In November, Mitsubishi sold 2,925 vehicles in this country. That modest number qualifies the company as something close to a boutique automaker, and explains its new strategy.
Basically, it has decided its future is not in trying to duke it out with high-volume, popularly priced vehicles. It knows its Galant midsize sedan isn't going to dip a lot of sales from a cauldron containing the likes of the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, and Chevy Malibu.
So Mitsubishi has decided to put a lot of its time and treasure into building smaller, techier, more upmarket machinery, to create a kind of upscale compact niche.
An example of this new marketing blueprint is a fresh variation on Mitsubishi's Lancer Evolution pocket rocket called the MR Touring. This compact sedan, priced at $40,999, is more refined and less in-your-face than the boy-racer Evolution GSR. But while it ups the luxury/civility quotient, the techy, 291-horse turbo-terror still manages to hand out lots of driving kicks.
The new 2010 Outlander crossover is another case in point. This compact SUV's model range has been expanded to include the luxury-minded new GT I review here.
The GT model, which starts at $29,250, is easily the most refined, luxurious, and expensive Outlander. Its purpose is twofold, says Mike Evanoff, Mitsubishi's manager of product strategy: It will take the Outlander upmarket and create more room beneath for the company's forthcoming small SUV, the Support.
The Outlander has been revised for 2010, but not that radically. The changes fall somewhere between extensive redesign and what the industry calls a "freshening," and include new sheet metal from the fire wall forward, use of a novel tailgate assembly, and a tweaking for the V-6 employed in the GT.
The front-end styling is arresting. I'm a fan of the large, angular grille opening that evokes performance-minded Audis. I also like the GT's cargo-area access. Beneath a conventional liftgate is a tailgate that's an integral part of the rear fascia. In addition to facilitating the ingress and egress of cargo by lowering the liftover, the opened tailgate provides a bench that can hold 440 pounds.
The GT's effort to take the Outlander upscale and increase its techy-osity is evident in the extensive standard-equipment list, the sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, and in the interior's premium appearance. It employs rich chrome accents and good-looking, stitched leatherette on the dash and upper door panels to very good effect.
Unlike the cheaper Outlanders, the GT is fitted with a third row of seats, raising the seating from five to seven. (As with most compacts with the extra seating, the third-row passengers ought to be your smallest dependents.)
On the road, the GT proved at once comfortable and competent. Built off the same platform employed by the Lancer and Lancer Evolution compact sedans, it furnished a comfortable, reasonably quiet ride, good power, and nice handling, the latter thanks in part to an exceptionally low center of gravity abetted by a weight-saving aluminum roof.
Unlike the more inexpensive Outlanders, which are powered by a 2.4-liter, 168-horsepower four, the GT gets its gumption from a 3-liter, 230-horse V-6. This engine, while 10 horsepower more than its 2009 counterpart, hasn't improved in the m.p.g. department. When buttoned to a six-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel-drive system, as it is in the GT, it manages rather forgettable EPA mileage ratings of 17 city and 23 highway.
And unlike its cheaper, front-drive brethren, the GT uses a techy AWD system that deals with changing traction situations by changing the amount of power dealt to the rear and front wheels, as well as distributing the power between the right and left front wheels.
The result is enhanced sure-footedness on and off the road. So, if you take a GT on one of the trails on your Northern Chester County horse farm, you will find, as I did, that it does very well, by crossover standards, when the pavement ends.
Other pluses include an extensive air-bag ensemble and an exceptional warranty.
2010 Mitsubishi Outlander GT
Base price: $29,250.
As tested: $29,990
Standard equipment: Three-liter engine, six-speed automatic gearbox, all-wheel-drive,
and luxury and safety features, ranging from leather seats and 18-inch alloy wheels to stability control and rollover-sensitive side curtain air bags.
Fuel economy: 17 m.p.g. city and 23 highway.
Handling: Above average.
Comfort: Quite cushy.
Warranty: Five years/60,000 miles bumper to bumper,
10 years/100,000 miles on powertrain, five years of roadside service.
The Ben Key: Four Bens, excellent; Three Bens,
good; Two Bens, fair;
One Ben, poor.