When it comes to versatility, crossover vehicles are all the rage. Now the most typical crossover starts with a car-like unitized chassis and then blends the capabilities and all wheel drive of a compact sport-ute with the comfort and driveability of a family sedan. Well, that’s a tall order for any new design, and this 2003 Mitsubishi Outlander is the latest to try and cross its way to the top. So let’s see if the Outlander is outstanding, or just out.
If any brand is capable of hitting it out of the park in the crossover vehicle segment, it should be Mitsubishi. After all, they’ve done well at producing both desirable cars and rugged, dependable SUVs. So the 2003 Mitsubishi Outlander comes from good genetic stock. In fact, its unitized chassis sprang from the well done Lancer sedan. That gives the Outlander a 103.3 inch wheelbase and a wide 59 inch track, about on par with a Honda CR-V. Outlander also has a generous 8.3 inches of ground clearance. Good, since Outlander is available in front and all- wheel drive, in both LS and XLS trim.
In all-wheel drive Outlanders like our XLS tester, power routing is handled by a viscous center differential with a 50/50 torque split under normal driving conditions. When things gets dicey, a Viscous Coupling automatically varies the torque split. But with no low range, limited slip rear differential, or traction control, it’s a system that we wouldn’t recommend for deep mud or sand.
Outlander’s sole engine is a 2.4 liter, single-cam, 16-valve four that’s shared with the Galant and Eclipse. It delivers 140 horsepower and 157 pound-feet of torque. Engine power reaches its peak at 5,000 rpm, but maximum torque output is reached at just 2,500 rpm. It’s a power map that’s more suited for around town sprinting than flat out highway cruising and our acceleration tests confirmed that. Launches to 60 averaged a leisurely 10.6 seconds, with quarter mile passing in an equally mellow 18 seconds at 77 MPH. The only transmission is a Sportronic 4-speed automatic with a manual shift mode, and out on the highway in passing situations and when encountering long, gradual grades, it does come in handy.
And while out cruising the highway, one does find a compliant and very refined ride. With its stiff chassis, evenly tuned MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension, with stabilizer bars at both ends, and standard 16 inch wheels, the Outlander’s ride is akin to a well balanced sedan. Body lean is well controlled during low speed switchbacks, and never felt tipsy or top heavy. Modest engine power also helps keep things from getting out of control. The light touch rack and pinion power steering does a precise job of keeping the Outlander on path as well.
The Outlander’s front disc, rear drum ABS brakes didn’t require much effort either. We averaged stops from 60 in a fine distance of 121 feet. With no locking or brake fade evident, and just enough feedback through the pedal to let you know that the ABS was doing its job, this was a very confidence-inspiring system.
The Outlander’s spacious, 5 passenger interior also inspires confidence. The aggressively bolstered bucket seats offer a tall, SUV-like view of the road. All models include rotary seat height adjuster and lumbar support for the driver. This leather trim is optional on the XLS. It’s included in the Luxury Package along with front seat and mirror heat, and side impact airbags. This twin-peaked gauge binnacle reminds us of an Alfa-Romeo. The readouts are direct and easy to see. A capable 140 watt CD system is the standard offering. On XLS models, a Sound and Sun package adds a 210 watt Infinity system with 6-disc in-dash CD changer and a sunroof.
Rear quarters offer seating for three with plenty of head and leg room. Like better cars, there is good lumbar support and a comfortable recline feature. With the 60/40 seat backs upright, one finds 24.4 cubic feet of cargo room, and a relatively high floor. Fold ‘em flat for a versatile 60.3 cubic feet. That’s more room than competitors Matrix and Vibe offer, although base models of the Outlander are slightly more expensive. Outlander LS with 2-wheel drive starts at $17,997. All- wheel drive starts at 19,297. XLS Outlanders with 2-wheel drive open at $19,490, with an all- wheel drive XLS model starting at $20,790.
Like the SUV segment before it, the crossover market is a fast growing and crowded place to be. With its strong car-like attributes and all-wheel drive capabilities, the new 2003 Mitsubishi Outlander is a standout, equipped to take you comfortably out and away from the maddening crowds.
Engine: 2.4 Liter, Single-cam, 16-valve Four Cylinder
Torque: 157 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 10.6 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 18 Seconds @ 77 MPH
60-0 MPH: 121 Feet
EPA Mileage: 20 MPG City 25 MPG Highway