2003 Mitsubishi Outlander Review

2003 Mitsubishi Outlander - Entry-level SUV.


Mitsubishi joins the fast-growing entry-level segment of the sport-utility market with its distinctive-looking new compact Outlander. The carlike-but-utilitarian 2003 Outlander is reminiscent of the 1992-94 Mitsubishi Expo LRV (Light Recreational Vehicle) multipurpose vehicle, which was slightly ahead of its time. The Outlander competes with such formidable sport-utes as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape and Subaru Forester. The Outlander has base prices ranging from $17,997 to $20,790 and comes with either front- or all-wheel drive. It's based on Mitsubishi's new Lancer sedan, with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder single-overhead-camshaft engine from the automaker's Eclipse and Galant models.

The 140-horsepower engine provides decent acceleration in town but feels lazy above 55 mph--especially if the Outlander is in heavier all-wheel-drive form. Opt for the front-drive version for the best acceleration because it's 221 pounds lighter at 3,240 pounds. The tachometer registers a rather high 3,000 rpm at 70 mph, but the Outlander is a quiet, generally relaxed highway cruiser. No manual gearbox is offered, but the engine works with a responsive four-speed automatic transmission that has an easily used manual shift feature.

Estimated fuel economy is competitive with rivals: 21 mpg and 26 on the highway with front-drive and 20 and 25 with all-wheel drive. The fuel tank holds 15.7 gallons, and only 87-octane fuel is required. A gasoline-cap tether is a thoughtful touch, preventing a driver from filling up and accidentally leaving the gasoline cap atop a gas pump. The Outlander is about as wide as most compact sport-utes, but is longer than most at 179.1 inches. It's also lower, at 63.2 inches, than some such vehicles for almost carlike entry and exit. The front seat's hip point is 26 inches from the ground so you can get in and out without requiring any unnatural shifting or lowering of hips. Once inside, occupants sit rather high.

The first thing you notice about the Outlander is its aggressive-looking split grille. That item helps distinguish it from other compact sport-utilities, which mostly have rather bland styling. The Outlander's front styling might be controversial because it looks radical for a sport-ute, but nobody should object to the Lexus RX 300-like jeweled taillights. Despite its adventuresome name, the Outlander is designed to be mostly an on-road vehicle. It comes with either front- or all-wheel drive, but there is no low-range gearing for tough off-road use. Base LS and upscale XLS trim levels are offered, and both are well-equipped and have a high-quality feel. The "touch points'' (fabric and controls) feel as if from a costlier vehicle.

Even the LS has standard air conditioning, AM/FM/CD sound system, cruise control and split/fold-down rear seatback. It also has a rear defroster, power windows, door locks and mirrors and dual-folding outside power mirrors. The XLS adds special alloy wheels, upgraded seat fabric, tubular roof rails, privacy glass, large rear spoiler with stoplight, stylish white-faced gauges and color-keyed outside mirrors. It also has fog lights and more distinctive taillights. Anti-lock brakes with an electronic brake force distribution system for surer stops are optional for the XLS. So are front-side air bags. Other XLS options include a sunroof, heated leather seats and a high-powered sound system.

LS options include keyless entry, privacy glass and special alloy wheels. Steering is quick. And handling is good because all Outlander models have a stiff structure, large 16-inch wheels and an all-independent suspension with front/rear anti-sway bars. The long 103.3-inch wheelbase and compliant suspension provide a ride that's so smooth one almost expects handling to be sloppy. The brake pedal feels too soft, but has a comfortably progressive action. The nicely designed outside door handles and the low step-in provide easy entry. Front seats are supportive, and the steering column is height-adjustable.

There's plenty of room for four tall adults. The especially roomy rear seat has a center area soft enough to comfortably accommodate a middle occupant--not the case with many sport-utes. Controls for the climate control system are large but somewhat notchy. Radio controls are small but mounted high on the dashboard, which contains a classy looking analog clock. Gauges are small but have a custom-vehicle appearance. The front console contains above-average cupholders, and there's a handy compartment for tollway change.

Power window controls are a snap to quickly reach on the driver's door, but the plastic inside door handles feel marginal. Front shoulder belts are height-adjustable, and the XLS has see-through headrests. The cargo area has a rather high opening and only average cargo capacity. Folding the split 60/40 rear seatbacks forward increases cargo capacity, but the Outlander still doesn't shine in the cargo hauling area--partly because the multilink rear suspension takes up space. There's an underfloor storage bin at the rear, but it's just a few inches deep. While it's no hot rod, the Outlander's distinctive appearance and user-friendly design should be appealing to a good number of compact sport-utility buyers.


Carlike. Roomy. Smooth ride. Refined.
Lazy highway acceleration. Controversial front styling.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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