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Mitsubishi’s All-Wheel Drive Systems: More than Meets the Eye

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Helmet on, engine ignited and hands firmly planted on the steering wheel, I waited patiently. Our instructor, from the Jim Russell Racing Drivers School, pulls out emphatically with a handful of media-turned-racers follow closely in Mitsubishi Evolutions (Evo) as we lap Infineon Raceway — host to NASCAR, NHRA, Superbike, and American Le Mans — in top gear to showcase the stellar performance and technology in Mitsubishi’s All-Wheel Drive (AWD) control systems. Infineon, a 2.52 mile road course, is very challenging with fast transitions, upward and downhill turns, no true straightaway and a variety of challenging corners.


The Evo, Mitsubishi’s performance icon, had no problem exerting its very tech savvy AWD system and acknowledging the reason Mitsubishi has won four consecutive World Rally Championships and 12 Dakar Championships. This same motorsports philosophy has made a transition into the company’s on-road and sport-utility vehicles adding an extra layer of safety, security and performance.


Manufacturers can purchase supplier AWD technology or they can build it in-house. Mitsubishi has taken the latter route under the auspices of All Wheel Control (AWC) and Super-All Wheel Control (S-AWC), which Mitsubishi says focuses on “driver control, safety and predictability while offering a high margin of performance.” S-AWC, as expected, adds advanced hardware and additional software tuning. Mitsubishi has three different AWD systems instilled uniquely in each of their vehicles. You could take two vehicles with identical AWD technologies, yet code each differently. In this case Mitsubishi uses integrated electronics into their AWD systems. For example, by playing around with the algorithms for ABS, the vehicle can be programmed to understeer or diabolically oversteer through turns. It’s the same hardware but tuned differently.  And the guys writing the code are the same people who won Mitsubishi’s Championships! That’s where the personality and philosophy of the company comes from — Motorsports. With such experience the small Japanese auto company instills AWD technology in their road cars and SUVs/CUVs like the all-new 2011 Outlander Sport. It’s the first new nameplate in six years for Mitsubishi. The vehicle is practically the same European model that goes on sale this month (July 2010) under the moniker ASX and under RVR in Japan. Mitsubishi’s mission is to build a family of Outlander crossover models just as the company has done with the Lancer lineup which now includes the $14,000 Lancer DE and up to the popular $40,000 Lancer Evolution MR, with in-between models including the Lancer Sedan and Lancer Sportback.


The Outlander Sports is what Mitsubishi calls an “Active Urban Crossover” and built for people who want more out of life. They believe it has more style, a stronger attitude, more technology, customization options, a better warranty, more spirit and safety, and more added value than the competition. This new compact SUV/CUV category currently has competitors including Kia Sportage, VW Tiguan and the upcoming Nissan Juke. After driving the Outlander Sport briefly, it is definitely on par with the aforementioned statement – especially in the style department.  But every vehicle in this segment has its pros and cons. By 2012, up to twelve models are expected to be playing ball. Mitsubishi’s objective is to get in early with brand recognition and strong AWD messaging.


The Outlander Sport is inherited from the brand’s larger Outlander, viewed as a family capable vehicle. The Sport, as its name implies, falls more on the sporty side with wheels pushed to the corners for an aggressive stance. Outlander targets Gen X and Boomers with young families while the Sport will hopefully attract citizens ten years younger as Mitsubishi courts Gen Y and a also Boomers. Both have the same exact wheelbase though the Sport is about 14.6” shorter and 400 pounds lighter and will achieve 31 mpg (preliminary estimation). All of its body panels except for mirrors are new and is the first Mitsubishi vehicle to include Electric Power Steering (EPS). EPS reduces drag and improves fuel efficiency. The suspension technology between the two Outlanders is identical but has been tuned differently for a smaller, sports vehicle.


Mitsubishi’s AWD systems are all-electric and selectable between 2WD, 4WD, Auto or Lock modes with three variables: road condition, throttle condition and vehicle speed. The sensors on board pick up those three variables, and depending on the mode you’re in, will intelligently distribute torque between front and rear. Auto starts with a 60% front torque and 40% rear torque split and may switch to 80 front / 20 rear as the vehicle accelerates. In Lock mode for example, the vehicle is rear wheel biased with 60 rear / 40 front but could jump as high as high as 70 rear / 30 front. They systems can also be shifted on the fly at any speed or shut down all together. Lock equates to performance while Auto is more fuel efficient.


We demonstrated some of the Outlander GT’s AWD technology on a wet and slippery surface with the stability system on and off. Of course with the system off and upon hard acceleration the tires spun on the surface before accelerating. With the system in Lock the SUV’s wheels were stabilized and the vehicle accelerated faster. Afterwards we drove the GT around an autocross course as if it were a Lancer. Impressive. The Outlander GT is equipped with the same S-AWC system that enhances the Evo (tuned differently). What’s unique in the Sport is an Active Front Differential (AFD) which shifts power from side to side and regulates the amount of tire slip. It also has an electronically controlled 4WD system for distributing torque to the rear wheels. The Evo’s system is primarily comprised of an Active Center Differential (ACD) to continuously distribute torque to the front and rear optimally at high speeds. Yaw sensors then monitor each wheel individually for greater traction and torque management.


Stylewise, the Outlander family has adapted Mitsubishi’s Jet fighter grille from the Evo. There are two trim levels: ES with a 5-speed manual transmission (borrowed from Lancer) or CVT transmission and exclusive 2WD; and SE with AWD (available 2WD) and only the CVT transmission with 18” wheels, heated seats and much more.  A 2.0-liter MIVEC engine from the Lancer features 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. The CVT transmission also adds magnesium-alloy paddle shifters for more driver control. The Sport is indeed fun on the roads and power seems adequate. I didn’t get any highway driving in for real world scenarios.


Inside the vehicle is very driver focused with an available panoramic glass roof with LED ambient lighting for evening special effects. The layout is simple with the usual: Bluetooth, voice control, USB external drive input, 40 Gig Hard Drive, etc. Yet, the iPod integration was very slow loading and confusing to maneuver through. Though a premium 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system will light up whatever you choose to play.


The Sport will get to dealers this October with a starting price less than $19K and not exceeding $26K fully loaded. Mitsubishi is in need of new, exciting products and overall brand recognition. The Evo is the company’s lone star but needs its siblings to step up to the plate so audiences can start cheering, for we all like a winning squad!


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