In addition, the '07 has a more athletic body that is longer, taller, and wider than the model it replaces. Its wider track, coupled with a high-strength steel unibody, gives the vehicle a sporty, more rigid suspension.

A new front suspension boosts lateral rigidity and gives more responsive steering. This, along with an aluminum roof that lowers the center of gravity, helps the Outlander stick to the road. During a weekend excursion, the ride was smooth and balanced as I climbed quickly up tightly switch-backed 6% grades.

Front-wheel drive is standard on all Outlanders. The base-level ES has no other option, but LS and XLS trims are available with an All-Wheel Control system.

AWC combines electronic four-wheel drive with Active Skid and Traction Control for better severe-weather performance with minimal affect on fuel consumption for everyday driving. The previous Outlander employed a 50:50 full-time 4WD that was less fuel efficient.

A console-mounted knob lets drivers switch between 2WD, 4WD Auto, and 4WD Lock. In 4WD Auto mode, a rear-mounted electronically controlled transfer clutch routes more power to the rear wheels, depending on driving and road conditions. The coupling transfers up to 40% more torque to the rear wheels under full-throttle acceleration, and then reduces it to 25% at 40 mph.

Under the hood, a 220-hp V6 engine is teamed to a six-speed Sportronic automatic transmission that can be manually shifted via a floor shifter or, on XLS models, by steering-wheel-mounted paddles. The 3-liter engine uses an aluminum cylinder block and variable-air induction and valve timing to reportedly generate best-in-class power and torque. Fuel economy is unchanged, with an EPA-estimated 27/26 mpg on the highway for 2/4WD.

The 2-in.-longer wheelbase adds second-row legroom while its wider stance increases hip room. Smooth lines, deep front bucket seats, and motorcycle-like gages evoke a sports-car feel. The power moon-roof, Sirius Satellite Radio, and a 650-W Rockford-Fosgate audio come as part of a Sun and Sound option package and topped my list of creature comforts. Visit outeverthing.comfor a complete options list.

Exterior and interior enhancements can boost the bare-bones base (ES 2WD) price from just under $20K to $28K for a nearly fully loaded LS 4WD.