The Road to #MAMA16FR…and Then Some

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport at Journey's End
2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4 GT AWC – All Photos by Randy Stern

I love taking road trips.

There are two ways to take this. When a time constraint is imposed, road trips can be harrowing, frustrating and counteractive. All I can fixate is the time I have to be there, or the time promised to the person (or people) on the end of the road. It feels like an extended auto race, where there are no driver changes, quick stops for food, fuel and toilet use and it is all speed all the way through. I fear for those who see me at the end of such trips.

However, a good road trip is one where there is the luxury of time. There is also the extra incentive to explore and enjoy new surroundings. There are some cases where I rediscover places I have been before. There is always time to enjoy the drive, eat when I need to and get there relaxed…maybe a bit tired from the drive.

In working with vehicles for publication, I found that when I have one that I have worked with before, there is an incentive to repurpose the story to frame an adventure…or, just a road trip. Lately, that has been true with the 2016 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, the 2016 GMC Sierra Denali and the 2016 Chrysler 200. In total, four states were covered by these vehicles for the purpose of your reading pleasure.

Which leads me to talk about this next vehicle…and the road trip I put it through.

Mitsubishi is a topic that is divisive among ourselves. Owners of the Three-Diamond badge are loyal to the core – whether they have a Lancer Evolution that is built with massive horsepower or an Outlander that they have taken up to the cabin and back. Yet, there are those who still call for its demise, predicated on their idea of the brand's supposed irrelevance or the scandals it had been embroiled in back in Japan.

As an automotive writer/blogger/journalist, my job is to walk the middle between these two camps. I acknowledge their respective sides, but I have a job to do. That job is to work with Mitsubishi's current lineup and to cover them when news breaks out. It is a job that I take very seriously.

Last week, I had a 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4 GT available for me to take to Joliet, Illinois to attend the Midwest Automotive Media Association's Fall Rally and 25th Anniversary celebration. I accepted this vehicle because (a) I am all about networking and celebration. I am also all about taking a familiar route and spending a some extra days away from home – two nights in the Milwaukee area for some semblance of a "vacation," along with a couple of more evenings in the Chicago area.

I had experienced the Outlander Sport before. The last time I had one, it was for another publication I work with. It was also given a nice drive home from Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. It was a 2015 GT model with the then-newly installed larger 2.4 liter engine. I remarked how much that engine has transformed the small Outlander Sport into a better competitor in a growing class.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport GT AWC

For 2016, Mitsubishi made some revisions on the Outlander Sport. This includes a new front end, new trimmings, improved equipment levels and better engineering for driving dynamics. The GT comes with everything on the catalog – a fixed glass roof with LED mood lighting, leather seating, automatic climate control, the 6.1-inch touchscreen audio system and a powerful Rockford Fosgate speaker system.

Now that I have the vehicle for this big road trip, I had to map it all out. The route that I came up with looked very familiar – starting with good ol' Interstate 94. The first leg will be to a suburb southwest of Milwaukee for a couple of nights to see an old friend before I do any business down in Chicago. Then, it is down to Schaumburg in the Northwest Burbs, where I will make camp for two nights. Then, I transition over the MAMA Fall Rally where I have an agenda involving driving and working with Tyler Lipa to make V&R a better place for your automotive reading. I returned home in another vehicle that I will be writing about on here at a later date.

For now, let us just concentrate on the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport and entire time away from home.

I often complained that I never had a chance to "vacation." Rather, to just go somewhere and not worry about "work." Also, it has been a very long time since I have been to Milwaukee or anywhere close to it. Madison, Elkhart Lake, the Fox Valley…they do not count.

Why Milwaukee? This old friend of mine, Jason, got a job in the area and moved from Madison to his new place near his work. I figured to see him one of these days, in which I was reminded that it has been a year since we last saw each other. He also offered up that he needed to finish up getting the last of his things at his apartment in Madison. I explained that I had the Outlander Sport available for us and made a plan to see him after I get off work.

According to Google Maps, the drive was to take under five hours. The site seems to forget about several factors that could extend such driving time. Consider bathroom breaks, food and fuel stops and traffic.

If I lacked any sense in my head, I would keep going on Interstate 94 and take the loop around Milwaukee to meet with Interstate 43. Google thought that a more direct route was in order – down Wisconsin Highway 83 from Delafield. For some insane reason, I like Wisconsin state highways. Insane, you ask? My previous stint as a Wisconsin resident was not the best three-and-a-half years of my life – despite the fact that I began this career there. Whenever I cross the St. Croix (or Mississippi) River, I am always entertained by some of the roads in that state. And, its rolling landscape. But, still, as a Minnesotan, I am supposed to hate Wisconsin. I don't know…let me continue…

Mukwonago is a quaint town in the exurbs southwest of Milwaukee. For Jason, it is a 25 minute commute via Interstate 43 to his new job. For everyone else it is a crossroads of the well-to-do and the rural community. If you combine the South Lake Minnetonka area with Western Carver County – you have Mukwonago. It feels like Excelsior without the big lake. I like this place…especially the translation from Potawatomi: "Place of The Bear." It seems so…appropriate.

Mukwonago Means...

Our first night, we decided to discover the local fare. For dinner, we went to Fork in the Road on North Rochester Road/Highway 83. The atmosphere is great and the food terrific. The prices aren't half bad, either. The new local, Jason, approves, too!

On Saturday, I parked the Outlander Sport to help Jason move some of the last things from his old apartment near Madison to the new place. It was a challenge, but we accomplished what had to be done that day. An old acquaintance showed up to take Jason's old sleeper sofa – someone I knew from my Madison days. You may never know who might run into there these days.

Another stop we made was to Jason's old job – a taxicab co-op. He had his car looked after, while we saw a few projects the mechanics came up with. One is a conversion of old Toyota Prius taxicab into a track star. The interior was ripped out – instant weight savings! The suspension was lowered with a set of Hoosier tires slapped on. This race car Prius is set to make its autocross debut at Road America with the Madison Sports Car Club next month.

The cab lot also included two race-prepped Miatas and a Mazdaspeed6. I was indeed in familiar territory.

Sunday, Jason and I parted ways. He headed back to Madison to finish up his move., while I enjoyed a beautiful drive down via Lake Geneva into Illinois. Somehow, I managed to stop by the Volo Auto Museum. I did not get a chance to get in, because I wanted to get down to my hotel sooner than later, but the property lent itself to some amazing automobiles. The antique mall included a model car store – which is a dangerous place for me to be in. I had to leave after having my eyes popped out many times. No, I did not spend any money there.

The drive continued onward to Schaumburg – the hub of the Northwest Burbs of Chicago. My hotel for two nights was there, the Extended Stay America off of Interstate 90 at Roselle Road. This was one of the better Extended Stay America properties I had lodged in.

That evening, I had dinner with an old friend, Tom Wray. If you read my work about, say, 15 years ago, you may know of his name. You see, he was my publisher at Tillery Publications. He gave me my first job in the media business – Managing Editor of one of his sites. Wray is still at it – two sites he manages with specific audiences to feed. It was great to catch up with Wray. I last saw him in Chicago 12 years ago. That's too damn long for old media people to not see each other. We vowed to not make it twelve years between meetings. Wray and I have grown into our own worlds within the website world – telling our stories to our audiences. That growth continues!

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The next day – Monday – was dedicated to running the Outlander Sport across the Northwest and West Burbs. The rule was to not get on a tollway – that mission was accomplished, I assure you! It did lead to the origin of this vehicle, one of the suppliers of media vehicles. Matt Hruska of Drive Shop in Addison has been a contact and a friend for the past five years. Lunch was spent at the nearby Portillo's, a Chicago institution where hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches live. I got a chance to see DriveShop's operation and saw some familiar vehicles there – some you have read about here. It is great to have Hruska in my corner in this business – he shares the love back with our fellow journalists that his fleet reaches out to. Not to mention his own passion for the automobile. My lunch chat with Hruska included is like about engine codes, tires, chassis codes and what makes a car cool. That is a sign of a pulse in this business!

As I meandered through the West Burbs, I made a surprise stop at the Chicago Automobile Trade Association in Oakbrook Terrace. Not only is the the dealer organization for the Chicagoland area. They also produce the Chicago Auto Show – one of Victory & Reseda's main stops every year. One of the board members of MAMA worked there, which gave me an opportunity to find out more about the upcoming Fall Rally. Jennifer Morand has been moving upward in CATA, which enabled a new communications contact point to be introduced to me. I look forward to working with her for the 2017 Chicago Auto Show with the V&R Team.

In-between stops, I gave the Outlander Sport a chance to explore many of the places I have not been to in years. It was nice to meander through some very lovely neighborhoods and the heart of Chicagoland's commercial landscape.

Dinner was at local chain called Meatheads at Woodfield in Schaumburg. Think SmashBurger, but 1,000 percent better. No, seriously! I did pass up on a new place that looks like a great concept in food retail. Around the corner from Meatheads was Cream Bar. They make custom ice cream sandwiches. You know, I like ice cream sandwiches. If they ever consider expanding beyond their single location in Schaumburg, this place will be a huge success in the Twin Cities.

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The last full day in the Outlander Sport would be a long one. My destination would be the Harrah's Casino and Hotel in Joliet, where MAMA has set up hotels for us out-of-town journalists. Normally, one would just jump on the Tollway and head down to Joliet. Since my schedule opened up due to cancellations and other reasons…I decided to take the long way down.

This would include a stop at Oakbrook Mall and the Tesla store there. Elon Musk's car enterprise is a huge hit – I cannot deny that. They have captured the imagination of enthusiasts – well, you, to be specific – that it has been one of the leading electric vehicles in the Twin Cities. Yet, our location is less of a showroom and more of a service center. We were supposed to get a showroom inside the Mall of America or some other big mall, but that never materialized.

The storefront for Tesla is unique, as they offer a combination of sales for the vehicle and personal accessories. They designed it to be a destination. I get that. If you seem interested in either the Model S or Model X, be prepared to be consulted. I was not prepared. Let me just say that I have my own opinions about Tesla based on a few local experiences I had with them. Those opinions still hold true. After that experience, I went back on my merry way down towards Joliet.

My route took me along US-38, also known as Ogden Avenue. It went from the tony suburb of Westmont out into the far reaches of Naperville. All of the sudden the landscape changed and the spaces were very wide open. I was indeed on the reaches of the Chicagoland area with no other direction to go but south. Naperville became Plainfield, which became Bollingbrook and Romeoville. I had never been out this way either by car or train. Yet, they felt familiar – rural outposts slowly turning into exurbia. The Outlander Sport continued to gobble up miles as it enjoyed the same scenery as I did.

Silver Cross Field

Finally, I reached Joliet, the southwestern point of the Chicagoland region. It felt like a small town that has been trying to find its way after years of prosperity. The place seems old, but there are some signs of progress. One such project is the Intermodal terminal based on the old Union Station. In the backdrop is Silver Cross Field, home of the Frontier League's Slammers ballclub. There seems to be an interesting disconnect between the Rock Island railroad terminus for the Metra commuter rail system and Union Pacific’s Heritage Corridor. It appears that the project would once and for all connect the two into a singular hub. I hope this works, because I do see the potential for this project to help turn Joliet around.

My final stop was Harrah's. The MAMA Fall Rally program began that evening with the dinner sponsored by CATA for us out-of-towners. I began not minding it was a casino-based hotel. I do recall why Mom never took us to Las Vegas when we were young. Not because of the desert, but rather its prominent revenue stream – gambling. It would be my place to stay through the MAMA Fall Rally and 25th Anniversary celebration. By the way, I loved the room and the service at the Joliet Harrah's!

After my first night at Harrah's, the Outlander Sport was turned in before the Rally began.

Along the journey, the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport performed admirably. The engine performed quite well with better CVT response. I did manage an average of 23.0 MPG on this journey, with a high of 24.2 MPG. The seats were fine, as was the ride quality. Its size did lend to a mix of feedback on its maneuverability. Though it can be nimble and responsive on lane changes, it does not have the tightest turning radius in its class. For a dose of reality, this GT with All-Wheel Control came with a sticker price of $28,345.

The point of driving a vehicle, such as the Outlander Sport, and subjecting it to a trip that is part-vacation and part-business trip is to see how it goes about its way. No need to calculate the numbers, the money spent on it or the exact roads it drove on. The subjective side of things enables one to see how they feel at journey's end.

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In my case, the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport brought me along familiar and unfamiliar roads with competency. There were a few flaws, but they were simply trivial points. One thing was certain from this experience: I made it to Autobahn Country Club for the 2016 Midwest Automotive Media Association Fall Rally and 25th Anniversary celebration. That is the ultimate feedback one could give to any vehicle – getting me where I am slated to be.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle Provided by Mitsubishi Motors North America

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