills. Built on a 103.3-inch wheelbase, the Outlander stretches 179.1 inches long overall.
Color-keyed door handles are standard. Mitsubishi says the clear-lens taillights on the XLS add a dosage of urban chic and tuner styling. The tubular roof rack, which is standard on the XLS and optional on the LS, can be adapted to carry bikes, surfboards and skis. The XLS features fog lamps, privacy glass, 16-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler and color-keyed outside mirrors. A sunroof is optional.
The Outlander holds five people. Reclining, 60/40-split rear seats fold flat into the floor. A knee-height cargo floor conceals the spare tire, and the rear liftgate is hydraulically assisted. Cargo space totals 60.3 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.
Standard LS equipment includes air conditioning, a 140-watt CD stereo, cruise control, and power windows, locks and mirrors. The XLS adds a white-faced instrument cluster, see-through headrests and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Under the Hood
For 2004, Mitsubishis new MIVEC 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine makes 160 hp and 162 pounds-feet of torque, vs. 140 hp in the Outlanders initial season. The four-speed Sportronic transmission can operate either automatically or with manually selected gear changes.
Side-impact airbags come in a Luxury Package for the XLS. Antilock brakes are also optional.
Moving to the smaller end of the SUV spectrum, Mitsubishi has taken the expertise derived from years of producing larger models and turned out a respectable, if essentially ordinary, compact model. Other than delivering a choppy ride on imperfect pavement and excessive engine blare on hard acceleration, the Outlander isnt a bad choice.
Early criticism suggested that the Outlander was comparatively slow and suffered hesitation on startup. Actually, its acceleration is acceptable even though low-speed passing power falls short of energetic. The Outlanders steering feel is reasonably good. The seats are comfortable and have good support, but the headrests impair rear and over-the-shoulder visibility.