Note: "First Impressions" and "In the Driveway" posts are basically my initial impressions of cars I'm currently driving for review. Given that they are initial impressions, sometimes my opinions will change -- for good or ill -- between the time I post and the time I actually review. I'll post links to reviews as they're finished, as well, and try to explain any evolving opinions.
Mitsubishi strikes me a bit of an odd car company, with some exceptionally strong entries for both performance (the go-go Lancer) and style (the seductively curvy Eclipse). Balancing those out are some, well, not-so-strong models.
Case in point, the Outlander "crossover" SUV -- crossover meaning, basically, a car that's been jacked up to ride kind of like an SUV but without some of the downsides like excessive weight. The Outlander definitely rides more like a car than an SUV, but that's not necessarily a good thing. It feels soft and disconnected in its handling.
The SE version I drove comes standard with straight-four engine, which provides decent gas mileage for a part-time four-wheel drive -- 20 mpg city, 25 highway -- but that comes completely at the expense of power. With only 168 horsepower at your disposal, getting out onto a busy road requires a touch of caution and some good timing, and I imagine jamming the accelerator to the floor over and over to hit merging speed won't do much to help those mpg numbers.
Looking at the outside, the Outlander is competent without being compelling. The prow-like nose recalls some Acura's beak-nosed SUVs, but I don't consider that a plus. While the Outlander doesn't stand out with beauty, neither does it stand out with ugliness. It's simply average.
Inside the economy roots show pretty heavily, with oddly textured hard plastic -- the honeycomb pattern isn't as big a sin as some other manufacturers' fetish for faux-carbon-steel patterns, but it doesn't make a lot of sense, either. But there's definitely more to like with the interior than the exterior of the Outlander. Numerous power outlets make it easy to juggle your portable electronic life, and the navigation system (should you choose to spring for it) works pretty well. The cargo area is fairly large. The front seats provide a lot more support than I expected, particularly lateral support. Unfortunately, the back seat was so hard and bench-like that if I closed my eyes I half expected the coach to call me out to play right field. An extended time in the back would not be a pleasant experience.
If you're on a budget but need a larger vehicle, the Outlander might have some appeal for you. The base model starts at under $20K -- the SE model I tested starts around $25K (I'm still waiting to see the invoice that includes the extras on my test model). But if you have some financial wiggle room, you'll definitely want to do some comparison shopping.