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Ezra Dyer: In Defense of Bad Third-Row Seats

mitsubishi outlander third row seats
Ezra Dyer: In Defense of Bad Third-Row SeatsEzra Dyer - Car and Driver

I used to own a 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander. I'll skip my usual defense of that purchase (which amounts to "Mitsubishi tried to Evo everything a little bit back then") to focus on one of the 2007 Outlander's more unusual selling points: its terrible third-row seat. The Outlander's third row was as if someone mocked up a folding seat out of uncooked lasagna noodles and then somehow it went straight into production just like that. It was so thin it was two-dimensional, with a lower cushion (if you could call it that) about two inches off the floor and barely enough legroom for a newborn dachshund.

It was also invaluable the few times I needed it, like when I drove a group of six adults to a New England Patriots game. If you tailgate long enough, an Outlander third row feels as posh as the back seat of a Maybach. Incidentally, that Outlander had an actual tailgate, along with an adjustable front-to-rear torque bias and—sorry, sorry. I'm still defensive about my Outlander.

And I like the new one, too, even though it's mostly a Nissan Rogue. The plug-in hybrid, though, is much more of a Mitsubishi, given its unique powertrain. And the 2024 Outlander offers a feature that no Rogue is bold enough to even contemplate: third-row seats. They're awful, probably 50 percent more abysmal than whatever the second-worst third row on the market looks like. But they're also 100 percent better than no third row. They're there when you need them, and that's the sum of their ambition.

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They're a marvel of engineering, the Outlander's third-row seats. Looking at the rear cargo area, you wouldn't expect to find seats nestled under the floor. It seems like there's no room. But Mitsubishi must employ engineers from the former East German resistance, people who once stuffed defectors into the false fender wall of a Trabant for a trip across the border. Because there is a two-up seat under there, complete with headrests that look like Star Wars clones and padding that is somehow an improvement over the lightly reinforced cardboard chairs of my 2007.

If there's an immediately obvious drawback to the setup, I'd say it has to be that there's no legroom. And I don't mean that figuratively, or as hyperbole. With the second row slid back it its rearmost position, the second-row seatbacks literally rest against the third row's bottom cushion. So to employ the third row, some negotiations must ensue with the second-row occupants. They go something like, "Slide your seat forward. No, more... No, more. Okay, do you want to trade? THANKS." Like they say, you know it's a successful negotiation when nobody's happy.

red mitsubishi outlander
Look, unless they build a Montero again, this’ll have to seat seven.Car and Driver

But if you just need to schlep an extra kid or two from some sports practice, or tote an extra adult to dinner, or any other short-haul mission, the Outlander's bad third row is a godsend. It eliminates a separate trip, or a second car. It's 100 percent better than nothing.

two kids in the third row of an outlander
"You donEzra Dyer - Car and Driver

In spirit, if not execution, the Outlander's third row is same as the back seats in a Porsche 911 or Subaru BRZ. Mostly, you forget about them until they're called upon. And then there'll be complaining. But when the trip is over and the necessary evil is once again secreted under the cargo floor, you'll give silent thanks it was there. Then forget all about it until the next time you do a head count for a drive and realize you're counting with two hands.

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