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The 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander crossover accomodates seven passengers and has two fuel-saving MIVEC engines and a premium audio system. (photo by Mitsubishi)

It’s cool when a car-maker consistently rides the big ones, surfing the next wave upon wave of technology while still trying to keep some of their corporate heritage in the mix.

It takes planning and super engineering skills. Those of you who read me regularly (and thanks, by the way!) might know I feel there are three true engineering companies mixed-in among the Asian car-makers. Those would be Honda, Mazda … and Mitsubishi.

And Mitsubishi has done it again with their Outlander crossover, appearing first in Japan in 2001 and now in its second-generation of manufacture.

Outlander SE looks great, has one of the best interiors Mitsu has ever brought to these shores and weighs in at just a tick over 3,500 pounds, relatively light for this class (3,600 with the available third row of seats).

This was a test car which cost well under $30,000 with most optional equipment included in the bottom-line price, and EPA estimates of between 21 and 25 mpg.

I never came close to that kind of mileage, and the reason was typical for this segment: Our Outlander was desperately under-powered (an inline-4 and V6 are available). Using the magnesium shift paddles or the gate shifter for maximum launch (and even keeping up with long uphills at freeway speeds) was more than just exciting and fun; too often, it was a necessity.

Speaking of real off-roading, one of the best Outlander features is a locking four-wheel drive system which gets the same amount of torque and horsepower to all four wheels. This gives the vehicle (and driver and family) the best chance of making it through the deepest, sloppiest stuff on Earth and headed towards the freeway and home.

And there’s plenty of interior room. All Outlander models have the same 72.6 cubic feet of stowage space, measuring the area behind the front seats.

The suspension is nicely engineered for both on- and off-road travel and Mitsu has tried to keep the horsepower/torque numbers in usable ranges. But when you start out underpowered to begin with, it’s hard to make up that deficit no matter how nice and hip the inside and outside might look.

And the interior, by crossover and especially Mitsu standards, is excellent. Colors and comfort feel good inside Outlander; there’s more leather stitched-in than ever before, the seating is much better than in the past and you can take long off-road excursions, and get out of the car without feeling like those ol’ kidney stones have come back. And the available third row of seating is as comfortable as it would be in any vehicle this size (which means: not much, anyway).

When I was an editor at Petersen’s Four Wheel Off-Road magazine, way back in 1980, one of the perennial favorite trucks around the office was the Mitsubishi Montero, perhaps the closest thing to a real Jeep ever made by any Asian car company (well, if you don’t count Toyota’s blatant rip-off of the Land Rover/Range Rover, which the Toyota boys called the Land Cruiser).

In fact, one of my first solo four-wheel lock excursions was taking a Montero through a dry riverbed which ran through Joshua Tree (Google it) for about 20 miles or so and provided just about every off-road challenge and escapade possible for dirt rookies and veterans alike. I was a little tired and shaken when it was all over, but avoided any flat tires, damaged sheet metal (except for a few scratches from creosote bushes and the like) but man, was I ever impressed! It’s those kinds of experiences which make driving so damn rewarding and unforgettable (in case any of you were wondering why some of us like driving so much).

By the way, in those days, locking the front hubs meant literally stopping the truck, getting out and manually twisting the wheel hubs and physically locking them into position. No automatic push-button controls in those days, my friends. As James Brown would have said then: This is a man’s world!

Outlander, while not as tough as the real-truck Montero, has a lot of the spirit and features of that original truck which established Mitsubishi as an off-road power. (Montero, aka Pajero in some markets, is still the winningest truck ever in the history of the Paris/Dakar Rally, the event the Pope himself decried as murderous and uncivilized … but, apart from Ferrari and F1, just what does he know about motor racing?)

Montero was so popular (it saw four generations of new models) that Dodge took a chance on a two-door version, selling it domestically as the Dodge Raider.

Outlander compares well with the competition … and at a more than reasonable price.

Steve Parker is a two-time Emmy Award-winner who has covered the world’s auto industry and motor racing for over 35 years. Contact Steve through his own automotive issues website at www.SteveParkerMotoring.com.