When I first got into the Mitsubishi Outlander SE, I was a bit disappointed. There were no power-adjustable leather seats, and I couldn't find the MP3 jack, so I couldn't hook up my iPod to the stereo. Blah. (I later found it.) Then I took a walk around it and checked out the cargo area, where I saw a pull cord. I pulled it, and a third row appeared from nowhere! It was like magic, and just like that, the Outlander was forgiven.

I'm easy like that. You're less impressed? You need more than a little magic trick to sell you on a car? Fair enough. After test driving the Outlander and waiting for my earlier mood swings to settle down, I found it to be a fairly functional, moderately cute and decently priced midsize SUV.

The Outlander isn't sporty or a hybrid; it isn't super huge or teeny-tiny. It just does what it's supposed do, which is get from Point A to Point B. Its four-cylinder engine is adequate for the job, but not particularly zoomy. The Outlander's handling is equally decent, with some body roll in turns. Its turning radius is small enough to make parking no problem. There's a knob on the dash to select two- or four-wheel drive, but I never used it because, really, when does a suburban mom in California need that?

While it's not incredibly quiet inside the cabin, the road noise isn't obnoxious. However, I did notice some odd squeaks and creaks while driving, and I wonder what that says about the initial quality of this Mitsubishi SUV.

The Outlander gets an EPA-estimated 20/25 mpg city/highway, but I got less than that, of course, since I live in some nasty hills and have issues with speed limits.


Sitting in my driveway, the Mitsubishi Outlander looked just like every other white midsize SUV that's ever been in my driveway. There's nothing distinctive or interesting about it, but it's still pretty cute, with a dash of sport thrown in. It says, "I could if I had to, but I'd rather not, if you don't mind."

While the Outlander certainly isn't bubbly, it isn't angular, either. There are edges to the hood, roof and tail. Roof rails help elongate the side view, and a smattering of chrome brings some sparkle to the exterior without seeming tacky. The door handles are chrome, as is a strip at the bottoms of the doors. The 18-inch wheels seem small for this midsize SUV, but not laughably so. The angled LED taillights and structured rear window give a crisp look to the tail section; it's vaguely sporty. Only the front view seems to have any personality. Not all cars really present a face, but the front reminds me of my grumpy kids, with narrowed eyes and downturned mouths. It's not as cute as them, though.

Getting in and out was no problem for me, but it was a bit more difficult for the kiddos. While the Outlander doesn't sit particularly high off the ground, it's a step up for kids. Without a flat step-in area, it was challenging for their little legs.

The doors were easy to manage, though they seemed a bit lightweight. This makes it easier for kids to open and close them, but it made me wonder about safety. Maybe I'm just biased toward that heavy-sounding thump, but it makes me feel secure.


Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some


The Outlander's interior is all about function. The dash is clean and crisp with metallic accents and sporty red lighting. A hidden storage bin pops up from the center of the dash, and there are four cupholders up front to contain all of those drinks I mean to throw out but never do. There's less space for loose items, but a dual-level center console bin is great for containing extra cords and junk.

The SE version of the Outlander has a sporty fabric that cleans easily. The seats are on the firm side, and the driver's seat manually adjusts in six directions; the passenger seat moves in only four directions. The steering wheel tilts but doesn't telescope. Basically, you have your general adjustments, but not the fine-tuning you'd get in other cars. And at this price, that's OK.

In the backseat, my guys were happy campers with height-adjustable seat belts that were easy to buckle. Cupholders in the center armrest were within easy reach. There are also bottleholders in the rear doors.

There's tons of cargo space tons of cargo space behind the second row, but the real winner is the pop-up third row. It's not the simplest or easiest mechanism I've ever seen - a complicated set of diagrams are posted in the cargo area explaining the process - but it's a great emergency solution for play dates or carpools.

The two-person third row isn't one I'd want to use for long trips or full-size people, but my boys were happy back there and had no complaints. They even had an extra bin for storing those multiplying juice boxes. The seats are lightweight and reminded me more of a hammock than anything else. They're slung in place and have virtually no padding. Headrests fold into place and seat belts come from the side pillars of the car, not the ceiling.


Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore


For an SUV with just the basic safety features, including antilock brakes, electronic stability system and traction control, the Outlander scored well in crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It's a Top Safety Pick for 2009, earning the highest score - Good - in frontal-offset, side-impact and rear crash tests. Top Safety Pick winners also must have stability control, as the Outlander does.

There are plenty of airbags, too, with front- and side-impact airbags for the front row and side curtain airbags for the first and second rows. However, there are no airbags for the third row, which is another reason that it's for occasional, not daily, use.

The second row is wide enough to fit three kiddie booties comfortably, but not three child-safety seats. A reclining seatback makes it easy to get the right angles to install car seats; the Latch connectors are out of sight, but not out of reach. Legroom is plentiful enough for rear-facing infant-safety seats or leggy teens. It was a bit of a tight fit for my son's booster seat; however, it sat firmly in the seat without much shifting or rocking.


In Diapers: Flexible cargo space and easy-to-reach Latch connectors make life with a baby easy.

In School: A pop-up third row balances the carpool versus cargo space scale.

Teens: The excellent crash-test ratings and added safety features make this a safe SUV for teens to drive.