2003 Mitsubishi Outlander
Photo: Mitsubishi, Click image to enlarge

by Greg Wilson

Comfortable, easy to drive compact SUV is appealing

It doesn’t seem that long ago that the only compact sport-utility vehicles on the market were the venerable Jeep YJ and the way-ahead-of-its-time Suzuki Sidekick. The explosion of new cute-utes began in the late 90’s, and shows no sign of slowing. This year, I counted more than twelve small SUV’s available in Canada. These compact but roomy four-wheel-drive vehicles are particularly popular here because our weather conditions, gas prices, and standard of living are more extreme than they are in the United States.

Newest kid on the block is the Mitsubishi Outlander. Like most other compact SUV’s, it looks like a truck, but it isn’t. The Outlander uses the Mitsubishi Lancer sedan’s unit body platform rather than a truck-like ladder frame commonly used by larger SUVs. Though truck frames are considered more durable by off-roaders (and there is some debate about that), a unit body design has tangible consumer benefits for everyday use – such as better ride and handling, increased interior room, weight reduction, better fuel economy, and a lower step-in height.

The Outlander is car-like in other respects too: it offers a relatively fuel-efficient four cylinder engine, a fully independent suspension, and a hands-off all-wheel-drive system that runs in front-wheel-drive most of the time in order to save gas and wear-and-tear on the drivetrain.

Like most other cute-utes, the Outlander is not designed to be driven in the Paris to Dakar rally. It’s more of a roomy, tall station wagon with the additional ground clearance and four-wheel-drive capabilities necessary to handle slippery winter conditions, and rough cottage-country roads in the summer.

A lot of standard stuff

2003 Mitsubishi Outlander
Photo: Mitsubishi
Click image to enlarge

2003 Outlanders range in price from $26,757 for the LS model to $28,697 for the XLS model, and fully-optioned models can go for around $33,000.

For its base price of $26,757, the Outlander LS comes with a relatively high level of standard equipment, including a four-speed automatic transmission with ‘Sportronic’ manual shifting capability. Vehicular motivation is provided by a 140 horsepower 2.4 litre twin cam DOHC four cylinder engine – but unlike some compact SUVs, the Outlander is not available with an optional V6 engine.

Other standard stuff includes air conditioning, a 140 watt AM/FM/CD stereo with four speakers, power windows with auto driver’s down feature, power door locks, keyless entry, cruise control, variable assist power steering, variable intermittent wipers, rear wiper/washer, power heated mirrors, 60/40 folding rear seatbacks, tilt steering wheel, cargo cover, roof rails, and 16 inch tires.

The only thing missing is anti-lock brakes, which regretfully, aren’t even available on the base LS model (tsk, tsk, Mitsubishi..)

The only factory-installed option package on the LS is an ‘Appearance Package’ ($600) which includes 16″ alloy wheels and rear privacy glass. Some dealer installed options, such as a 6-disc in-dash CD changer ($776 + labour) and a block heater ($37 + labour), are also available.

2003 Mitsubishi Outlander
Photo: Mitsubishi
Click image to enlarge

The top-of-the-line XLS goes for $28,697, and it adds anti-lock brakes, alloy wheels, fog lights, clear tailight lenses, a rear roof spoiler, rear privacy glass, driver�s seat lumbar adjustment, and an extra two speakers to the standard sound system.

Two option packages are offered on the XLS: a ‘Sun & Sound Package’ ($1,380) which includes a 180-watt Mitsubishi/Infinity AM/FM/CD audio system with 6 speakers, and a power moonroof. And a ‘Luxury Package’ ($1,576) with leather seats, heated front seats, and front side airbags. A second Luxury Package ($1,720) adds an auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and temperature display.

This week’s test vehicle, an XLS model with the optional Infinity sound system ($1,380), came to $31,072 including a $995 Freight charge.

Roomy but not bulky

Overall, the Outlander is an attractive-looking vehicle. Its pointy nose looks a bit aggressive, but with a wide stance and minimal front and rear overhangs, the Outlander is well-proportioned . Its two-tone upper/lower paint treatment, aerodynamic clear plastic headlamp covers, and trendy rear taillights with red lenses and chrome borders under clear plastic (XLS models), give it a contemporary, sporty appearance.

2003 Mitsubishi Outlander
Photo: Mitsubishi

2003 Mitsubishi Outlander
Photo: Laurance Yap, www.Autos.ca

2003 Mitsubishi Outlander
Photo: Mitsubishi

2003 Mitsubishi Outlander
Photo: Mitsubishi
Click image to enlarge

Because it is based on the Lancer car platform, the Outlander’s step-in height is only 18 inches high, and combined with a tall roof and large doors, I found the Outlander easy to get in and out of.

The interior looks and feels roomy. There’s lots of headroom, even with the optional tilt/slide glass moonroof and sunshade, and adequate rear legroom made more generous because the seatbacks are carved out, and the front seats are raised allowing generous footroom for rear passengers. When I first sat in the prototype of this car last year, I thought rear legroom was rather cramped. Since then, I suspect Mitsubishi has made changes to increase the rear legroom. The rear seat offers three seatbelts and three head restraints, but it’s not quite wide enough for three adults in the rear seat.

The cloth upholstery in my XLS test vehicle was of a high quality and included a unique dimpled insert design that I found attractive. I found the front seats comfortable and supportive during my week-long test-drive. The driver can adjust seat height, lumbar support and steering wheel angle to find the right driving position for their size.

Instruments are simple and easy to read. The driver faces an instrument pod with two large gauges for the speedo and tachometer, and two smaller ones for the fuel and coolant readouts. The centre control panel in my vehicle included the optional 180-watt Infinity AM/FM/CD audio system with 6 speakers. Although small, I didn’t find it difficult to operate. Its crystal clear treble tones and resonant base notes surround the passengers like a small concert hall. I really enjoyed this stereo – unfortunately, the Infinity stereo is bundled together in an option package with a sunroof that costs $1,380. If you want a sunroof, the package is probably worth it. A six disc in-dash CD changer is also available, but it’s a dealer-installed option that costs $776 plus labour – and I don’t know if it’s compatible with the Infinity stereo.

The Outlander’s lower centre console includes a powerpoint for charging cell phones, a couple of storage bins, and two cupholders with slots to accomodate mug handles. There’s also a handy coin drawer just to the left of the steering wheel on the dash. Between the front seats, the armrest has a soft padded top for resting your right arm while cruising, and it contains two storage areas: a shallow area for pens, coins and the like; and a deeper bin for CD’s, phones, and valuables.

As mentioned, rear passengers have generous leg and headroom, and there’s a folding centre armrest with two pop-out cupholders. The outboard rear head restraints are donut-shaped for better visibility, but the solid centre one needs to be removed in order for the driver to see behind through the rearview mirror.

All Outlanders include a rear wiper with an intermittent setting, washer, and an electric defogger – all invaluable to rearward visibility in wet, snowy, icy, dusty or foggy conditions.

The rear hatch has a flip-up handle, and is easy to lift up. I prefer this type to the sideways-opening rear doors found on many small SUV’s. As well, the Outlander doesn’t have have an ugly big tire mounted on the back door – the Outlander’s (temporary) spare tire is under the cargo floor. However, this creates a higher cargo floor height – in this case, 32 inches high. As a result, the Outlander’s liftover height is higher, and the cargo area is smaller than those of the Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V. The cargo floor is 32 inches long by 32 inches wide between the wheelwells, and about four feet wide at its widest point. There’s also a large, shallow storage bin underneath the cargo floor, and an open bin on the right side. Four tie down cleats are included for strapping down loose items. A folding privacy cover is standard on the XLS.

With its split folding rear seatbacks folded down, there’s more than 1700 litres (60 cubic feet) of cargo space, less than a RAV4, CR-V, Santa Fe, or Escape, but more than a Liberty or Tracker.

Driving impressions

2003 Mitsubishi Outlander
Click image to enlarge

The Outlander’s driving dynamics remind me of the Hyundai Santa Fe – a very refined, solid suspension and chassis with a comfortable ride and nimble handling. The Outlander’s four wheel independent suspension (MacPherson struts front, multi-link + coil springs rear, with front and rear stabilizer bars) soaks up road undulations and potholes well, and provides well-balanced handling and offers surprising stability for a taller vehicle with a 210 mm (8.3 in.) ground clearance. My test vehicle was equipped with Yokohama Geolander 225/60R-16 inch tires mounted on five-spoke alloys, and these provided competent all-around performance in wet and dry conditions, and were very quiet at freeway speeds.

The Outlander’s standard 2.4 litre four cylinder engine produces 140 horsepower @ 5000 rpm and 157 lb-ft of torque @ 2500 rpm – though its horsepower is not class leading, its torque comes on strong comparatively early, providing satisfying throttle response at typical city driving speeds. Accelerating from a traffic light, or accelerating in the 20 to 70 km/h range produces responsive, perky performance. The standard 4-speed automatic transmission, which automatically adapts to your driving style, also proved to be smooth and responsive. Shift it into the manual gate, and you can change gears manually without a clutch pedal simply by tapping forward to shift up and tapping backwards to shift down.

2003 Mitsubishi Outlander
Click image to enlarge

Chances are you’ll never notice the full-time all-wheel drive system which uses a central viscous coupling differential to send torque to the rear wheels when the front ones slip – at least I didn’t. However, living in Vancouver, I didn’t get to experience the harsher winter conditions of Autos’s many other contributors.

While the four cylinder engine is perky around town, you will notice the engine straining at higher revs. I wouldn’t recommend passing a semi-trailer at 80 km/h on two lane highway with a full load on board – the top-end power is just not there. Truthfully though, how often do you do that kind of passing? The Outlander’s around-town power and comfortable cruising capability is much more of a real-world benefit.

At a steady 100 km/h in fourth gear, the engine revs at 2500 rpm, and at 120 km/h it does 3100, both comfortable engine speeds. Below 3000 rpm, the engine can barely be heard, and road and tire noise are minimal, but I did notice some wind noise coming from the direction of the mirrors.

2003 Mitsubishi Outlander
Photo: Laurance Yap, www.Autos.ca
Click image to enlarge

Fuel consumption around town is decent: 11.8 l/100 km (24 mpg), while highway fuel consumption of 9.4 l/100 km (30 mpg) is a bit lower than average in its class.

Outward visibility for the driver is excellent – front, side and rear vision is very good – but the centre rear head restraint should be removed when there is no centre rear passenger.

The Outlander’s variable assist power steering offers low effort at slower speeds, and contributes to its ease of driving in the city.

Cruise control is operated by a separate wand behind the steering wheel – I found it easy to engage and the system is quick to re-establish speed loss when ascending a grade – some other cruise control systems I’ve tried haven’t been as responsive as this one.

Both LS and XLS models come with front disc/rear drum brakes, but ABS is available only on the XLS trim level. This makes a strong argument for moving up to the XLS, particularly when it’s less than $2,000 more.

Competitor overview

The Outlander’s major four cylinder competitors are the Honda CR-V EX ($28,900), Toyota RAV4 ($25,685), Subaru Forester XS ($32,195), Mazda Tribute DX AWD ($25,445), Suzuki Vitara JLX ($25,095), Chevrolet Tracker ($22,755), Ford Escape XLS ($27,500), and Saturn VUE ($25,460). The Outlander’s base price compares favourably with most of its competitors because it includes a standard auto transmission and a high level of standard equipment.

In terms of passenger room, ride, handling, steering, price and warranty, the Outlander is on par with its best competitors, but its cargo room is smaller than the class-leaders, and top-end performance is weaker than some, but not all.


A comfortable, easy-to-drive SUV with perky performance around town and a roomy cabin, but its 140 horsepower engine feels strained during highway passing.

Technical Data: 2003 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS

Base price (LS) $26,757
Base price (XLS) $28,697
Freight $995
Options $1,380 (Sunroof, Infinity stereo)
Price as tested $31,072
Type 4-door, 5 passenger compact sport utility
Layout transverse front engine/all-wheel-drive
Engine 2.4 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 140 @ 5000 rpm
Torque 157 @ 2500 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic Sportronic manumatic
Wheelbase 2625 mm (103.3 in.)
Length 4550 mm (179.1 in.)
Width 1750 mm (68.9 in.)
Height 1685 mm (66.3 in.)
Ground clearance 210 mm (8.3 in.)
Head Room 960 mm/955 mm front/rear
Cargo area 1708 litres (60.3 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 11.8 l/100 km (24 mpg)
  Hwy: 9.4 l/100 km (30 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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