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2010 Mitsubishi Outlander

In automobiles — as it is with life — a new nose can work wonders for generating renewed interest from others. Enter the new-look 2010 Outlander that’s rarin’ to assert a more dominant role in the Mitsubishi’s lineup.

The previous Outlander was far from ugly, but could easily be mistaken for any one of a number of competing entry-level sport utility vehicles. The solution, and an obvious one at that, was to replace the front clip with a reasonable facsimile of the Lancer Evolution sedan’s jet fighter-style air-intake nosepiece. Since the Outlander was actually adapted from that vehicle’s basic platform, it only made sense to visually connect the two models.

Actually, the grille change is part of a mid-cycle redesign that includes a new hood, headlamps, front fenders, mirrors and a weight-reducing one-piece aluminum roof panel. Inside, the only major changes are optional high-contrast multi-color Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) instruments. Otherwise, the neat-and-tidy dashboard carries over its tasteful BMW-esque styling.

The interior remains one of the most accommodating in its class for both people and cargo. Five-passenger seating is standard, but a third-row bench that can be stored underneath the load floor is available on all but the base ES version and is standard on the XLS and new-for-2010 GT. For max cargo space, the split second-row seat cushions on XLS and GT versions slide forward by 3.3 inches. Not enough? Each seat folds and tumbles forward to provide almost as much stowage room as you’ll find in a Toyota RAV4.

However, neither the Toyota nor any of the Outlander’s peers offer both a liftgate as well as a separate fold-down tailgate that makes carrying oversized objects easier. It can also be used as a picnic table or workbench that can support up to 440 pounds.

The base168-horsepower (161 horsepower in California) 2.4-liter four-cylinder workhorse returns unaltered for 2010, but the optional 3.0-liter V6 (standard on XLS and GT models) now generates 230 horsepower, a gain of 10 ponies over the 2009 edition.

A continuously variable transmission comes standard with the four-cylinder, while a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters is part of the V6 powertrain. The latter automatically shifts into neutral when the vehicle is stopped (which, according to Mitsubishi, helps reduce fuel consumption), but seamlessly reengages when the gas pedal is depressed.

ES, SE and XLS Outlanders can be fitted with optional All Wheel Control, a driver-selectable system that directs power to either the front- , or to all four-wheels, depending on road conditions. In addition, a “LOCK” position maintains an equal torque split between the front and rear wheels.

The new GT comes with the Lancer Evolution sedan’s S-AWC (Super-All Wheel Control) that can direct power between left- and right-side wheels as well as from front to rear to further optimize traction. A selector knob is used to vary the system’s operation from “Tarmac” (dry), “Snow” and “LOCK” control settings.

The base ES Outlander arrives with most basic features, including air conditioning and various power-controlled items, while the SE also includes fog lights, 18-inch wheels (16s are standard), upgraded seat coverings, steering-wheel audio controls and keyless entry and start.

The XLS ratchets up the content with climate control, fancier door trim, painted alloy wheels and a slide-adjustable armrest, to which the GT adds a power sunroof, leather seat covers, xenon headlamps and a 710-watt premium audio system. The GT also features aluminum gas and brake pedals plus Hill Start Assist, which prevents the Outlander from rolling backward when launched on a steep incline.

There’s also a myriad of available option packages, but that will tempt shoppers to stray far from the Outlander’s low-$20,000-range price of admission. Regardless, buyers will likely admire, if not enjoy, the new nose job and all the stares of admiration it gets.