Small SUVs play an interesting role. They must be able to hold at least five people, fit in tight parking spaces, carry a Home Depot haul, and sometimes even go off-road. Yes, most people usually forget about that last one when buying an urban SUV.
So we decided that we would reintroduce the idea of an SUV made for the off-road with our 2009 Mitsubishi Outlander SE AWD tester. We made sure it was a 4x4 so we could follow the road less traveled… at least that’s what we planned. While the Outlander was in our fleet, we went looking for the hills and the mud, but that just usually made us late for soccer practice. So we were a little disappointed that our SUV fell into the usual suburban trap, but we still made it out alive…
We couldn’t help but compare the Outlander to the Toyota RAV4 we recently had in our fleet. There were two main differences between the Mitsubishi and the Toyota. First, the Outlander had the optional all wheel drive system. This had settings for a fully locked four-wheel drive for sand and mud; an automatic setting that moved power to different wheels when needed; and a two-wheel drive system running the front wheels only. We left it in automatic most of the time, so the deep rain puddles became a source of joy.
The other main difference was that we upgraded to the V6 engine in the RAV4. Our Outlander had the 168 hp 2.4-liter standard unit. The added weight of the all-wheel drive system meant that the engine sometimes felt strained under highway driving conditions. Our solution was just to use the paddle shifters to keep the car in the 4,000 to 6,000 rpm power band.
A better solution is upgrading to the 3.0-liter V6. For about $600 more it offers an extra 52 hp. Also the V6 engine comes in a package the includes items like the third row seat, which was an option in our tester, so V6 package will almost pay for itself.
We skipped out on a few convinces on the RAV4 because we wanted it to be a pure economy car. The Outlander starts at a lower price point then the RAV4, at about $20K, so we decided to go for a few extra options. The SE AWD packaging raised the price to about $26K, and then we added items like premium sound system, third row seating (kids only) and sunroof.
Another option we had to try out was the sat nav system. One of the very few complaints we had with our Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart was that the standard radio needed more space for information. This sat nav is a touch screen that leaves no detail out and, as we suspected, it’s worth the extra money. Even after our optional packages, our tester didn’t break $30,000.
What sets the Outlander apart is that it’s clever. For example there’s a lot of storage in the front. It has two deep glove boxes and a covered storage box in the center big enough to carry the wallet, cell phone, sunglasses and other essentials of the passenger and driver.
What was really convenient was the tailgate. The top half is pretty much as large as the competition, but the interesting part is that the rear bumper section also folds down. This creates a proper tailgate section that hangs off the rear. While this is an essential element for much higher priced vehicles like the Range Rover (so its owners have a spot to watch the polo match,) this is an added bonus in this price class. For us it not only allowed for proper tailgate parties, but it also makes loading large cargo a lot easier.
If we were to do this over again, we’d probably upgrade to the V6 engine. As mentioned before, it will about pay for itself, and the extra power would have been appreciated.
Overall the Outlander proved itself to be a versatile little SUV that fits many spaces, and the relatively low price has everything to do with it. The seating for seven (five adults max) combined with the cost means the Outlander can work as a little lugger for growing families or a nice second car for large families. The all-wheel drive w/locking function and the low price point also mean the Outlander can work for urbanites that actually go off-roading on the weekend.