Pros: Distinctive styling; fun to drive; entertaining optional V6; plenty of cargo space; versatile flap-fold tailgate; lots of technology features

Cons: Steering wheel doesn't telescope; available third row seat is almost useless

What's New: The 2013 Outlander receives standard heated mirrors and beige upper interior trim (formerly gray) across the lineup, heated front seats and FUSE voice command functionality on the SE and GT and automatic climate control and satellite radio on the SE.

Introduction

The 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander is the rare vehicle that has managed to stay competitive and desirable throughout its lifecycle.

We already know there's an all-new Outlander waiting in the wings for 2014, so the 2013 Outlander is a lame duck. Ordinarily, we'd tell you to forget about it and wait for the new one. But after assessing the competition, we had to admit that the outgoing Outlander still has a lot to offer. It deserves to be on your shopping list, right next to usual suspects like the Honda CR-V.

It all starts with the styling, which successfully evokes the high-performance Lancer Evolution sedan. We've seen the new Outlander at auto shows and maybe it'll grow on us, but for now we think the 2013 Outlander is the best-looking Mitsubishi crossover ever. It's legitimately cool.

Then there's the one-two punch of features and performance. Like most Mitsubishis, the Outlander offers up-to-date technology, including the FUSE voice command system, a ground-shaking Rockford Fosgate stereo and an available hard drive-based navigation system. But there's also an up-to-date optional V6 under the hood that gives the Outlander some real punch. Now that the RAV4 has dropped its V6, the Outlander is one of the few crossovers in this class with 6-cylinder power.

The current Outlander's foibles are familiar. The steering wheel doesn't telescope, which could be a deal breaker for long-legged drivers. The base 4-cylinder engine only comes with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that hampers acceleration and generates a serious racket when you need to merge or pass. And the available third row seat is about as comfortable as a park bench bolted to the floor.

Overall, though, the 2013 Outlander remains one of our favorite reasonably priced crossovers. Most lame duck vehicles would be mailing it in at this point, but this Mitsubishi just continues to impress.

Comfort & Utility

The base ES comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, roof rails, a trick flap-fold tailgate, automatic headlamps, remote keyless entry with a security alarm, power accessories, air-conditioning, a leather-wrapped tilt-only steering wheel and a 6-speaker audio system with an auxiliary input.

The SE steps up to 18-in alloy wheels, paddle shifters on the steering column, automatic climate control, keyless entry with push-button ignition, heated front seats, the FUSE voice command system, a color trip computer, a 6-CD changer, Satellite radio and a third row seat.

The GT starts with the SE model's equipment and adds the V6 engine, xenon headlamps, plug-in compatibility with Thule roof racks, automatic climate control and leatherette interior panel trim with exposed stitching.

The SE can be equipped with a Premium package that includes the leatherette interior trim, a sunroof, a rearview camera and a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system with a subwoofer and satellite radio. The GT is eligible for a Touring package that adds leather upholstery for the first two rows, a power driver's seat and the contents of the SE model's Premium package.

In our interior evaluation, we found the Outlander's digs attractive in an understated way, dominated by dark colors and smooth surfaces. Materials quality is so-so unless you get the leatherette trim, which adds a distinct hint of luxury. The Outlander's front seats provide pleasantly firm bolstering and they give front occupants a nice authoritative view of the road ahead. The tilt-only wheel is a real disappointment though, especially since the smaller, cheaper Outlander Sport has a telescoping unit.

The Outlander's deeply hooded tachometer and speedometer are crisp and attractive and they bookend an upscale color LCD trip computer on SE models and above. Ergonomics are good except for the optional touchscreen navigation system, which is surrounded by small, similar-looking buttons that aren't always intuitive.

The second row seat is fine for a pair of adults, with plenty of legroom to go around. The available third row seat is unimpressive, however, as its bench is virtually on the floor and there's little padding to speak of -- or legroom, for that matter. Entering and exiting are also awkward. We suppose it adds versatility, but we wouldn't want to subject even small children to much time back there.

The Outlander's got plenty of cargo space past its nifty flap-fold access gate, which has a lower tailgate portion that folds down for a flat loading floor. There's 14.9 cu ft behind the third row, roughly 38 cu ft behind the second row and a formidable 72.6 cu ft with the second row folded down.

Technology

We appreciate available niceties like the LCD trip computer and automatic climate control -- neither is a given in this class -- but the real technological action starts with Mitsubishi's new FUSE voice command system, which uses Ford SYNC-style software to give you verbal control over your phone and portable music device. It works quite well and gives the aging Outlander a cutting edge vibe. Also noteworthy is the optional touchscreen navigation system, which responds quickly and provides ample digital music storage on its 40-gigabyte hard drive.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander ES and SE are powered by a 2.4-liter inline-4 rated at 168 horsepower and 167 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is a continuously variable automatic (CVT). Acceleration is adequate with this tandem, but we much prefer the Outlander GT, which has a 3.0-liter V6 that sends 230 hp and 215 lb-ft of torque through a 6-speed automatic. This V6 may be down on power relative to some, but it makes up for it with a perceptible performance boost of around 4,500 rpm that's attributable to Mitsubishi's electronically controlled variable-valve timing (MIVEC). It's consistently entertaining.

The Outlander has front-wheel drive by default, but a sophisticated all-wheel drive system called S-AWC (Super All-Wheel Control) is available on both 4- and 6-cylinder models. S-AWC includes a console-mounted dial selector with three modes: snow, tarmac and 50/50 lock.

Fuel economy for the ES and SE is 22 miles per gallon city/28 mpg highway with FWD and 22 mpg city/27 mpg hwy with AWD, while the GT checks in at 19 mpg city/26 mpg hwy with FWD and 19 mpg city/25 mpg hwy with AWD.

Safety

The 2013 Outlander comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, active front head restraints and six airbags (front, front side, full-length side curtain).

The Outlander received four stars out of five across the board in government crash tests. Meanwhile, the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Outlander its highest rating of Good for frontal offset and side impacts, but its second highest rating of Acceptable in roof strength and rear impact testing.

Driving Impressions

The Outlander is unusually engaging from behind the wheel. Body control is good for a tall crossover and the steering is eager to follow your commands. If you get the all-wheel drive system, you'll have yourself a rally vehicle of sorts -- we've found the Outlander to be a hoot in the dirt with S-AWC. On tarmac, the Outlander's ride is firm but not unpleasant and road noise is generally held to moderate levels.

Other Cars to Consider

Dodge Journey: If you don't need the Outlander's off-road capabilities, consider the vastly improved Journey, which has a much more practical third row seat and delivers strong V6 acceleration.

Kia Sorento: Like the Outlander, the Sorento offers both 4-cylinder and V6 power and its third row is superior.

Mazda CX-5: If you don't need a third row seat, consider the CX-5 as an alternative to the 4-cylinder Outlander. We like the Mazda's classy interior, great fuel economy and capable handling.

AutoTrader Recommends

The V6-powered Outlander GT with S-AWC is great fun. We know it's expensive, but it's undoubtedly the Outlander at its finest.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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