For 2006, the Mitsubishi Outlander gains a new Special Edition (SE) trim line; side impact airbags and anti-lock brakes are standard on all models; the Limited gains automatic climate control; the SE and Limited receive monochromatic fender flares and side air dams; and Electric Blue joins the exterior colour list. The XLS trim line of 2005 is gone.

More “tall wagon” than SUV, the Outlander is based on the Lancer platform. All use a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine that hooks to a four-speed automatic transmission; the LS also comes with a five-speed manual borrowed from the Lancer Ralliart. The SE and Limited use the automatic exclusively. All models come in front-wheel-drive or an optional all-wheel-drive system that splits the torque evenly between the front and rear under normal driving conditions, and distributes it wherever necessary when the going gets slippery. It’s not a serious off-roader, but it will get you through the worst of wintery city streets.

The LS in includes auto-off headlamps, variable intermittent wipers, power mirrors, rear spoiler, 16-inch steel wheels, air conditioning, power windows and locks, eight-way adjustable driver’s seat, 60/40 folding rear seat, anti-lock brakes, engine immobilizer and CD with four speakers. Roof rails, keyless entry and cruise control come with automatic-equipped models only.

The new SE adds fog lamps, colour-keyed mirrors and handles, clear taillight lenses, polish exhaust finisher, rear privacy glass, 17-inch alloy wheels, leather-wrapped wheel, premium sport-cloth seat fabric, ten-way adjustable driver’s seat, heated seats, and six-CD/MP3 player.

The Limited adds heated mirrors, power sunroof, automatic climate control, and leather interior.

The Outlander is very smooth and gutsy for a four-cylinder, but that’s just part of it. It’s easy to climb into, roomy up front, and with relatively good visibility for an SUV. It’s nimble, with road feel that’s more compact car than sport utility, and with minimal body roll. The controls are well-designed, the interior is good-looking, and its airplane-style clock is a nifty centrepiece to the dash.

But the Outlander will appeal more to couples than to families; rear seating is tight, and the cushions themselves aren’t all that comfortable. Rear cargo storage is smaller than in the Hyundai Santa Fe or Ford Freestyle; even the Jeep Liberty, which is 120 mm shorter, has 142 more litres of cargo space when both have their seats upright. Mitsubishi’s sparse dealer network will be an issue for many buyers, as well.

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