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2010 Mitsubishi GT: Compact crossover with a kick

Aggressive styling and performance-oriented all-wheel-drive marks revamped SUV
by: JAIME VALDEZ, The all-wheel-drive Outlander features tenacious grip and plenty of
room for five adults.

The 2010 Outlander GT is the latest entry in the small but growing field of performance-oriented compact crossovers.

Originally introduced by Mitsubishi Motors in America as a plain but competent small SUV in 2003, the Outlander has been completely overhauled for the new model year. The generic nose has been replaced with a large grill fashioned after the company's Lancer sedan and hatchback, giving it a more aggressive look.

More importantly, the Outlander is now equipped with the Super All-Wheel Control system originally developed for the company's hot Lancer Evolution, or Evo for short. The grip is impressive, especially in fast corners, where body roll is almost completely eliminated.

Although the base model comes with a thrifty 2.4-liter inline four cylinder engine, the GT version features a torquey 3.0-liter V6. Both are available with six-speed automatic transmissions with manual shift options for added performance.

Our test model also featured the optional leather interior and stereo system that vaults the Outlanders into the premium crossover ranks. Although some hard plastic remain, high-qulaity leather covers enough of the surfaces to make them hardly noticeable. The heated seats are also comfortable and well bolstered.

The result is a fun-to-drive vehicle that can handle severe weather. The S-AWC system can be adjusted for snow and locked into a 50-50 power split between the front and rear wheels for even better traction.

The Outlander is technically a seven-passenger vehicle, but that figure is deceptive. The third row is a small seat that pops up from the cargo floor and can only hold two very young children, at most. The second row of seats has plenty of room for three adults, however.

The Outlander GT is not as refined as the most sophisticated performance-oriented compact crossover, the Acura RDX. For example, the normally-aspirated Mitsubishi V6 feels rougher than Acura's turbocharged four under heavy acceleration. But all things considered, the Outlander GT caps a remarkable two-year turnaround for Mitsubishi.

The smallest of the Japanese car companies in America, Mitsubishi has never been able to match the development budgets of its larger competitors. But while some corporate giants have struggled to even stay in business during the recession, Mitsubishi has revamped most of its product line since 2007, creating a youthful identity and a broad range of products.

The transformation began with the 2008 Lancer, which replaced a generic-looking model with a European-inspired sports sedan. A hatchback version of the Lancer - dubbed the Sportback - has also been introduced for 2010. Entry-level versions of both vehicles feature normally-aspirated 2.4-liter engines and front-wheel-drive. Performance versions include turbocharged 2.0-liter engines and all-wheel-drive. The fastest is still the Evo version of the sedan, which was originally introduced in American in 2003 compete against the Subaru Impreza WRX.

In addition to the revamping the Outlander, Mitsubishi has also given its two-seat Eclipse sports car a facelift by incorporating a larger Lancer-style grill. It is still available as both a hardtop coupe and convertible, called the Spyder.

Although Mitsubishi has not yet revamped its Gallant sedan or midsize Endeavor SUV, the changes accomplished since 2007 are impressive, especially compared to its former partner, Chrysler.

Most Americans first learned about Mitsubishi products in the wake of the 1973 Arab oil embargo. With gas hard to come by at any price, American car companies scrambled to introduce fuel-efficient model. Chrysler responded by forging an alliance with Mitsubishi, importing and rebadging a number of the company's small, four-cylinder cars and trucks. Popular models included Colt coupes and hatchbacks, along with small D50 pickups.

The partnership continued even after cheap gas became plentiful again. By the early 1990s, Chrysler was supplementing its lineup with Mitsubishi made sports cars (including turbocharged hatchbacks) and compact SUVs. Mitsubishi had also begun selling other vehicles through its own smaller network of dealers.

But somehow the alliance floundered after Chrysler merged with Daimler of Germany in 1998. Although Mitsubishi helped the new company develop some new products, the arrangement was not the same. When the economy imploded, Daimler sold Chrysler and the federal government pushed it into filing for bankruptcy protection, the company turned to a different foreign manufacturer to help save it, Fiat of Italy. Although Fiat has decades of experience building economy cars, the merger is not expected to result in any new models for at least a year, maybe longer.

In the meantime, Mitsubishi is showing it can compete in a variety of market segments, from economy cars to high-performance all-wheel-drives, including compact crossovers.

Facts and figures

• Model: 2010 Outlander (GT tested).

• Manufacturer: Mitsubishi.

• Class: Compact crossover SUV.

• Layout: Front engine, front or all-wheel-drive.

• Style: Five-door, five passenger hatchback.

• Engines: 2.4-liter DOHC inline 4 cylinder (168 hp, 167 ft.lbs.); 3.0-liter SOHC V6 (230 hp., 215 ft. lbs.)

• Transmissions: Continuously variable transmission (CVT); 6-speed automatic.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 21.27; 18/24 (as tested).

• Price: Beginning at approximately $21,600 (as tested $32,000).