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Heretofore, Mitsubishi Motors has been without an entry-level sport utility vehicle (SUV) in the U.S.*, a category that, according to its Marcel Millot, manager, Launch and Brand Strategy, grew 29.3% in calendar 2001, while overall cars and trucks were down 1.2%. Mitsubishi is no stranger to SUVs, with its Montero and Montero Sport vehicles. Nor is it unfamiliar with the concept of going off road: Gael O'Brien, Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America's vp of Corporate Communications & Public Affairs, proudly notes that in the 2002 Paris-Dakar Rally, of the top 10 finishers, eight were driving Mitsubishis. That said, however, the answer to the missing entry-level SUV, the 2003 Outlander, is not likely to see much in the way of off-road use unless the driver goes onto the shoulder of a highway and hits the gravel. Of course, if you've seen—and heard—any of the TV commercials for Mitsubishi vehicles (and if you haven't, you're not watching enough TV), you know that the company is focused on a young demographic, but people who are, by and large, more likely to go clubbing than camping. Thus, the car-based Outlander.
The car in question is the Lancer. Like the Lancer, the Outlander is being built in the corporation's Mizushima Plant in Japan. But because this is not a car, the Outlander has been beefed up, particularly in the context of body rigidity. One of the processes used to provide better rigidity for components including the center pillar reinforcements, front subframe rails, and front-end cross members is mash seam welding. Although it isn't quite as technically swank as laser welding, mash seam welding, a resistance welding process that employs an electrode wheel that is used to "mash" overlapping pieces of material to create a solid-state joint, is an effective means by which tailored components (e.g., those that have varying gauges, thereby providing lightness with strength) can be produced. Rather than simply having a one-piece rear hatch aperture, it is actually a series of welded pieces that are of varying thickness and are located with varying amounts of overlap, thereby providing good torsional rigidity in the rear section of the vehicle.
Because this is fundamentally a road car, the suspension (also modeled on the Lancer's, but strengthened) features MacPherson struts in the front and a multi-link trailing arm design in the rear.
Although there are the Lancer underpinnings, the engine in the Outlander is a modified version of the base motor found in the Galant, Eclipse Coupe, and Spyder. The 2.4-liter, SOHC, 16-valve engine provides 140 hp @ 5,000 rpm and 157 lb.-ft. of torque @ 2,500 rpm. The cast iron block/aluminum head unit is modified for the Outlander with an aluminum cast (shouldn't that be "cast aluminum"?) intake manifold runner design that helps amass torque early in the rev range (this is, after all, a quasi-truck-like vehicle, so low-end torquiness is important). The throttle body for the Outlander is also bigger than that used for the other models (60 mm vs. 54 mm).
The Outlander is available in two trim levels, LS and XLS, and in two-wheel drive and all-wheel-drive versions. Both 2WD and AWD models are fitted with a four-speed automatic transmission with a sports-shift function. The AWD version provides a 50:50 torque split between the front and rear wheels during ordinary driving conditions; in the case of wheel slip, a viscous coupling center differential unit manages torque split to regulate the rotational speed variation between the front and rear wheels. Steering is via a power-assisted rack-and-pinion setup.
Because people need to hear their tunes in an Outlander (especially those with the up-trim XLS model's optional "Sun and Sound" package, which includes a 210-W Infinity/Mitsubishi audio system), plenty of attention was paid to NVH. To reduce outside vibration and noise, there is urethane foam blown into the body pillars; asphalt sheeting is used beneath the floor pan.
The overall length of the Outlander is 179.1 in., and it has a 103.3 in. wheelbase. The ground clearance is 8.3 in. The interior seats five. There is 96.1 ft3 of space for passengers and a total interior volume of 120.6 ft3. The rear seats are 60/40 fold-down so if you subtract three people from the backseat and fold down the seats, the luggage compartment measures 60.3 ft3. Not exactly the size of a dance floor, but certainly the capacity needed to by those who are interested in this size vehicle.
*There is actually a Japanese version of the Outlander, which is called the Airtrek.