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2006 Mitsubishi Outlander

by Martha Hindes

Mitsubishi Outlander
Mitsubishi Outlander Interior

Mitsubishi drives its Outlander into 2006 with a new trim level, more standard safety equipment and a brand-wide slogan meant to catch the curious off-guard. "Driven to thrill," has an immediate impact. You just have to find out what's behind it. What's there is a compact sport utiity vehicle that Mitsubishi calls "Japanese cool." This is the Asian auto maker's smallest and most affordable entry into the sport utlity field, with a number of years under its belt. Refreshed a year ago, for '06 the Outlander gets front seat-mounted side airbags and anitlock brakes as standard equipment for all models.

More a weekend/commute/out-for-the-evening fun kind of vehicle than one designed for heavy duty offroading, Outlander still delivers a lot of bang for the buck. It gained more power output in last year's upgrades, with an advanced valve timing and electronics system, for a widespread range of torque for more OOMPH! during acceleration at higher or lower speeds. The new SE trim fills an amenities gap above the base LS, while the upmarket Limited adds automatic climate control. Both upper models add a new, bold Electric Blue.

For those on an outboard mission, optional tubular roof rails can accommodate sports equipment, extra luggage or some great scavanging finds at an antique barn sale. Flex seating inside adapts to hold five, or hides for more cargo area.

Mitsubishi's 2.4-liter inline four, for front or all-wheel-drive, grunts out 160-HP and 162-lb.ft of road taming torque. The Sportronic trans adds manual fun while ekeing out more performance in the process. Appreciation is boosted by the $18.5 K base price ($26 K tops) and 10 year, 100,000 mile limited warranty.

Some critics give the Outlander so-so marks for handling. We recall earlier renditions more than adequate for carving in and out of Northern Virginia hills and swales at speed while holding tight to the road -- a blast, in fact. With augmented power in today's version, it should move with the kind of aggressiveness more akin to its rally-inspired Lancer "Evo" relative. And Mitsubishi's catch phrase for the way Outlander handles? Call it "J Thrill." Any way you cut it, that alone could pique one's curiosity.