2003 Mitsubishi Outlander
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
You could think of the new, 2003 Mitsubishi Outlander as a tall station wagon, sort of like a Subaru Forester.
You could think of it as a trendy hatchback with expressive styling cues, sort of like a Pontiac Vibe.
Or you could think of it as an alternative to more SUV-like vehicles like the Saturn Vue.
No matter which description you like, though, you're bound to be surprised at how well this first-ever entry-level crossover vehicle from Mitsubishi rides.
I know I was.
First, though, let's cover the basics.
Addition to the lineup for 2003
Like other entry crossovers, the Outlander is powered by a four-cylinder engine and carries a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price in the teens.
The Outlander's front styling reminds me—too much, I must say sadly—of a Pontiac, while the large, tubular roof rack atop the test XLS model, gave a Nissan Xterra flavor.
Meantime, at the back of the upscale Outlander XLS, clear lenses around the red taillights added a customized look.
But I liked how Mitsubishi was restrained with the body cladding, preferring to dress the Outlander simply with gray bumpers and side sills that contrast with every paint color save the silver and gray.
But as the miles built up on a lengthy two-state trip, I appreciated the Outlander's simple, well-laid-out interior where everything was easy to find.
Knobs and buttons had a good tactile feel and didn't feel cheap. Wind and road noise were far less than I expected in a vehicle at this price. Note the big roof rack tubes on the test vehicle didn't have crossbars.
Also, Mitsubishi adds noise-canceling foam to the Outlander's pillars around the windows and uses sound-deadening sheets of asphalt in the floor.
Controlled, refined ride
Body motions were controlled, the sound-deadening made for a mostly quiet interior, and even after hours of non-stop travel, I didn't feel fatigued.
The Outlander is built on the Mitsubishi Lancer sedan platform. The MacPherson strut front suspension and multi-link, trailing arm rear, however, are modified, and standard tires are nicely-sized 16-inchers.
The power rack-and-pinion steering in the Outlander tracked well through curves and didn't require constant correcting.
Too bad, though, anti-lock brakes are an option. They're standard on all Foresters.
Room for five, plus cargo
Three adults sit close in the back seat, but large door windows that go down nearly all the way provide an airy feel.
Interestingly, headroom front and rear is larger in the Pontiac Vibe, Honda CR-V, Toyota Matrix and Vue than in the Outlander.
But the Outlander's ample front-seat legroom of 42.3 inches bests that in the Vibe, CR-V, Matrix and Vue. The Forester offers a maximum of 43.7 inches of front-seat legroom.
Rear-seat riders get a maximum 35.5 inches of room in the Outlander, which is better than the Forester's 33.7 inches but not as much as what's in the CR-V, Vibe, Matrix and Vue.
With the rear seats in use, the Outlander's 24.4 cubic feet of cargo space is about equal to what you find in the Vibe.
But because the Outlander is longer, overall, than the Vibe, the Outlander has more maximum cargo room—60.3 cubic feet vs. 57.2 in the Vibe, according to manufacturer specs—once the rear seats are folded down flat. This compares with 72 cubic feet in the CR-V.
Still, I liked that the Outlander's cargo floor has some carpet-like material on it, not the plastic stuff that can rattle when items are laid on top, as in the Vibe.
More power needed
It's a slightly modified version of the 2.4-liter single overhead cam inline four that's in the Mitsubishi Galant and Eclipse Spyder and Coupe.
But take a look at the four-speed automatic that's mated to this engine in the Outlander. It comes standard with Sportronic.
As of the start of the 2003 model year, the Outlander was the only vehicle in the entry crossover segment offering a standard automatic with clutchless manual shifting.
It's the sort of feature that has helped make automatics more popular in luxury sport sedans, and it did a wonderful job helping me manage my speeds in the Outlander via engine braking in city and highway driving.
But I did find that once I was up to highway speeds, I had to plan ahead to pass as the Outlander, without a downshift, didn't offer quite the "oomph" I needed. Maximum torque is 157 lb-ft at a low 2500 rpm.
Note that competitors like the Vibe, Toyota Matrix and Subaru Forester offer manual transmissions.
The Vibe and Matrix also have a choice of four-cylinder engines—a base with 130 horses and the top version with 180 horses but with a maximum of 130 lb-ft of torque at 6800 rpm.
Meantime, the Vue also offers a 181-horsepower V6 with 195 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm.
The Outlander's seats were nicely positioned so I just turned and rested my "tush" on them to get inside. No climbing aboard here.
But the pillars at each edge of the Outlander windshield could block some side visibility when I made turns at intersections.
The Outlander's horn sounds like that from a small car, rather than something from an SUV.
My fingers and nails didn't find an easy grip on the back of the vehicle where I needed to open and lift the tailgate.
Note that because this is a newly introduced vehicle, there's no record of reliability.