It's almost unheard of nowadays to see an automaker's one-off prototype transform into a production-ready vehicle that's actually stayed true to its conceptual form. Not only is it logistically difficult to do, but it's an expensive endeavor as well. It can, however, be accomplished, and when done correctly, the end result can be as satisfying as what we've recently experienced with the newly refreshed 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander GT.

Quite simply, this latest Outlander is a minor progression of the current model introduced in 2006 and incorporates a reworked range topped by a new GT trim. If you couldn't already tell, the entire lineup gets a distinctive frontend that draws heavily from the current Lancer Evolution X sport sedan. Its aggressive jet fighter-like nose -- or as some on our staff like to call it, the "shark nose" -- was first toyed with on the brand's Outlander GT Prototype at this spring's New York Auto Show. Safe to say, the new schnoz affords a great deal more attractiveness to the well-aged design, making it understatedly handsome, while at the same time definitively athletic.

The current model's design lines from the A-pillar back have been kept, while its all-aluminum roof is also maintained to reduce weight and optimize center of gravity. Continuing the active personality are its staple LED taillights, sleek roof rack, and available HID headlamps and 18-in alloy wheels.

Designers focused their attention on interior quality too. Our well-optioned Deep Blue Metallic tester came replete with detailed contrasting white stitching on its black-leather bolstered sport seats, shift knob, three-spoke steering wheel, and dash. The stitching alone is a unique and luxurious element in the otherwise plain interior. We liked the silver vent surrounds that effectively break up the leather dash and give the whole a hint of vibrancy. In being a mid-cycle refresh, HVAC, stereo, and navigation controls remain in their easy to access center stack positions. Though thoughtfully laid out for convenience and usefulness, we're still aching for a more contemporary dash that coincides better with the now modish shell.

That gripe aside, our weekend passengers often complimented the Outlander for its roominess, comfort, and simplicity. Its leather seats were cozy enough for long drives despite their newness. Give them a bit of time to wear-in some and our best guess is they'll only get cushier. The topline GT gets a neatly tucking third row seat fit for two children (or a pair of petite adults) should more passenger room be needed.

Being able to easily fold the rear seats back for additional cargo room was useful during our transport of an unassembled IKEA bed. Granted, everything from IKEA is usually boxed neatly, but even so, the big and bulky boxes were handily eaten up by the GT's 72.6 cu ft of space located behind the front seats. Rear cargo ingress was made easier thanks to the model's mini-tailgate. The gate also yields a nice shady spot for a picnic or tailgate party.

A small styling redo, though, is only part of the Outlander's refresh equation. Propelling the all-wheel drive SUV is a revised SOHC 24-valve 3.0L MIVEC V-6 pumping out 230 hp at 6250 rpm and 215 lb-ft of torque at 3750 rpm. A new intake cam timing and reworked compression ratio help the motor create an extra 10 hp/11 lb-ft of torque over the current XLS. The three lower trim lines -- ES, SE, and XLS -- will be available in both 2WD and 4WD, while the GT only in 4WD with multi-mode S-AWC (All-Wheel Control). For those new to the Three Diamond's technology, S-AWC allows for 2WD, 4WD Auto, and 4WD Lock settings to be actuated depending on tarmac conditions. It's akin to the Lancer Evo X's system and worked as advertised to smoothly control throttle response and torque transfer.

The brand's six-speed Sportronic gearbox remains in place but now gets an Idle-Neutral Logic system that's new for the model year. The fuel-saving setup puts the vehicle in neutral during complete stops and reengages it into first gear the moment brake pedal pressure is released. It's said to minimize the engine's load and emissions output for a cleaner package. Amazingly, we were hard pressed to even notice the new system's operation, but with that said, it did provide one memorable harsh first gear shift that will most likely be fine tuned before production gets underway. Rowing gears can be handled through the shift knob or, as we preferred, the modern magnesium alloy paddles located behind the three-spoke wheel.

Together with the six-speed 'box, the powertrain was smooth, rarely uneasy, and always with power on tap to hastily motivate the 3847-lb GT on both tarmac and soft-road environments. In a straight line, we were able to get it to 60 mph in a respectable 7.4 sec and thanks to its 11.6-in front, 11.9-in. rear binders, to a standstill in 136 ft. It's no highway charger, but it gets the job done confidently and gracefully. For reference, it takes a comparable - and 128 lbs lighter -- Toyota RAV4 V-6 with 38 more horses and 31 more pound feet of torque 6.4 sec to get to 60 mph and 130 ft to naught. Figure eight times are nearly identical with the Outlander GT speeding around in 28.4 sec at 0.58g and the RAV4 at 28.6 sec at 0.58g.

With a flip of the GT's paddles, the engine screamed healthily in the upper rpm range. Its dapper 18-in. wheels and beefy Goodyear Eagle LS2 M+S rubber nimbly strode over the pavement and soaked up pesky road imperfections. Aim for a corner with care and the Outlander's MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear setups keep it well planted and poised throughout. Steering was light, but still communicative, and thorough enough to allow for trouble-free maneuvering in tight parking lot-like situations.

Mitsubishi says the Outlander GT will begin at the 'sub-$30,000' mark, with base ES, SE and XLS levels available. If that pricing, indeed, turns out to be viable, we're guessing plenty of mid-size SUV brands will keep Mitsubishi's Outlander in their competitive set. Now if only all show cars' lives so simply ended up this way, what a winsome world that would be.


2010 Mitsubishi Outlander GT
Base price range $28,000 (est)
Price as tested $30,000 (est)
Vehicle layout Front engine, 4WD, 7-pass, 4-door, SUV
Engine 3.0L/230-hp/215-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve, V-6
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb weight (dist f/r) 3847 lb (55/45%)
Wheelbase 105.1 in
Length x width x height 183.7 x 70.9 x 66.1 in
0-60 mph 7.4 sec
Quarter mile 15.8 sec @ 88.7 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 136 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.76 g (avg)
MT figure eight 28.4 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy econ 18/24 mpg (est)
CO2 emissions 0.96 lb/mile (est)
On Sale December

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