CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
From the outside, the Outlander is a very good-looking SUV, with sporty lines and nicely molded lighting. The front has a prominent skid plate coming up from underneath, indicating a good approach angle for off-roading. The bumper bisects the grille's honeycombed top and bottom to give it a strong performance look. The prominent wheel arches are pretty common these days, but the clearance inside the wheel wells suggest the Outlander is ready for bigger wheels. We were surprised to find a third-row seat in the cargo area. It folds neatly into the floor, but its minimal padding makes it appropriate mainly as a torture device.
Our review car, a top-of-the-line 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS, didn't come with the navigation option, but we saw a similar system on the Mitsubishi Lancer. What we did get in ours was the standard Bluetooth cell phone integration and the premium stereo, a raucous 650-watt Rockford Fosgate system with eight speakers and a 10-inch subwoofer. It plays MP3 CDs and satellite radio and has an oddly placed auxiliary audio input.
Test the tech: Sound field measurement
Because of its massive wattage, we were intrigued by the Rockford Fosgate stereo. We couldn't miss the massive subwoofer mounted in the cargo area or the neat little tweeters next to the A-pillars. While trying out the audio settings, we found equalizer presets for different types of music, including rock, jazz, and classical.
We also found a setting for Sound Field, which let us choose between Normal, Stage, Live, and Hall. The car's manual told us that Stage is designed to place the sound source in front of you, as if you are watching musicians play. Live is a surround-sound effect, while Hall maximizes reverb, adding an echo-effect to the sound.
For our test, we measured the decibels using each sound field from the front and back seats. We played a steady tone through the stereo and had the volume up at 15. We first put our sound meter on the console between the two front seats, then placed it in the center of the back seat. Here are our measurements in decibels:
The back seat experienced a greater volume variation, but its lower decibel levels and static numbers from Stage to Live suggest it benefited less from the sound field changes. The sound field changes were very noticeable in the front of the car from a qualitative standpoint. We also find it interesting that the Hall setting showed the largest variation between the front and back seats.
In the cabin
Although our 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander came with leather seats, the interior felt about right for a car priced in the mid-20s. It's not particularly luxurious, but most of the buttons are well-integrated with the dashboard and the steering wheel. The one glitch was the ill-fitting hatch over the central storage compartment. With the navigation system present, the housing for the module would replace this hatch.
As part of the Outlander's Sun and Sound package, our car had the aforementioned Rockford/Fosgate stereo system, similar to the one we saw in the Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder. This stereo produces better than average audio quality, but it's more of a blunt instrument than a surgical strike. It doesn't offer particularly great clarity from its eight speakers and 10-inch subwoofer, but it does have booming power. Its 650 watts can overpower the front speakers when it's really cranked up, rattling them in their enclosures.
The head unit includes Sirius satellite radio and a six-disc MP3-compatible changer. Although the stereo display is single-line and monochrome, it displayed ID3 tag information and track information from Sirius. Pushing a button labeled "Disp" cycles through artist or song title display, while the Page button shows the rest of a text string when it goes over the capacity of the display. Selecting Sirius radio channels or music from MP3 CDs was easy, using the right-hand knob to select category or folder, and the seek buttons to move through tracks. We had trouble finding the auxiliary audio input at first, as it consists of RCA jacks at the bottom of the console, facing the rear seats, which is not the most convenient arrangement.
The optional navigation system uses a 7-inch screen and a 30GB hard drive. The drive has space enough to store 1,200 songs along with the map data. As mentioned above, we reviewed this system in the Mitsubishi Lancer. The maps have good resolution, and because it's a hard-drive-based system, it performs all of its functions very quickly. The touch-screen LCD makes inputting destinations very easy. With the music server, the car can rip CDs to its hard drive and store them in MP3 format.
We're very pleased that Bluetooth is standard on the Outlander, although it's just a basic system. We had no problem pairing both an iPhone and a Samsung SGH-D807 to the system, and were able to set the phone's name and priority. Because the system uses a voice-command interface, you won't get any visual cues about its operation. The system has its own phone book, but you have to create each entry one at time with the voice command system, which can be tedious. It can't access your cell phone's phone book.
We were also impressed that Mitsubishi offers a rear-seat DVD entertainment system in the Outlander, which rounds out the complete array of tech options.
Under the hood
The Outlander delivers a seamless driving experience along with its full roster of cabin tech. Step on the gas and the car zooms forward, with the six-speed automatic holding gears all the way up to 6,500rpm. Mitsubishi's expertise building Lancer Evo rally cars pays off in the form of the Outlander's 3-liter, 220 horsepower, naturally aspirated V-6, which uses variable valve timing technology, dubbed MIVEC. The engine has more than adequate power and seems very well mated to the transmission.
But the really impressive part is the efficiency of this power plant. While rocketing the car forward from a stop and easily holding high speeds on the freeway with room to spare, it still gets decent mileage. The EPA gives it only 17 mpg city and 23 mpg on the highway. In our mixed city and freeway driving, we stayed on the high side of this range, getting 21.6 mpg. Most V-6 engines we've tested don't approach this economy. Even better, the Outlander gets a SULEV II rating from the California Air Resources Board, the same as the Toyota Camry Hybrid.
For a good portion of our driving time, we were running it in four-wheel-drive mode. A handy dial by the shifter lets the driver choose from two-wheel-drive, four-wheel-drive, and four-wheel-lock. In two-wheel-drive mode we found the car very manageable, but with lots of torque steer during fast starts. Four-wheel-drive was equally manageable, and we didn't notice the torque steer.
Mitsubishi adds in other technology from its off-road rally and racing expertise, such as the Outlander's aluminum roof. Designed to lower the center of gravity and improve the car's agility, we still felt the car was too top-heavy for fast cornering. The suspension is rigid, with almost a sports-car-ish feel, which might be a little tough on people looking for a comfortable SUV-type ride.
The Outlander also gets paddle shifters for the manual selection mode on its six-speed transmission. Normally we try these out a few times, then let the car select the gears, but the Outlander's paddle shifters are mounted on the column, which actually make them usable during cornering. They are long enough so you can still flick them with the wheel cranked around.
Our test car was a 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS, the top trim level with a base price of $25,010. We added the Luxury package ($1,600), which includes high-intensity discharge headlights and the leather seats; and the Sun and Sound package ($1,580), which includes the sunroof and the Rockford Fosgate stereo. The total for our car as tested, with its destination charge, was $28,815. The navigation package, with music server, is a slightly confusing option. You can get it a la carte for $2,190 or you can get it for an extra $1,800 if you also get the Luxury and Sun and Sound packages. A fully loaded Outlander can run you just above $30,000.
But even at this price, it's an extremely good deal. Among small SUVs, it has the best tech options. Not all of its tech is up to the quality found in a car like the Acura RDX, but the Outlander is less expensive. And few cars offer such low emissions combined with decent mileage and solid power. The 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander offers great bang for the buck in the small SUV segment.