Behind the Wheel: 2003 Mitsubishi Outlander

the amazing keithmobile-DTo keep this “Behind the Wheel” series going I thought I’d mix things up a bit and give some thoughts on cars I’ve actually owned, as opposed to ones I’ve just driven for short periods of time.

We’ll begin this little mini-series with my current car, a 2003 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS AWD (which I affectionately call “The Keithmobile-D”).

To start with, the Mitsubishi Outlander is… a kind of a weird little car/SUV/thing – and I’m not just talking about its odd front nose & hood bulge. The Outlander is a strange mix of stylish “tall station wagon” city SUV and hard-working and reasonably capable “utility vehicle.”

wet mitsubishi logoThen again, I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise, since Mitsubishi itself is kind of an oddball car company, with precious few models compared to some of the bigger car companies – especially here in the US, and especially nowadays when they basically only have 3 models – the Lancer, the Outlander, and the Mirage. But Mitsubishi has always had to live under the shadow of the bigger companies – Toyota, Honda, Mazda, and especially Subaru.

But let’s rewind back to 2003: Mitsubishi has always had a kind of competition with Subaru, what with the whole EVO vs. WRX thing. For a while there this almost seemed like it would carry over into other models, too – with the Outlander poised to compete with the Subaru Outback (right down to the similar-sounding name). Though in my opinion, the Outlander seemed more like the Forrester at the time, since it is a bit of a taller wagon/SUV shape than the decidedly station-wagon-shaped Outback.

The Outlander is kind of a weird mashup of parts from Mitsubishi’s stable of previous vehicles – the chassis is derived from that of the Lancer, but the engine is the same as the one from the Eclipse & Galant. Specifically, it chugs along thanks to a 2.4L 4-cylinder  Mitsubishi “Sirius” 4G64 direct-injection engine, which produces a somewhat underwhelming 140 HP (at 5,000 RPM) but a respectable 157 lbs-ft of torque at just 2,500 RPM. That said, the Outlander weighs just a hair under 3,500 lbs, which is a bit hefty for a car of its size, and which means it’s certainly not the fastest thing on the road – but it’s not the slowest thing, either.

It does have 4-wheel independent suspension, and it handles the bumps quite well – much better, in fact, than some more modern cars. Driving on some old cobblestone streets in New York City can be downright painful in modern cars with their stiff suspensions, but the Outlander just soaks up the bumps without much fuss or bother.

rear tail light 2Despite the somewhat soft suspension, it does handle quite well with relatively little body roll (thanks to ample anti-roll and anti-sway bars). Although the steering suffers from the usual horrible Mitsubishi turning radius, it is well balanced with plenty of feedback – there’s no problem at all just diving right into some tight corners. In fact, the Outlander is really quite fun in the corners, despite technically being an SUV. It also helps that it’s not a terribly tall vehicle, either.

Despite only having a 4-speed automatic transmission (manuals were made, but not available in the US until later model years) it does have a semi-manual mode so you can (kind of) row through the gears on your own.

One downside to the Outlander is its brakes – they are rather lame, especially by modern standards. At the time, anti-lock brakes were an option, and the 2003 models were only available with front discs and rear drums – it wasn’t until the slightly revised 2004 model that they got 4-wheel disc brakes.

With 8.3 inches of ground clearance the Outlander does reasonably well off-road (compared to other car-based SUVs), although it really is more of a “soft-roader” than an “off-roader.” Plus, though it has AWD (full-time via a center viscous coupling unit with a 50/50 front/rear split) the front & rear differentials themselves are fully open, so it isn’t meant for true hardcore off-roading.

One thing the Outlander does have going for it is utility – it is a very useful car. Unlike some other small SUVs it seats a full 5 people without any trouble and yet still has plenty of room in the back for stuff. Fold down the seats and the Outlander can carry an impressive amount of stuff. Also unlike a lot of modern small car-based SUVs, the Outlander can still tow – although not very much, thanks to its lackluster brakes.

It also has one of the best instrument clusters I’ve seen in recent years – easy to read in both full sun and at night, regardless of whether you have the headlights (and thus, the backlights for the gauges) turned on or not.

keithmobile instrument cluster at night

All in all the Outlander is a well-designed, well-thought-out little SUV, which I think could have done quite well. Sadly, however, very few people bought the Outlander, and in subsequent years Mitsubishi enlarged it, making it into a bigger, heavier, more expensive people-mover SUV. (The current model Outlanders come with 3 rows of seats, for example, along with  lower ground clearance, and a price nearly twice what they were originally.) Mitsubishi used to have a larger SUV, called the “Endeavor,” which fit in the next segment above the Outlander, but it looks like that’s been removed and the Outlander was pushed up into its spot – leaving no small SUV to take its place.

If Mitsubishi had stuck with the same body size, and added a stick shift & a turbocharged engine as an option (both of which were available in other markets worldwide, just not in the US), I think the Outlander would’ve been a hit. But since they didn’t, we’re left with just a few examples of what could have been.

Still, if you’re in the market for a small, fun, useful SUV and don’t want to pay a lot, a used Outlander from 2003-2006 might be worth looking at. If it’s in good shape and has been taken care of, an Outlander is a great alternative to one of its Subaru contemporaries – and probably at a lower price. I know I’m biased, but I’ve been very happy with my Outlander – I bought mine new in 2003, and as of this writing it just ticked over 190,000 miles with no sign of slowing down.

Here’s to that SUV with the funny looking nose from Mitsubishi!

The Amazing Keithmobile-D

The one, the only, Keithmobile-D (that’s the 5th Keithmobile, in case you’re counting – I use the same letter naming scheme as the Enterprise from Star Trek).

the amazing keithmobile-D

It really is a good looking car. And it’s still going strong after 5 years. My faithful companion on many an adventure… often in places where cars weren’t meant to go. 😉

It’s safe to say it – I love my car.

Outlanding in the New Jersey Pine Barrens

I found a new place to go Outlanding! It’s a bit of a drive from where I am (about an hour and 45 minutes), but it’s BIG and has all sorts of trails of all different types and best of all… it’s legal to go there!

Of course, I’m talking about the Pine Barrens here in New Jersey. I went down there to explore it, and found out that the area is literally criss-crossed with dirt roads and assorted trails that can be navigated by various types of off-road and soft-road vehicles. So of course, I dove in and went exploring!

I’ve added a set of photos to my Flickr page with pictures from the trip, but here are a few choice samples.

lonely road

This is the first road I went down. I think it must’ve been a fire road, because along the left there were many ditches dug in the ground – probably to contain a forest fire.

fire scorched pine barrens

As you can see, the ground had been previously scorched by fire. But I’ve read that this is a natural part of the growth of the forest, so I guess it’s not too bad. Still, it was weird to see.

keithmobile in the pine barrens - front

The Keithmobile was really in its element out here. The roads were rough, but not too rough. Perfect for a soft-roader like the Outlander.

At one point, I did come across some rather tricky bits – some sand that had been shaped into very steep hills and bumps and ditches. But the Keithmobile powered through it just fine, although I’m sure I scraped some sand into the front grille. After a while, the trail became too technical for me – which is just another way of saying that it suddenly became very hard! I fully admit and realize that the Keithmobile isn’t built for serious hard-core off-roading, but that’s OK. I just turned around and tried a different trail. I was just glad that the soft sand didn’t bog me down – I was worried for a minute there! Soft sand can be dangerous – it’s easy to get stuck, and I don’t have the right tires for driving in soft sand (big tires with bead-locks so you can let out the air to make them soft so they drive better on soft sand).

orange dirt road

This stretch of road reminded me very strongly of the dirt roads in the Australian Outback. I’d actually driven on such roads on a place called Kangaroo Island years back – although on Kangaroo Island, the road was full of holes! Still, it was fun.

over the tree-tops

The pine barrens are surprisingly… flat. Seriously, go look at a topographical map of the area. It’s very, very flat. So I couldn’t get a good picture of the area – I tried holding the camera up over my head, but all you could see was more pine trees. But I guess that’s the point, isn’t it?

Anyway, those are just some of the better pictures from my collection. I didn’t take that many, because I went alone – next time I’ll have to bring Amanda so she can be my co-pilot.

I should mention, if you don’t have a good head on your shoulders, it’s very easy to get lost out there – there are literally miles and miles of trails, and no signs. And since it’s so flat, you can’t get above the trees to get your bearings. If you have a GPS unit, I recommend bringing it. If you don’t (like me), bring someone who can take notes of the turns you make so you can find your way back. Or, just trust in your own sense of direction (as I did).

Rest assured, I’ll go back there again! It was a blast!!

Canoeing, take II

Over the weekend we went canoeing again. We were going to go in the Nashua, but it turned out to be too shallow, so we went to a lake in Leominster State Forest, on Route 31. Here’s some pics!

Over the weekend we went canoeing again. We were going to go in the Nashua, but it turned out to be too shallow, so we went to a lake in Leominster State Forest, on Route 31. Here’s some pics!

the canoe on the outlander

Here’s the canoe on top of the Keithmobile. Check out those custom roof-rack attachments!

the canoe on the lake

Here’s the canoe on the lake. We had stopped to have lunch on the far shore.

amanda in the canoe

And here’s Amanda in the canoe. It was a good day; just paddling around for a while. Amanda put me to shame with her Dragonboating experience – she’s a very strong paddler!

There’s not much else to say about our adventure… we’ll undoutably go again, maybe in the same place, or maybe not. It’s just nice sometimes to get out & be in nature for a while.

Fun in the Snow

Okay, I admit it, I’m a sucker for snow – especially when there’s lots of it.

Okay, I admit it, I’m a sucker for snow – especially when there’s lots of it.

I dropped off Amanda at the YMCA (gym) today around 1pm, and then I decided to go for a “drive.” At this point, there’s like 5 inches of snow in most places – give or take 1 or 2 inches – and the roads are pretty bad because it’s coming down so fast that the plows can’t keep up with it. Perfect conditions for some joy riding!

After driving up (and down) most of the big hills in Fitchburg (my street being one of them), I headed up route 12 towards Ashburnham. The roads were slick, but I never noticed. Along the way, in West Fitchburg, I came across an accident that had just taken place. The police were there, and the tow truck was just arriving, so the road was blocked for a few minutes, and I had plenty of time to observe.

A middle-aged guy driving a Chevy Suburban had smashed into a telephone pole at a corner – interestingly, he hit the pole on the inside of the corner. (How he did this I’m not sure, but I’m certain that “bad driving” had something to do with it.) So I watched this with some amusement until they moved the truck to the side of the road where the flat-bed tow truck could get to it.

After reaching Ashburnham, I turned onto 110 (I think it’s 110, maybe 101? I forget.) This was a fun road, because out this far the plows are scarce compared to Fitchburg – and there’s more snow up there, too. Eventually this merged with Rindge Road – which leads back to Fitchburg. THIS was a challenge. It had NOT been plowed AT ALL. All I had to go on were a pair of tire-tracks on my side of the road, with snow piled 6″ deep everywhere else. Even with AWD and snow tires, it was a bit tough. Especially since I was traveling at between 35 and 40 MPH. However, as most regular readers of this blog will know, I’m an excelent driver. Some concentration, both hands on the wheel, and judicious use of engine braking allowed me to remain in control the entire way. But it was FUN. 🙂

Back in Fitchburg, the main roads had improved somewhat, and it was almost time to pick up Amanda from the YMCA. So, I went home to wait out the last half hour (and obviously, to write this entry) and once again, found the only problem I have in the snow. Ironically, it occurs when I’m turning a sharp corner that’s got a lot of snow on it. My speed is usually like 3 MPH (yes, 3), and the Keithmobile just kind of… slips. Sideways. Sometimes the front doesn’t turn (understeer), and sometimes the back end whips out a bit (oversteer). It’s a little annoying; but what can you do? Snow tires give less traction side to side (as opposed to forwards & backwards), and let’s face it, at only 3,500 lbs., the Keithmobile isn’t that heavy. So it slides from time to time, if you’re not careful (or if conditions are nasty). Still, all it takes is some quick steering input to correct (for oversteer), or, alternatively, a light jab to the throttle (for understeer). So it’s all good. (I love my car!)

Well, I gotta get to the YMCA now – drive safely everyone, and enjoy the snow, if you can!