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Mitsubishi Outlander -- a Sleeper That Stands Out

What it is: A sleeper entry in the popular mid-sized crossover category.

Starts at $22,345 / 23 MPG city / 28 MPG highway

What’s worth knowing: Mitsubishi is a bit player in the U.S. car market, with less than one percent market share. But it still builds some capable automobiles, such as the tricked-out Lancer Evolution sedan, which consistently ranks among the best performance cars under $40,000. The Outlander is a mid-sized, family-style crossover, with a Sport model that’s a big lighter and nimbler starting at about $19,000.

Who it’s for : Drivers who want to stand out from the me-too crowd of genteel crossovers that now populate the roads. The Outlander’s mouthy front fascia is more snarling than cute, and its bold design suggests that it’s really more of an SUV.

What’s good : The Outlander has one feature valuable to families: A fold-flat third-row seat on most models, which boosts capacity to seven when you need it. The third seat is cramped, but perfectly adequate for short trips with a handful of kids. The optional all-wheel drive system lets you switch between two- and four-wheel drive modes, which lets you get the better fuel economy that comes with two-wheel drive most of the time, while engaging all four wheels when the weather gets mucky. The Sport model is fun and stylish, with a five-speed manual transmission available for those who still appreciate shifting.

What’s bad : Parts of the interior feel cheap, with lightweight plastics and artless styling. Mitsubishi also has fewer dealers than other brands, which can be a problem if you need service only the dealer can handle.

How it stacks up: The Outlander isn’t quite as refined as class leaders like the Toyota RAV4 or the Honda CR-V. But if you want the third row, it may be the cheapest choice among mid-sized crossovers. The other three-row vehicles in this price range are the RAV4 and the Kia Sorento, which both offer a third row only on more expensive trim lines, plus the Mazda5, which is more like a minivan. The Outlander’s 10-year/100,000-mile warranty beats all competitors, except for Hyundai and Kia.

What to do if you want one : The Outlander’s distinguishing features are the third-row seat, the ability to toggle between two- and four-wheel drive, and styling that’s more rugged than some competitors. Decide if those things are important to you. If not, another crossover is probably a better value.

Rick Newman is the Chief Business Correspondent for U.S. News & World Report and a longtime car buff. He reviews automobiles here on a regular basis, as well as writing about all things vehicular. Below is his "micro-review" of the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander.

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