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by Steve Siler

Mitsubishi Outlander
2003 Mitsubishi Outlander

New to the scene this year is Mitsubishi's spunky new Outlander. Close to the Subaru Forester in size and shape, the Outlander is decidedly car-like in look and feel. It's more of a tall wagon than a proper SUV. But it does have slightly better ground clearance than a wagon, and a much taller roofline. Add to it privacy glass, metal pipe roof rails (on XLS trim) and a chunky schnoz and you have what most everyone would consider a genuine compact SUV.

And a nice compact SUV it is. With lots of standard equipment, including power accessories, cruise control, air conditioning, a CD player and 16-inch wheels, even the base Outlander makes few compromises. The uplevel XLS trim adds even more goodies, including alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, clear-lens taillamps, fog lights, white-faced gauges and leather trim on the shifter and steering wheel.

The only blemish (and you may not consider it to be a big deal) is the fact that the only available power plant is a 140-hp four-cylinder engine mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. While the transmission has a separate manual-shift mode, the acceleration provided by the engine is too milquetoast to be acceptable in this competitive field where V-6s are everywhere, and most four-cylinders even make more power. Fuel economy is decent, however, turning in numbers in the low-to-mid twenties.