It sounds like an expression you might hear after a particularly fierce collision at the X Games, but the face transplant is becoming a medical reality. It's great progress for those in need, but think about how strange it would be talking to an old friend with a new face. Now imagine if the new face was actually that of another friend.

That's why our first look at the 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander was something of a shock to the system. From most angles it's the same softly styled, second-generation Outlander we've known since the 2007 model year. Move around to the front, though, and you'll now see the chiseled face you know from the Mitsubishi Lancer lineup. Months after seeing the first prototype, we're now well along in the adjustment period and fans of the new look. After all, on the Lancer -- and Lancer Evolution, especially -- it was already one our favorite front-ends out there.

But this Mitsubishi makeover is more than skin deep.

What Else is New?

While the plastic surgeons were doing their thing up front, other teams were busy at work inside and underneath the Outlander. Among other improvements, their efforts resulted in a brand new addition to the lineup. The bigger changes include:

1) 10 more horsepower and slightly better fuel economy from the existing 3.0-liter V6
2) A new "Fuse" infotainment system similar in concept to the Ford/Microsoft SYNC system
3) A quieter passenger cabin
4) Mild interior enhancements
5) A new Outlander GT variant, the key feature of which is a sophisticated Super All-Wheel Control system (other Outlanders will continue to offer a more traditional all-wheel drive system, in addition to front-wheel drive and a four-cylinder engine)

Controlling Interest

The second-generation Mitsubishi Outlander was already regarded as one of the most fun-to-drive crossovers out there, so a little more power and a new, performance-enhancing all-wheel drive system figured to be gravy. We spent a week putting the new 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander GT through its paces around town -- hitting our makeshift skidpad (a lightly trafficked roundabout), sweeper turns (looping on-ramps) and medium-speed test track (the 405 freeway) -- and came away satisfied, to varying degrees, with the changes.

Take, for instance, the engine enhancements. While 10 extra horsepower is nice, it's a bigger improvement on paper than on the road. But Mitsubishi is also promising a one- or two-mpg increase in fuel economy, the benefits of which will be realized with every tank of gas.

Then there's the new Super All-Wheel Control system, available exclusively on the Outlander GT. It's a close relative to the S-AWC system found on Mitsubishi's world-beating Lancer Evolution sedan, but throw the Outlander GT into a tight corner and you'll understand why they didn't call it the Outlander Evolution. This is still a tall vehicle with a high center of gravity, and weight transfer is one of the more difficult physics problems.

But smoothly set the Outlander GT into a longer bend and the S-AWC delivers appreciably improved road holding and stability by distributing torque not just front to back, but also side to side (and there's a graph in the instrument cluster that shows the system in action). We also appreciated S-AWC when turning onto a busy street, where the system more efficiently converts power into acceleration. In all cases, we were able to get more out of the S-AWC system with the electronic stability control switched off.

For some lifestyles and locales, the biggest advantage of the Outlander GT's S-AWC system promises to be improved traction in rain and snow. Both were impossible to find during our week with the Mitsubishi Outlander GT (during September in Southern California), but the advantages of similarly flexible all-wheel drive systems are well documented. The system also features Tarmac, Snow and Lock programs, selectable via a center console-mounted knob.

One of the improvements that will be noticeable to anyone familiar with the 2007 - 2009 Outlander is the interior noise level. Around town and on the highway, the new Outlander does a notably better job of suppressing outer-cabin sounds like tire, suspension, engine and wind noises. Passengers still won't mistake it for a Lexus, but it's definitely more category-competitive from an interior noise point of view.

The same can be said for the interior styling enhancements we observed in the Outlander GT. It still isn't the creamiest center in the category, but the added leather and contrast stitching are welcome upgrades.

Cool Carryovers

In addition to the fixes and enhancements, the 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander lineup retains a desirable feature set that includes a hard drive-based navigation and music storage system, excellent Rockford-Fosgate sound system, rear-seat DVD entertainment system, comprehensive vehicle information and personalization system, keyless entry and start, sliding/reclining second row, child-size third row, paddle shifters, excellent leather seats and a two-piece tailgate that makes for easier loading, unloading and sitting. This long list of standard and available goodies remains our favorite Outlander advantage.

Closing Out

We like the Outlander's new face. We like its quieter cabin. And we like the new Outlander GT's more adaptable all-wheel drive system. We didn't get a chance to play with the new Fuse infotainment system -- it wasn't yet available during our first drive -- but it promises to make one of the tech-savviest cars in the category even savvier. Combined with a reliability record that would surprise many, the Outlander qualifies as our favorite underdog in the segment. Maybe the new face will get more heads turning in its direction.

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