For 2009 Mitsubishi drops the mid-level V-6 Outlander from its compact crossover utility vehicle lineup and adds a third seat to its SE four-cylinder model. All three models--the base ES, as well as the upscale SE and V6 XLS--are available with either 2WD or 4WD. Mitsubishi makes the Convenience Package standard equipment on the ES 4WD model, and an optional third-row seat that's stowable under the floor is now available. The third row remains standard on the XLS model.
The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine in base ES models produces 168 horsepower, and it brings barely adequate performance with quite a bit of engine noise when accelerating. The 3.0-liter V-6 engine produces 220 horsepower, delivered through a responsive, easy-shifting six-speed automatic with steering-wheel paddles; it has a lot more power to spare. The V-6 gets several mpg less in city fuel economy but has the same rating (25 mpg with front-wheel drive) on the highway, and most drivers won't see much less with the four-cylinder. All models come with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive.
The 2009 Outlander has good, communicative steering. And like the Lancer, with which it shares some of its underpinnings, the Outlander handles better on the road than some of the more truck-like or rugged utility vehicles, and it has the nice, firm braking of a performance car. The ride is firm and can be choppy over railroad tracks and the like, but it feels more settled with a nearly full load.
The Mitsubishi Outlander is a foot shorter than a typical mid-size sedan, so fitting five adults into a package with this kind of limited space is an exercise in efficiency. Officially, there's seating in back for up to seven--if they're very small children--but the second row slides fore and aft and reclines. In back, the third and second rows fold to create an impressive, continuous cargo space of nearly 73 cubic feet behind the front seats. At the back, the fold-down tailgate can support 440 pounds. Up front, the seating position is great and the instrument panel is very attractive; it looks like it might fit in a sporty coupe, but up close, the mix of dull plastic and matte-metallic surfaces doesn't feel as good as it appears from a distance.
Three different models of the Outlander are offered: ES, SE, and XLS. The base model has the four-cylinder and keeps it simple, though it includes air conditioning, keyless entry, and a six-speaker sound system. At the top of the lineup, the luxurious XLS picks up fog lamps, steering-wheel audio controls, remote start, a Bluetooth hands-free system, cruise control, and automatic climate control. Other changes for the 2009 Mitsubishi Outlander include a rearview camera and an increase in capacity for a hard disk music server on the XLS model.
Options include a navigation system with a new 40GB hard-drive-based music server, a 650-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system, or a DVD rear-seat entertainment system.
All Outlanders come with front side airbags, side curtain bags covering the first two rows, electronic stability control, and anti-lock brakes. The Outlander does extremely well in all crash tests, with top five-star ratings in the federal government's frontal impact and side impact exams, along with "good" ratings from the insurance-supported IIHS in frontal impact.
The Bottom Line:
Though the first-generation Outlander was often overlooked, the updated 2009 Mitsubishi Outlander has emerged as a well-rounded vehicle--and one of the sportiest-driving small crossovers.