SANTA CRUZ, Calif. -- Rambling Skyline Boulevard, California 35, runs along spiny ridges of the Santa Cruz Mountains which rise between southern reaches of San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
On occasion we use the route for drive tests but it's tricky -- a band of blacktop charted through groves of redwoods in a series of swoops and dips and hairpin kinks which eventually wind down to the coast at Santa Cruz.
For one pass over the 35 we're flying through the wiggles to explore the new agile nature of Outlander, a crossover utility vehicle (CUV) for the compact class built by Mitsubishi of Japan.
Mitsubishi's triangular marque mounts dead center in a new tri-slot grille defining 2007 editions of Outlander, which represent a total restructure for the wagon.
First editions of the five-door and five-seat Outlander landed in North America as 2003 models constructed on a front-wheel-drive (FWD) platform derived from a car -- namely, Mitsubishi's compact-size Lancer sedan.
Second editions of Outlander for 2007 ride on a larger platform which underpins the next generation of models for Lancer and the souped-up performance variations badged as Lancer Evolution.
In the new treatment, Outlander's second edition has little in common with the first edition. There's fresh sheetmetal draping the shapely package, a new design for the expanded passenger compartment with seats for five or seven riders, revamped trim designations with added luxury content, lots of standard on-board safety equipment and a nice bump in the power department stemming from a new V6 engine.
Size-wise, Outlander for 2007 is longer, wider and taller than the previous version. In effect, Mitsubishi allows Outlander to grow up. The wheelbase stretches for 1.8 inches longer and the width of the wheel track also expands -- by 1.2 inches for front wheels and almost an inch for rear wheels.
Increasing the width of the wheel track creates more stability for Outlander in straight-line travel while the longer wheelbase forges a smoother ride quality. Overall, the CUV feels less figidty now when driven at speed.
Concealed behind Outlander's new skin is a unibody structure in steel with cross-chassis braces added. The reinforced platform checks the vehicle's tendency to sway laterally when driven through a curve so Outlander's passenger compartment remains relatively flat.
Also, Outlander's independent suspension system has been tweaked and tuned with larger shock absorbers in place and braces added to strut towers.
Steering -- with speed-sensitive power governing the rack and pinion mechanism -- reacts quickly and provides excellent feedback. Net effect: The wagon steers with confidence along a curvy road like the undulations we encounter on Skyline Boulevard. It packs more pedal power too.
Mitsubishi discarded the previous edition's four-cylinder engine and replaced it with a new single-cam V6 rigged with the Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing and lift Electronic Control (MIVEC) equipment.
The 3.0-liter MIVEC plant delivers 220 hp at 6250 rpm plus torque muscle of 204 lb-ft at 4000 rpm. To rein this engine's power, Mitsubishi installs a new six-speed automatic transmission with Sportronic sequential shift control
The transmission employs computer mapping to learn a driver's habits and manipulate shift patterns to suit the driving style. Take it easy and this one interprets that style by shifting gently at relatively low engine speed. Pep it up in a sporty manner and it holds a gear to enhance speed. Tackle a long downhill descent and it drops down a gear to add engine braking.
The 4WD device plants a rotary knob on the console to switch between three settings -- FWD, 4WD Auto and 4WD Lock. All editions of Outlander load up on active and passive safety equipment. For instance, the four-wheel disc brakes connect to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) keyed to electronic brake force distribution (EBD).
And passengers are surrounded by air bags, including curtain-style air bags stretching the length of the cabin above outboard seats on first and second rows.
Due to the enlarged structure, Outlander's passenger compartment also expands. The refined cabin with four passenger doors applied adds flexible seating for five or seven inside and cargo space in the back bay with access through a unique flap-fold tailgate.
Up front there are two bolstered bucket seats flanking a floor-mounted center console. The second-row bench for three slides back and forth to adjust legroom and the 60/40-split seatback reclines for comfort or folds flat for cargo. The small third-row bench stocked by Outlander's top trim also folds flat. Cargo room is significant. With second-row and third-row seatbacks folded down, there's 72.6 cubic feet above a flat floor. Outlander trims out as ES, LS and XLS.
The ES FWD base edition comes with air conditioning, power controls for windows and door locks and mirrors, a remote keyless entry device, fabric upholstery and a nice audio kit with CD/MP3 player and six speakers.