My Hurricane Adventure in a Mitsubishi Outlander Was Revelatory

remnants of hurricane ida move through northeast causing widespread flooding
Jamie Kitman: My Mitsubishi Outlander AdventureSpencer Platt - Getty Images

It was raining hard the other night. Harder than it has in a long time. Harder than getting a Dirk Diggler reference past C/D's editors and into this introduction, in fact.

Pools of standing water multiplied as I made my way north along Manhattan's FDR Drive, leaving the big city and heading back to my home, 26 miles north, along the western shores of the mineral-rich Hudson River. Happily, the role of trusty steed for the night's mighty deluge was being played by a 2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV SEL S-AWC (sticker price: $50,880). Handy, too, as successive waves of rainwater had nowhere to go on a roadway almost as legendary for its poor drainage as for its treacherous potholes. They made the Outlander's all-wheel drive and high-riding ways seem less superfluous than such things sometimes do.

I used to wonder why personal transport—not just in America but around the world—trends so heavily toward vehicles jacked up extra high. I had a theory: It's like people are preparing, mostly subconsciously, though some with intent, for the Apocalypse. How paranoid, I'd thought, how silly. When the bad news bears arrive, face it, your car or truck won't save you.


That's what I'd thought, at least. But now I know better. The Apocalypse is coming. In fact, it has arrived. Proof came for me in what felt like a very climate-change-specific experience I had in September 2021. That's when Hurricane Ida hit New York. And, by coincidence, I was driving another Outlander that night, a 2022 SEL 2.5S—not a plug-in hybrid, so not capable of recording the 38 mpg I've been seeing this week, but rather an internal-combustion full-timer with an EPA combined rating of 26 mpg and a sticker price of $38,590. Like the Outlander I'm driving now, it was perfectly pleasant, with some remaining vestiges of idiosyncratic Mitsubishi character. Its curious styling overlaid onto some quality Nissan Rogue basics and an interior much improved compared to Mitsu's pre-Nissan years. (Nissan took over a flailing Mitsubishi in 2016, and, while it's too early to be sure, the "my carmaker's circling the drain" feeling no longer appears to be part of the Mitsubishi ownership experience.) Driving excitement is not what I expected from a compact three-row crossover, but on September 1 of 2021, excitement—and more than a little terror—was what I got.

2022 mitsubishi outlander
2022 Mitsubishi Outlander.

Tennis, Anyone?

Attending the U.S. Open in Queens at the Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Park, near the site of the 1964 World's Fair, my friend Paula and I had chosen to ignore—as one increasingly does these days—the hysterical forecasts from weather persons, who seem charged with amplifying whenever possible the terror content of the 24-hour news cycle. Hurricane Ida was brewing, and it might hit New York hard! Everybody scream! But they'd been wrong so many times before. Cancel all plans, they'd say, and then the hurricane would peter out by the time it hit the Carolinas. Bar the doors and prepare for the mightiest blizzard of the century; a half-inch of snow would fall and quickly melt. Yeah, yeah, yeah. They always got it wrong. Except this time, when they didn't.

Leave the Peugeot, Take the Mitsubishi

Fatefully hedging my bets in a nod to being an adult, I'd switched off the 1965 Peugeot 404 wagon I'd fired up with plans to drive it out to Flushing Meadows and instead climbed into the 2022 Outlander test vehicle. We chuckled upon arriving as the skies showed no signs of opening up. We ate a pleasant dinner with our friends at a pop-up steakhouse onsite and made our way to our seats. About 30 minutes later, we heard some raindrops on the roof of the enclosed dome, a pitter-patter that grew steadily until it became an alarming din. It was then that we noticed thousands of people had suddenly entered, having escaped from an adjacent open stadium, sopping wet. A quick look outside revealed a temporary Heineken beer kiosk blowing between food stands. The wind was fierce, and it was raining cats, dogs, and antelopes. Perhaps it was time to go home right now.

On, and off, the Bus

By the time we got outside, however, the water was up to our ankles. After a quarter-mile slosh, we clambered aboard a shuttle bus that was meant to take us back across the Grand Central Parkway to the lot where we'd parked. But as we were about to leave, a woman came on the now jampacked, steamy bus and at the top of her lungs prohibited the driver from leaving. "This is my #@$%ing bus!" she shrieked, grabbing him while explaining that this very bus, identical to a dozen others working the parking-lot run, had been chartered by her tour group, some of whom were currently standing outside in the most intense rain I'd ever seen. Much shouting and name calling ensued, involving members of all parties (representing the "It is her bus!" and "It isn't her bus!" plus the "Who cares if it's her bus?" factions). Several individuals grabbed the phone from the driver, who spoke little English, to yell at his dispatcher, with no consensus reached. Ah, New York.

After about 10 minutes, as water rose knee-high in places and things were clearly going nowhere with the dispatcher, we exited the bus and staggered in pelting rain over the Parkway to the parking lot, where we found several cars up to their door handles in water. Thankfully, the water engulfing the Outlander only came to the center point of its wheels. We hopped in. And slowly waded through lakes of flood water to again cross the Parkway, which we'd hoped to join. But a traffic jam awaited us on the other side, along with the news that the Parkway—the first leg in the journey back home—had been closed. A trio of long-suffering policemen told us to prepare to spend the night in place. No food, no water, no bathrooms, and no assurances that we wouldn't drown in our cars. There was literally no place to drive but back to the parking lot across the Parkway, the multi-lane Grand Central now empty in the westerly direction we wanted to go because the road had been closed and bumper-to-bumper traffic was headed east toward Long Island but going nowhere.

Trapped in the Parking Lot

The greatest of many problems with the parking lot, we were now able to conclusively ascertain after circumnavigating it slowly several times, was that there was no exit that didn't feed us back into the dead end we'd just come from. Meaning we were trapped. All around us, facing the same predicament, people were abandoning their cars or climbing into them and praying for the best. Neither seemed the right option in our case.

I've rarely had the need or impulse to go commando, but that was the case that night. Driving around in sodden circles, like a wet dog in a pen, a plan suddenly occurred. If I drove over a sloping eight-foot grassy berm at the far end of the lot, and was also able to make it through some narrowly spaced wooden posts that separated the parking area from the surrounding city, we'd be released onto the streets of Queens. Which is what the Mitsubishi intrepidly did. We'd escaped our watery prison!

remnants of hurricane ida move through northeast causing widespread flooding
Spencer Platt - Getty Images

Escape from Queens

But immediately a new question arose: How to get home? All the nav programs directed us to the Parkway, which was closed. The radio broadcast a parade of horribles—this road closed, that one flooded. And all around us, the hazard was obvious: an empty city bus partially submerged, cars conked out and abandoned with their flashers on. We needed to get to the RFK Bridge, our only ticket back to Manhattan or the Bronx, which boroughs we'd have to traverse if we were ever to make it to a bridge crossing the Hudson.

On surface streets, tracking as best possible the route of the Parkway, we saw dozens of cars decommissioned, flickering streetlights, and plenty of flotsam and jetsam. With dead cars and fallen trees, plus trash cans and boxes being blown around, every road was a different obstacle course. At last, we saw an open entrance to the highway leading to the RFK Bridge. No sooner had we breathed sighs of relief than we saw cars sideways in the road. And then one on fire. Surreal. A policeman with a flashlight waved us to exit the highway. Once again, it seemed like we were trapped in Queens. But then appeared a last-minute entrance from the surface street to the bridge. Hurrah, now we only had to make it over to Manhattan, which was a piece of cake—extraordinarily high bridges like the RFK (the bridge formerly known as the Triboro) may fail, but they never flood.

Reliving The French Connection on FDR Drive

After we finally succeeded in alighting in Manhattan around East 125th Street, Google Maps suggested we take the FDR Drive north. Knowing the Drive and its flooding ways too well, I was suspicious. But it seemed to be moving nicely, with little traffic. Excitement about our imminent arrival at home—a 25-minute drive, normally—grew. But then, as we motored happily uptown at around 50 mph, we saw a pair of headlights coming directly at us. And then another. As we hugged the right-hand lane to avoid a head-on collision, a dozen cars passed going the wrong way—southbound on the northbound FDR Drive. Deeply unsettling, it was, but before long, we found out why. Around 155th Street, there was a giant lake, and all traffic that had gone that way was either flooded or stopped dead. Everyone else was making K-turns in the middle of the highway to head back down the twisting, old-school urban expressway the wrong way. Unless we wanted to spend the night on the FDR, we, too, would be changing direction.

Driving downtown on a New York City highway while other cars motor uptown in the same lane as you makes for a thrillscape from which one doesn't soon recover. So chaotic and unknowable was the scene that, earlier, when I ran over one of the dozens of trash bags that were floating around the road as I'd attempted to reverse course, I thought I'd killed someone. I hadn't, although I feared we still might snuff someone out, possibly ourselves.

Making our way off the FDR at East 125th Street, we ventured slowly through Manhattan's only mildly flooded streets to Amsterdam Avenue and the George Washington Bridge, which would take us to the western shores of the Hudson. Bridge traffic going east was at a standstill, but traveling west as desired, things were moving slowly. We considered ourselves lucky. For a moment.

It turned out, once we reached New Jersey, that every highway going north to New York state was closed. Along with most of the larger surface streets. Fortunately, my deep familiarity with the area (I'd grown up nearby) allowed us to finally make it to my town, about 13 miles away, though it took an hour and a half as we were forced to divert several times by flooded roads, fallen trees and power lines, and nonspecific debris. Once we had to take a detour when a road was closed after a large sinkhole appeared in the middle of it.

Thanks, Mitsubishi

Finally, we made it back to New York State, and then to my town, and then to my street, littered with fallen trees. Upon reaching my house, we saw literal jet streams of water hitting the street from either side of the home. This did not augur well for what we'd find, but having conquered what I believed was the worst Hurricane Ida had to offer, thanks in no small part to a rock-solid Mitsubishi Outlander, I was hopeful. Parking in a safe spot, we approached the front door with relief and a hint of trepidation. Correctly, as it turned out, for there were two inches of water and a fine coating of silt and mud covering the floor, ruining a lot of stuff. Much was lost.

Except, thanks to an SUV, at least we'd made it home. And while my luck was bad this particular night, it could've been worse. We could've taken the 57-year-old Peugeot.

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