Say, have you noticed the price of gasoline is going up? Well, so has Mitsubishi, which decided that for 2008, its compact Outlander sport ute needed a four-cylinder engine to go along with a 3.0-liter, 220-horsepower V-6 that used to be the only powerplant offered.

Fortunately, Mitsubishi had a pretty good four-cylinder already in the wings: a 2.4-liter now standard in the base Outlander ES that has 168 horsepower, which means the comparatively hefty Outlander, while no drag racer, accelerates well enough for most any condition. And EPA-rated fuel mileage, at 20 miles per gallon city driving and 25 mpg highway, is better in the city than a comparable Outlander with a V-6 by three mpg, but highway mileage is 25 with either engine. Regular gas is fine.

The Outlander, a car-based "crossover" SUV, is longer and wider than some of its competitors, but that does not necessarily translate into lots of room in the rear seat -- the test ES had a hard back seat that does, at least, recline slightly. Kids should find it tolerable.

Up front, the bucket seats are supportive and comfortable, with plenty of elbow room and lots of little storage cubbyholes, including a small pocket-change compartment that kept popping open next to the driver's knee. This was sort of indicative of the sense that Mitsubishi cut a few corners inside the Outlander ES to try and keep the price low -- fit and finish is fine, but this is no Lexus.

Mechanically, the four-cylinder matches up well to the SUV's continuously variable transmission (CVT) that works like an automatic but has an infinite number of gear ratios rather than a set four, five or six. Upgrade to a V-6 model, and you get a conventional automatic. The CVT is the only transmission offered on a four-cylinder ES.

Based on the Lancer sedan, the Outlander is front-wheel-drive, with all-wheel-drive an option. The ES is a front-driver, which is all you need in a temperate climate.

Even a base ES is loaded with features, including electronic stability control, anti-lock disc brakes, side and side-curtain air bags, an alarm system, air conditioning, keyless entry, cruise control and power locks, windows and mirrors. You get all that, plus a six-speaker stereo, for the base price of $19,995. The test Outlander had a bargain-priced $820 "Convenience Package" that added alloy wheels, roof rails, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, floor mats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and a few other features that made the ES look and feel less entry-level.

Total price, with shipping: A not-bad $21,460.

On the road, the Outlander rides and handles on par with most any SUV in its price range. The aluminum roof helps eliminate any top-heavy sensation -- indeed, up to the ability of the tires, at least, the Outlander corners with more precision than you'd expect.

If you need the room of an SUV, but don't need a third-row seat (and if you do, Mitsubishi will happily point you toward its top-of-the-line Outlander XLS, which does have a fold-up third-row seat suitable for people up to 63 inches tall, the company says, but they won't be happy back there), the ES is a solid sport ute for the money.

Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smithcan be reached at scsmith@orlandosentinel.com.