When we last saw the Mitsubishi Outlander XLS, it snagged our coveted Editors' Choice award for its versatile V-6 engine and cutting-edge cabin tech package that included a hard-drive-based navigation system. Two years later, the Outlander returns with minor aesthetic and quality updates.
So how does Mitsubishi's aging mid-size SUV stack up against the new generation of competition?
On the road
Settling into the driver's seat of the Mitsubishi Outlander as it sits, parked, in the CNET garage, we found that there's much to like about the SUV. On the outside it's a handsome, if not beautiful, vehicle with neat touches like LED tail lamps and HID Xenon headlamps.
On the inside, the cabin is attractive, although a bit plasticky, and quiet, thanks to the buttery smooth V-6 engine. The heated leather seats are comfortable, and at volumes that won't set off car alarms of adjacent vehicles, the Rockford Fosgate audio system is a step above your average premium audio option.
Easing out onto the freeway, we continued to be impressed by the V-6 engine's strong acceleration, complemented by quick, so-smooth-you'll-barely-notice shifts from the six-speed automatic transmission.
Popping the shifter into manual mode for a bit of fun with the magnesium paddle shifters borrowed from the Lancer Evolution X, we noted that the Outlander's automatic transmission seemed to transform. The smooth shifts were replaced by immediate and firm transitions from gear to gear that had us questioning whether Mitsubishi had snuck its SST twin-clutch tranny under the hood. Of course, it hadn't, but the Outlander does possess one of the finest slushboxes in its price range.
All was well with the Outlander, and suddenly the shine wore off.
True, the Outlander doesn't handle like an Evo--and to be fair, it shouldn't be expected to--but the two Mitsubishi vehicles, oddly, feature similarly harsh rides. This struck us as odd, considering that the Outlander should have tons more suspension travel than the sport sedan, but perhaps Mitsubishi dialed up the stiffness in an attempt to dial out some of the SUV's body roll. Whatever the case, the Outlander crashed and bounced over potholes and cracks in the road transmitting a great deal of vibration straight into the driver's spine.
The harshness of the ride makes the hard and hollow plastic interior trim pieces buzz and rattle in protest, particularly the extra cheap-feeling center storage bin and the top of the dashboard.
To overcome all of this new cabin noise, we had to crank the Rockford Fosgate audio system. While this stereo ranks as one of the loudest we've tested, it's far from the best sounding, with muddy midrange and highs, despite the fact that its nine speakers include discrete tweeters and a 10-inch sub.
In the cabin
At the heart of our Mitsubishi Outlander XLS' cabin tech package is the mucho-powerful 650-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system. Perhaps, it's too powerful for the hollow plastic interior panels. Rattles and buzzes abounded as the 10-inch powered subwoofer did its best to rip the doors off of their hinges.
Not only does the audio system overpower the interior panels, it also overpowers itself. Its overly loud bass drowns out the already muddy midranges and highs, even with the three-band EQ set to flat and the "bass punch" set to its lowest setting.
Available inputs include an MP3-compatible six-disc in-dash changer, Sirius satellite radio, and a set of RCA audio inputs located at the bottom of the center console. Why Mitsubishi chose to include RCAs and not the more standard 1/8-inch mini-jack is beyond us.
Those wanting to step up the tech can option a 40GB hard-disk navigation system with digital music server, which allows for ripping and storing of audio. The navigation has a neat feature called Diamond Lane Guidance that allows drivers to set the system to prefer carpool/HOV lanes. This is the same system we tested in the Editors' Choice-winning 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X MR and you can get a closer look in our full review of that vehicle.