Originally published June 3, 2016 on autoTRADER.ca

Cars are more than the sum of their parts. Cars are not metal and plastic and rubber and fuel and air. Cars are not the engine, the wheels, the seats, the radio or even the steering wheel. Cars are not conveyances, appliances or any other scoffed term of disdain uttered by car haters and enthusiasts alike. It doesn’t matter how “bland”, how utilitarian or even flawed a car is – the family that brings it home will fall in love with it, each and every time.

It’s how your child came home from the hospital that first week, it’s what takes you to practice, to work – and most importantly – back home again.

For so many of us, the car is how we holiday: packing up, trekking off on a road trip. It’s kind of impossible not to fall in love with a car when you take it on a journey like ours.

“Are we going to Magic Kingdom?!” – we were at the gates.

Two minutes ago we’d asked my five-year old daughter, Maddie, what the sign above us said. “Disney World,” she’d replied kind of sadly. Her little brain had assumed we wouldn’t be actually going there, just driving past. Then we asked her to read the next sign, the one that said, “Entrance”.

That’s when all hell broke loose. Maddie’s joy-filled screams and laughter and giddy cackling will resonate with my family for decades. Magic Kingdom always seemed like a gimmick before. All of a sudden I got it.

You know what else is burned in our brain? The Mitsubishi Outlander we were sitting in. Even now, months later, when Maddie sees the three-diamond logo her face brightens. She remembers.

Hitting the Road

Our mission was simple. Leave as early as we could – 5 pm in the afternoon. Drive to Florida as hard as we could. Spend a weekend at the beach, in the motel pool and taking in the IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Florida – then drive home with an unannounced detour to Disney World on the way.

Our five year-old daughter wasn’t to know we’d be visiting the Magic Kingdom. We let that be a surprise. All she knew was she had 10 hours in a car immediately after a long day at school.

Ouch.

We’d prepared though. The Outlander was fitted with Maddie’s car caddy – toys, snacks, books all in a container next to her. The back was full – a generous 968 L cargo area easily accepting our week’s worth of luggage. Maddie’s first impression was positive. “Wow, it’s big back here!”

Our Chariot

The 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander gets a rough trot in the automotive press. It rated third-lowest in raw scores of 43 vehicles during the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada TestFest last October, ahead of only the Smart ForTwo and the Toyota Tacoma.

This is the exact car in the test: a mid-trim ES AWC with the 2.4L four-cylinder engine and an as-tested price of $33,798.

Test Drive: 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander ES AWC with Premium Package

When that price was factored into AJAC’s scoring, the Outlander shot up the overall list and vaulted into mid-pack in its category. If the class-leading warranty was taken into account, it might have been even higher.

Mitsubishi itself is a bit of a whipping boy for the automotive press. It’s Canada’s smallest manufacturer, with only five distinct nameplates sold here, yet its dealership network is currently growing. They recently opened a 100th dealership. The Outlander, then, isn’t one of the industry’s darlings, so how did I fall so in love with the thing?

D’oh! A Deer!

It’s 2 am and my wife is becoming anxious even with the LED headlights (one of 100 improvements since last year’s model) cutting through the dark. “That’s the sixth deer we’ve seen in five minutes, Jacob.” My attempt to drive from Toronto to St. Pete, Florida through the night in one straight hit is looking less and less wise. My daughter, five years old, is asleep in the back. The gentle hum of road, wind and engine noise, so much more quiet than I’d expected, had lulled her finally to sleep about five hours earlier. My wife’s phone gets signal and she uses the opportunity to search for a hotel. There’s one 10 minutes ahead, and we’ll be stopping there for a break.

Marching On

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Road Trip

The morning that dawns in Sutton, West Virginia is clear but mildly overcast. The clouds paint a silvery shimmer over the countryside – one of rolling hills, colour-rich forests and winding roads. It turns out this region is far better enjoyed by daylight. It’s picturesque, and the winding, undulating roads far more fun without the dark and the deer to distract us. The Outlander is working hard on the uphills – the 166 hp/162 lb-ft 2.4L four is a good unit but I’m wishing for the 224-hp V6 underfoot as I make my way by the meanderers.

The Outlander is confident underneath me. Steering inputs make their way from hand to road quickly and with agility unexpected in a fully laden SUV. The body roll is minimal and what little there is, progressive. The Outlander doesn’t lay down or fall over, it just transitions its weight to the outside tires until you become aware that’s about as much as you’ll want to do that.

Brushing the brake pedal or even stomping on the accelerator does little to upset the fore/aft weight distribution, it’s a well-planted little body here. The mountainous roads through West Virginia soon give way to the last, long, straight, boring shot through to Florida. Down through Carolina (both of them) we trudge, the Outlander playing its part of silent companion perfectly. Fuel stops are infrequent, dictated more by Maddie’s bladder than anything else.

We’re averaging 8.1 L/100 km on this trip, not bad given a week’s worth of luggage for our family, my lead foot, and the persistent headwinds. The official ratings are 9.7/8.1/9.0 L/100 km city/highway/combined – we’re bang on that number.

Florida

As the road drops into Florida, the scenery becomes less mundane once again. Swamps, wetland forests and greenery abound; I’m finding it hard to concentrate on the road, hoping to see a crocodile – but I don’t.

Our hotel for the first phase of our trip is the Riotel Florida. It’s a small motel but the rooms are spacious, clean, and very well equipped. A dog and a cockatoo co-host us, with their employee, a very pleasant Quebecois man named Frederic to do all the human things needed. Much to Maddie’s delight, there is a pool. Best of all, it’s affordable. $700 for five nights in prime location.

Treasure Island is a spectacular spot with a strip of motels and hotels, all within walking distance to a long, clean public beach plus a vibrant nightlife.

It’s only 20 minutes from St. Petersburg, which is a surprisingly cosmopolitan city with an active entertainment district downtown. We’re there for the IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – and the whole town is clearly up for some racing action.

For four days we use the Outlander to ferry us from track to hotel, to supermarket, to track, to hotel; hustling back each day to give Maddie maximum time in the pool, or in the ocean. I prefer the pool – it’s warmer.

After an extra day on Treasure Island (because beach) we leave before dawn to head to Disney World – it’s a two-hour drive to Orlando and we want to make it in before it gets insane.

Driving up to Disney World we’re afraid the road signs will give the game away, each one passes with a chuckle as we realize Maddie is too embedded in her book to look up and see them. It’s only as we approach the entrance that we get her attention.

Disney World

Should you ever be asked, “Is Disney World worth it?” – the answer is: Yes. You will be in lines for much of your day – but nowhere near as much as I was expecting. You will be tired, and exiting the park takes upwards of an hour, but the spectacle is immense.

Disney’s Fast Pass program means everyone gets three to five rides scheduled during their visit. It gives you a 45-minute window to use your pass on the ride you selected earlier in the day, and means you can ride the best rides with only a short wait.

From there, you can wander the park, taking it all in, and only stop at things you think have a reasonable line. I wholeheartedly recommend the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor comedy show – which always has a short line and is hilarious for adults and children alike. I don’t recommend the Futureland go-karts, they are ultra-slow rail cars, not go-karts and aren’t fun at all.

We met Ariel, Minnie Mouse, and of course, Elsa and Anna. The line for the Frozen princesses was 95 minutes long (we should have used a Fast Pass) but the actresses were full of life, and left Maddie in complete awe.

The evening ended with a parade and the fireworks show, which rivalled any I’ve seen for length, intensity and visual impact.

Homeward Bound

It was midnight by the time we left the Disney parking lot, but Daytona Beach was less than 90 minutes away. So we drove to our next hotel, the Baymont Inn and Suites Ormond Beach for an overnight nap. In the morning, $10 was all we needed to pay to drive the Outlander down onto the beach itself, parking for a walk along the water, stopping to examine the shellfish spawning in tidal pools, and long enough for Maddie to discover that the Atlantic Ocean is far, far colder than the Gulf of Mexico.

One more stop in Gassoway on our way home helped break up the journey, and gave our family some much-needed rest for the drive back into Canada. Back to our homes, back to our regular lives.

The next day when I picked her up from school, having returned the Outlander, Maddie’s eyes grew wide once again. Not with joy this time.

“But where is the Mitsubishi?! I love the Mitsubishi!!”

Total Trip Costs: $1,855.42 USD
Fuel: $US231.42 USD

Hotels:
Riotel Florida (5 nights): $700 USD
Days Inn and Suites Sutton: $110 USD
Baymont Inn and Suites Ormond Beach: $100 USD
Microtel Inn and Suites by Wyndham, Gassaway: $98 USD

Tickets:
Disney World: $336 USD
Adult Magic Kingdom: $124 (x2) USD
Child Magic Kingdom: $118 USD
St Petersburg IndyCar Grand Prix:
Adult Grandstand: $105 (x2) USD
Child Grandstand: $70 USD

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