After spending a couple of weeks test-driving the 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander, I've decided it's a great car for dads. Compared to many moms, dads tend to keep their parenting style as simple as possible. My husband is known to skimp on the kids' snacks and supplies, while my pockets, purse and center console are loaded with diapers, wipes, outfits and snacks. It's much the same for the Outlander.
The 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander keeps it simple -- maybe too simple -- in its interior with low-key technology and not enough storage space, but its sporty exterior and agility on the road make it a fun car to have around.
The Outlander comes with two rows of seats standard. My test car, an Outlander GT S-AWC, had three rows of seats, but the third row was so tiny that it was nearly unusable by my kids.
Since its restyling in 2010, the Outlander hasn't changed too dramatically. For 2012, enhancements include an optional auto-dimming rearview mirror and a standard Eco indicator. There are also only three trim levels now as compared to four in previous years. The Outlander competes with heavyweights like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
The 2012 Outlander starts at $22,345 for the two-row base model. I tested the highest trim, the GT S-AWC with all-wheel drive and three rows of seats, which starts at an MSRP of $27,895. With the addition of the Navigation Package and Touring Package, which adds leather upholstery, a power-adjustable driver's seat and a moonroof, the SUV cost $33,605 as-tested.
When compared with its rivals, the 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander's exterior is an original. Where the others are shapely and docile, the Outlander is aggressive. It sits low to the ground with an insistently sporty front grille and strong lines throughout its body. The emphasis is definitely more on sport than utility.
In addition to the traditional liftgate, there's also a small rear tailgate that flips down to make loading groceries or putting on your ski boots easier. It also creates a nice tailgating seat that can support up to 440 pounds, which means Dad can take this car to the game.
What's also dad-friendly are the doors, which are light enough for a 3-year-old to open and close independently. The step-in height is also manageable for anyone making date night easier when Mom is wearing a tight skirt.
The top-of-the-line Outlander GT I tested comes with a 230-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 engine and a six-speed automatic transmission. My test car had optional all-wheel drive, which Mitsubishi calls Super All-Wheel Control and includes a center dial to select driving modes to optimize traction in varying weather and road conditions. This test car gets an EPA-estimated 19/25 mpg city/highway and premium gas is recommended.
The Outlander can also be had with a 168-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder and front-wheel drive that gets 22/27 mpg. This smaller engine uses regular gas.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times
The three-row Outlander is an athletic crossover that Mitsubishi says can seat up to seven people. (Insert raucous laughter here.) Not even a family of clowns could fit seven people in this car. My small children had trouble fitting in the barely-there third row.
The third row is cramped; the materials are flimsy and it's complicated to use. It also resembles Mickey Mouse when in use. The two abnormally large and mouse-ear-shaped head restraints elicited an exclamation of "Mickey Mouse!" from my youngest every time we got in the car. What gives, Mitsubishi? Is the hope that if kids think they're tooling around with the famous mouse they won't notice that the circulation in their legs is being cut off?
The rest of the seating is passably comfortable with enough leg and headroom, though once I installed a rear-facing infant-safety seat in the second row the front passenger lost his legs at the knees. The second row is easy to flip up and down for easy access to the third row.
In the front row, the controls are simple, circular and few. Technology is low-key; interior colors are unmemorable and the black-colored plastic and silver trim materials look and feel cheap. The center console is tiny as are the door pockets.
My test car was equipped with the Touring Package that adds a great Rockford Fosgate sound system, a moonroof and heated front seats with a power-adjustable driver's seat. It also had the optional Navigation Package that adds a backup camera. Mitsubishi's hands-free Fuse system, a rear entertainment system and a hard-drive navigation system with real-time traffic and digital music storage are all available.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
The 2012 Outlander earned the highest score of Good in side-impact and frontal-offset crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It received the second-best score of Acceptable in rear and roof-strength crash tests. The SUV received four stars out of five in rollover crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Outlander has standard front-wheel drive, all-disc antilock brakes, an electronic stability system, traction control and six airbags, including side curtains for the first and second rows but not the third. Optional safety features include a backup camera and all-wheel drive.
Two sets of Latch anchors are in the second row and marked by a prominent slit in the upholstery, though they sat so far back that they were difficult to access. My daughter's rear-facing car seat took up a lot of real estate in the second row, and my son's forward-facing convertible -- and my son -- barely fit in the third row.
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