A couple of years ago, Mitsubishi changed its American marketing strategy to focus more on younger buyers, mainly single people in their early- to mid-20s. With the Outlander, though, the philosophy changed somewhat. Mitsubishi built this vehicle to be a crossover that had room for young families, without the soccer-mom feel of a minivan. The company wanted this vehicle to have the functionality of a minivan, the cool attitude of a sport compact car, and the all-weather versatility of a sport utility, all in one fun-sized package.

The Outlander was built on the Lancer platform, making it the smallest SUV Mitsubishi has ever built. It is powered by a 2.4L inline-four engine. Compared to the other SUVs in the competition, this is the smallest engine, which would seemingly make it unfair to compare it to the others. However, the small-displacement engine is in the lightest vehicle, making it fair to compare the power to weight in this vehicle to the performance feel of the others. We knew it wouldn't be the fastest 0 to 60, but it had the potential to feel fast and sporty without putting up the same numbers as some of the other vehicles we tested.

And, even though it did place dead last in our acceleration and quarter-mile testing, many judges enjoyed quick jaunts around town in the diminutive Mitsubishi. Some noted that even though the Outlander lacked top-end horsepower, it had great low-end acceleration. Backing the 2.4L I-4 is a four-speed Sportronic automatic transmission, which the judges felt was a good match for the engine. The steering was hypersensitive to driver input, which didn't help the Outlander's occasional tendency to wander. Many felt the ride was a little less cushy than other SUVs, but that did provide a better feel for the road than the cushier vehicles allowed. It has a lower center of gravity and lower ground clearance than many of the other competitors, which, while making it less capable of clearing rocks on the trail, did make the Mitsubishi handle curves and sudden changes in direction with ease. Not only that, but this Outlander was equipped with viscous-coupling all-wheel drive, making it more capable in inclement weather.

The exterior and interior styling served as both the high point of the Outlander and the point of most contention for some of the judges. The testers were split on the unique front-end styling of this vehicle (described by one as the reason this vehicle is better once you're inside), but most liked the body's overall appearance. On the inside, the judges like the ease of use of the controls, and liked the sporty look of the white-face gauges. Also scoring high was the interior's design, which used clean lines and brushed metal accents, contrasting nicely with the charcoal leather seating. The stereo also received high marks.

There is no question that this vehicle is aimed directly at young buyers. The design and ride do have a distinct sport compact feel, and all of the aftermarket that implies. The interior is functional, while looking like it came from a more expensive vehicle. Its ride is car-like, but the cargo area and all-wheel drive offer SUV-like function. With its fresh look and feel, and a price tag starting at around $20,000, this SUV gives buyers a lot for the money, at a very affordable price.

Base Price: $20,790
Price As Tested: $24,390 (est.)
Engine: 2.4L SOHC I-4
Horsepower: 140 hp at 5,000 rpm
Torque: 157 lb-ft at 2,500 rpm
Suspension: Fully independent, MacPherson-type struts (front); multi-link, coil springs (rear)
Brakes: ABS disc (front & rear)
4WD/Transmission: Full-time AWD with viscous coupling center differential/four-speed Sportronic automatic
Wheelbase: 103.3 in
Length: 179.1 in
Width: 68.9 in
Height: 66.3 in
Curb Weight: 3,461 lb
Towing Capacity: 1,500 lb
Fuel Economy (city/highway): 20/25 mpg