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Most brands have a halo car: a no-holds-barred ubercar that it can later claim shares technology with the lesser models in the lineup. For Mitsubishi, that car is the Lancer Evolution X, a sport sedan often cited as one of the best-handling cars on the road and as giving the best performance for its price. The Evolution X's claim to fame is its S-AWC all-wheel-drive system. To review the Mitsubishi Outlander GT S-AWC, we need to keep the Evo in mind.
Sharp-eyed readers will see that the Outlander shares the S-AWC nomenclature with its upscale stablemate. And, yes, the larger crossover vehicle shares the Evo's all-wheel-drive technology and some of its handling prowess. However, there's one key difference between the Outlander's Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC) system and the Evolution X's that creates a critical difference in their driving dynamics.
Performance: Like an Evo, only backward
Power comes from a 3.0-liter MIVEC V-6 that uses Mitsubishi's take on variable valve timing to produce 230 horsepower and 215 pound-feet of torque--a reasonable amount of grunt to get the Outlander GT moving, but not nearly enough to make it feel lively. Adding to the Outlander's drivetrain woes is the Sportronic automatic transmission, which lazes through its six gears so sluggishly that we had to double-check that it wasn't a CVT. Even in its manual mode with gear changes initiated with its magnesium paddle shifters, the GT's shifts seemed to take forever. Slow shifts are smooth shifts, and the Outlander doesn't jar as it accelerates away from a stop. Still, not much about this Outlander's engine and transmission combo lives up to the GT designation. However, the power train isn't all bad. In fact, its all-wheel-drive system is rather good.
The S-AWC system offers three modes of operation.
The S-AWC system means the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander GT gets Mitsubishi's Active Center Differential (ACD), which sends nearly 100 percent of available torque to the front axle under normal conditions, but can divert as much as half of the available torque from the 3.0-liter engine to the rear axle for a 50/50 split. It also gets Super Active Yaw Control (S-AYC), a torque-vectoring system that uses an active differential to send up to 70 percent of torque available on an axle to either the left or right wheel to enhance handling. However, unlike the Evo X, which puts its S-AYC system on the rear axle to improve performance, the Outlander GT's S-AYC vectors torque across the front axle. In fact, the Outlander GT is the only vehicle on the market today that features an active differential on the front end. We think this configuration enhances and emphasizes stability over all-out performance.
Up to 50 percent of the S-AWC's torque can be shifted to the rear axle on demand.
The Outlander GT's S-AWC system has three modes. The first, Tarmac, is optimized for on-road performance, sending the bulk of the engine's output to the front axle under most conditions, only activating the rear axle when the front begins to slip. The Snow mode is optimized for slippery conditions, such as snow and ice. Finally, Lock is a bit inaccurately named. It doesn't default to a 50/50 torque split. Torque is still automatically apportioned between the front and rear axles. It is, however, a great deal more aggressive with that torque distribution, getting close to that magical 50/50 split much more often.
We put the Outlander's S-AYC to the test on the same mountain roads on which we tested the Acura MDX SH-AWD's torque-vectoring system; however, the roads were slicked with rain this time around, adding an extra level of danger for the GT's S-AWC system to deal with.
The Outlander's instrument cluster featuresan S-AWC indicator that provides information about the operation of the ACD and S-AYC systems. On public roads during the dry week leading up to our mountain road test, this display remained mostly dormant, indicating that both systems were mostly inactive. However, as we pushed the Outlander GT just a bit too fast around a wet bend, the S-AWC system sprang into action, showing us that it was shuffling power from front to back and from left to right. We didn't spend too much time staring at the dashboard display because we were more concerned with the way the S-AYC system sensed the understeer happening and pulled the Outlander's nose back in line with our desired trajectory. This was a very different experience from feeling the rear rotate through a turn, tucking the nose into an apex. The way the Outlander GT's front end pulls itself back in line is predictable and, if you're not looking for it, nearly transparent. Even in the wet conditions, the Outlander was able to keep itself sorted around switchbacks and through snaking, consecutive left-to-right-handers at (and occasionally above) the posted speed limit without feeling scary.
These feats are performed within reason, of course. Pushing the Outlander too hard in wet conditions would overwhelm even the S-AWC system. causing the traction and stability control systems to intervene and save us from careening into a tree. Additionally, there's only so much fun that one can have with that underperforming 3.0-liter and gearbox combo supplying the power. Impressive as the Outlander is, an Evo X it is not.
A fuel sipper it is not, either. The EPA puts the Outlander GT S-AWC at 19 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway, down an mpg in both metrics from the much more powerful Hyundai Santa Fe. Our observed 22 mpg falls right in the middle of that range. Clearly, there's room for improvement here.
The world's most uncomfortable third-row seat
Besides the Outlander being generally larger overall, one of the key differences between the Outlander and the Outlander Sport is the availability of a third-row seat that boosts our GT model into the seven-seater class. Now, it's not uncommon for the third row to be much smaller and more cramped than the first and second, but the Outlander's third row is so terribly uncomfortable that we think it merits discussion.
One lifts the bench seat up and out of the floor by tugging on a series of straps that must be pulled in the right order lest the seat get stuck midway, requiring a restart. It took us three or four tries to get the seats lifted into the upright position. Once they're up, a pair of huge headrests must be put into position, all but blocking the driver's view out the rear of the car.
Getting into the third row is equally tricky, requiring that the second row be folded and flipped forward. However, these seats don't totally clear a path to the back, so we essentially ended up climbing over them anyway.
It's difficult to tell from photos, but the Outlander's third-row seat is not a pleasant place to be.
Once nestled into the third row, we assessed our situation. The base of the seat only sits a few inches above the floor of the rear area, and with so little leg room, our knees were all but folded into our chests. Perhaps a small child would fare better in such cramped quarters, but unless you really dislike the person, never attempt to cram an adult back there, let alone two. Regardless of who gets stuck in the third row, you should be careful due to their proximity to a particular bit of the Outlander GT's cabin tech package.
Technology that hits like a hammer
Our Outlander GT's cabin technology package is built around a Rockford Fosgate premium audio rig that, in turn, is built around a massive subwoofer designed to knock the fillings from your teeth. This 10-inch beast lives in the rear storage area and gets the lion's share of 710 watts divided among the nine speakers in the cabin. The subwoofer's placement puts it at kidney level with any passenger unlucky enough to be crammed into the wretched third row, adding insult to the injury of discomfort.
Despite being located in the rear hatch, the 10-inch Rockford Fosgate subwoofer is the center of the Outlander GT's cabin tech package.
The audio output has a predictably bass-heavy quality that can easily drown out the mids and highs. Your enjoyment of the sound will depend heavily on your taste in music. Hip-hop fans and lovers of bass-heavy rock will be overjoyed by the pounding bass that can be heard upward of a block away from the Outlander GT. Those who prefer more delicate passages may also be able to draw some enjoyment from this system, but doing so will take much tweaking of the Rockford Fosgate receiver's EQ and other audio settings. Just go ahead and knock that Punch setting all the way down to about -4. In addition to the EQ, the system also offers sound-stage presets that add environmental effects to the audio, and music genre presets that supposedly optimize the sound for different types of music. For a system as bass-heavy as this one, we were surprised not to find a hip-hop/rap preset.
Available audio sources include USB/iPod connectivity, a single-disc CD player, AM/FM/satellite radio, and an odd auxiliary audio/video input that uses RCA connections rather than the 3.5mm connections we're used to seeing. There's also a 40GB HDD with a Music Box partition for storing ripped audio.
When connected to an iPod using a 30-pin dock connector that you'll have to supply yourself, the receiver also enables you to queue music with a voice command through a feature called Mitsubishi Fuse. Simply hit the voice command button and tell the system what you want to hear (for example, "Play artist 'The Black Keys'" or "Play song 'Tighten Up'") and the system will attempt to find the song or playlist that you've requested.
Mitsubishi Fuse also extends its voice commands to hands-free calls, meaning you can press a button and say, "Call Tom Jones" find a contact stored in the Mitsubishi's phonebook and initiate a call. The Bluetooth hands-free calling features automatic address book sync, so its phonebook will be automatically populated with your friends, family, and coworkers almost immediately after you pair a supported phone. Bluetooth audio streaming is also part of the available audio sources, when paired with a compatible handset or A2DP-enabled portable media player.
The navigation system also takes advantage of the 40GB hard drive to store maps and POI data and takes advantage of FM-band RDS-TMC data for traffic. We ran into the same hitches that we did with the Outlander Sport's navigation system, which features menu hierarchies that are very unintuitive and interface elements that seem haphazardly placed. For example, the Audio button switches between the current audio source and the map on the display. If you want to access your address book, that menu is hidden beyond a press of the Info button. You'll want to make sure that you're parked before diving into the Outlander's interface, because it's got a pretty steep learning curve.
Mitsubishi's hard-drive-based navigation system lacks a few bells and whistles, but got us where we needed to be without problems.
The Mitsubishi Outlander GT is quite an odd bird. While it likely has the most sophisticated all-wheel-drive system in its class (which includes the likes of the Hyundai Santa Fe, Toyota RAV4, and Nissan Murano), its V-6 engine is one of the least powerful. Mitsubishi makes up for its lack of engine power with a solid cabin technology package and a Rockford Fosgate system that's probably got a better power-to-weight ratio than the Jeep Compass, but even then the most compelling reason to consider the Outlander GT over the competition is its price.
Basing at $27,795, our Outlander GT came with $4,700 in optional equipment. First up is the Touring package that adds heated leather seats, the 710-watt Rockford Fosgate spine-rattler, satellite radio, and a power sunroof for $2,700. We also had the $2,000 navigation option which adds the 40GB HDD-based navigation system with the Jukebox audio-ripping feature, a rearview camera, and an auxiliary video input. Add a $780 destination charge and you'll be looking at $33,275. At that price, the closest competitor is the 2011 Hyundai Santa Fe, which is a more powerful and efficient ride, but doesn't come near to matching the Outlander's S-AWC.
Mitsubishi's S-AWC system even allowed us to have a bit of off-road fun.
|Model||2011 Mitsubishi Outlander|
|Power train||3.0-liter V-6, 6-speed Sportronic automatic transmission, S-AWC all-wheel drive|
|EPA fuel economy||19 city, 25 highway mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||22.3 mpg|
|Navigation||40GB HDD-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Basic voice command, phonebook sync|
|Disc player||CD/ MP3|
|MP3 player support||Analog RCA auxiliary input, USB/iPod connection|
|Other digital audio||Bluetooth stereo streaming, HDD-based Jukebox, optional satellite radio|
|Audio system||710-watt 9-speaker Rockford Fosgate with 10-inch subwoofer|
|Driver aids||Optional rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$33,275|