Most brands have a halo car: a no-holds-barred ubercar that it can later claim shares technology with the lesser models in the lineup. For Mitsubishi, that car is the Lancer Evolution X, a sport sedan often cited as one of the best-handling cars on the road and as giving the best performance for its price. The Evolution X's claim to fame is its S-AWC all-wheel-drive system. To review the Mitsubishi Outlander GT S-AWC, we need to keep the Evo in mind.
Sharp-eyed readers will see that the Outlander shares the S-AWC nomenclature with its upscale stablemate. And, yes, the larger crossover vehicle shares the Evo's all-wheel-drive technology and some of its handling prowess. However, there's one key difference between the Outlander's Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC) system and the Evolution X's that creates a critical difference in their driving dynamics.
Performance: Like an Evo, only backward
Power comes from a 3.0-liter MIVEC V-6 that uses Mitsubishi's take on variable valve timing to produce 230 horsepower and 215 pound-feet of torque--a reasonable amount of grunt to get the Outlander GT moving, but not nearly enough to make it feel lively. Adding to the Outlander's drivetrain woes is the Sportronic automatic transmission, which lazes through its six gears so sluggishly that we had to double-check that it wasn't a CVT. Even in its manual mode with gear changes initiated with its magnesium paddle shifters, the GT's shifts seemed to take forever. Slow shifts are smooth shifts, and the Outlander doesn't jar as it accelerates away from a stop. Still, not much about this Outlander's engine and transmission combo lives up to the GT designation. However, the power train isn't all bad. In fact, its all-wheel-drive system is rather good.
The S-AWC system means the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander GT gets Mitsubishi's Active Center Differential (ACD), which sends nearly 100 percent of available torque to the front axle under normal conditions, but can divert as much as half of the available torque from the 3.0-liter engine to the rear axle for a 50/50 split. It also gets Super Active Yaw Control (S-AYC), a torque-vectoring system that uses an active differential to send up to 70 percent of torque available on an axle to either the left or right wheel to enhance handling. However, unlike the Evo X, which puts its S-AYC system on the rear axle to improve performance, the Outlander GT's S-AYC vectors torque across the front axle. In fact, the Outlander GT is the only vehicle on the market today that features an active differential on the front end. We think this configuration enhances and emphasizes stability over all-out performance.
The Outlander GT's S-AWC system has three modes. The first, Tarmac, is optimized for on-road performance, sending the bulk of the engine's output to the front axle under most conditions, only activating the rear axle when the front begins to slip. The Snow mode is optimized for slippery conditions, such as snow and ice. Finally, Lock is a bit inaccurately named. It doesn't default to a 50/50 torque split. Torque is still automatically apportioned between the front and rear axles. It is, however, a great deal more aggressive with that torque distribution, getting close to that magical 50/50 split much more often.
We put the Outlander's S-AYC to the test on the same mountain roads on which we tested the Acura MDX SH-AWD's torque-vectoring system; however, the roads were slicked with rain this time around, adding an extra level of danger for the GT's S-AWC system to deal with.
The Outlander's instrument cluster featuresan S-AWC indicator that provides information about the operation of the ACD and S-AYC systems. On public roads during the dry week leading up to our mountain road test, this display remained mostly dormant, indicating that both systems were mostly inactive. However, as we pushed the Outlander GT just a bit too fast around a wet bend, the S-AWC system sprang into action, showing us that it was shuffling power from front to back and from left to right. We didn't spend too much time staring at the dashboard display because we were more concerned with the way the S-AYC system sensed the understeer happening and pulled the Outlander's nose back in line with our desired trajectory. This was a very different experience from feeling the rear rotate through a turn, tucking the nose into an apex. The way the Outlander GT's front end pulls itself back in line is predictable and, if you're not looking for it, nearly transparent. Even in the wet conditions, the Outlander was able to keep itself sorted around switchbacks and through snaking, consecutive left-to-right-handers at (and occasionally above) the posted speed limit without feeling scary.
These feats are performed within reason, of course. Pushing the Outlander too hard in wet conditions would overwhelm even the S-AWC system. causing the traction and stability control systems to intervene and save us from careening into a tree. Additionally, there's only so much fun that one can have with that underperforming 3.0-liter and gearbox combo supplying the power. Impressive as the Outlander is, an Evo X it is not.
A fuel sipper it is not, either. The EPA puts the Outlander GT S-AWC at 19 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway, down an mpg in both metrics from the much more powerful Hyundai Santa Fe. Our observed 22 mpg falls right in the middle of that range. Clearly, there's room for improvement here.
The world's most uncomfortable third-row seat
Besides the Outlander being generally larger overall, one of the key differences between the Outlander and the Outlander Sport is the availability of a third-row seat that boosts our GT model into the seven-seater class. Now, it's not uncommon for the third row to be much smaller and more cramped than the first and second, but the Outlander's third row is so terribly uncomfortable that we think it merits discussion.
One lifts the bench seat up and out of the floor by tugging on a series of straps that must be pulled in the right order lest the seat get stuck midway, requiring a restart. It took us three or four tries to get the seats lifted into the upright position. Once they're up, a pair of huge headrests must be put into position, all but blocking the driver's view out the rear of the car.
Getting into the third row is equally tricky, requiring that the second row be folded and flipped forward. However, these seats don't totally clear a path to the back, so we essentially ended up climbing over them anyway.