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2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Test Drive Review
My least favorite thing about driving the 2016 Outlander is the way it rolls down a mountain road like a big, white marshmallow.
Mitsubishi has made more than 100 changes to its 2016 Outlander crossover SUV. Do the upgrades improve the vehicle? Yes, absolutely. But it remains a vehicular wallflower in a segment awash in terrific alternatives.
Look and Feel7/ 10
On the morning of my test drive and evaluation of the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander, my daily "Bring A Trailer" email contained a new auction listing for a gem of an automobile. It was a nearly original and unmolested 1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX, a turbocharged, all-wheel-drive (AWD) sports coupe with sexy styling and all-weather performance capability.
Now that was an appealing Mitsubishi.
After checking the auction photos, I visited the Mitsubishi website to perform some research prior to my drive. It's always good to know what the hell you’re driving before you go and drive it. There, on promotional panel two, wedged between a “Holiday Sales Event” promising an extra $500 off on certain models, and the 2016 Outlander, named “The #1 Most Affordable Three-Row Crossover” (way to go, Cars.com), was the 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Final Edition. “Hold History in Your Hands,” the promotion encourages.
It might as well be an invitation to a funeral.
Later, stepping out the front door and heading for the Diamond White 2016 Outlander SEL with Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC), I couldn’t help but feel melancholy. Once upon a time, Mitsubishi was the brash new kid on the block, effortlessly drawing attention and admiration for cars like the Eclipse, 3000GT, and Lancer Evolution. Now, it’s the geeky wallflower on the sidelines, waving its hands, saying, “Oooh! Oooh! Pick me! Pick me!”
With more than 100 changes for the 2016 model year, more people are sure to pick the Mitsubishi Outlander than did last year, provided a dealership is nearby. The closest one to my house is 31 miles away, and I live in suburban Los Angeles.
The revised lineup includes the ES, the SE, the new SEL, and the GT. Outlander prices start at $23,845, including the snazzy 18-inch aluminum wheels seen on my test car, which are standard on all models. Choose the GT, the only model with a V6 engine instead of the standard 4-cylinder, check every option box, and you’re talking more than 40 grand.
As a buddy of mine might say, because he usually has kids within earshot, “Holy Shnikes!”
My SEL S-AWC test vehicle didn’t cost that much. Starting at $27,845, my Outlander had the SEL Touring Package ($5,250), which installed a navigation system, a premium sound system, a power sunroof, a power rear liftgate, and several safety features including a forward-collision warning system with automatic emergency braking. Skipping the accessories menu, which can really jack this SUV’s price up, my test vehicle cost $33,095.
Mitsubishi calls its new design language “Dynamic Shield.” It looks waaaaaay better on the EX Concept the company rolled out at this year’s Tokyo Motor Show than it does on the Outlander. Still, I like the 2016 Outlander’s new styling better than last year’s model, which looked like it had a beard.
Inside, last year’s awful burled-wood-tone plastic trim is replaced with a modern, dark striated pattern, and with the beige leather seats, the cabin adopts an upscale, two-tone appearance. Mitsubishi has even wrapped fabric around the windshield pillars, just one of many changes that help make this crossover more appealing for 2016.
Despite making just 166 horsepower, which is charged with motivating nearly 3,500 pounds of SUV, the Outlander’s standard 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine is not a source of aggravation. Credit the new version of the continuously variable transmission (CVT), which does a fine job of making the little power the engine generates accessible.
I had no trouble racing up a local mountain grade at a steady 80 mph or merging into highway traffic at prevailing speeds. Keeping up with city traffic is no problem, either. Drag racing is not advised, and if you want to tow up to 3,500 pounds, you’ll need the Outlander GT’s V6 engine, but for most situations, the 4-cylinder is just fine.
Do not, however, expect the Outlander’s official EPA fuel economy ratings to reflect reality. On my test loop, this hefty Mitsubishi returned 23.7 mpg in combined driving, which is less than its city rating of 24 mpg. I even used the Eco button for portions of the drive. Needless to say, this is unimpressive.
Driving dynamics are a mixed bag. My favorite thing about the Outlander’s ride and handling is the brakes, and not just because using them occasionally means I’m about to get out of the vehicle. My least favorite thing about driving the Outlander is the way it rolls down a mountain road like a big, white marshmallow, the softly tuned suspension allowing excessive amounts of wallow, the weight bouncing around from one end of the SUV to the other, the 18-inch tires demonstrating alarmingly limited grip.
Around town, the Outlander’s ride is soft and supple, and Mitsubishi’s efforts to quiet the cabin are plainly evident, making the amount of seemingly unfiltered impact harshness that much more jarring. Shopping-center driveway aprons, potholes, expansion joints, and lane-marker dots are blatantly obvious to the driver.
Form and Function5/ 10
From the driver’s seat, the Outlander SEL’s interior looks terrific. Push the engine's Start button, grab the shift lever, and choose a gear. The clunky shifter sounds and feels cheap, casting a pall over your favorable impression of the cabin. Signal a turn or lane change, and discover how the stalk feels and sounds like a bone snapping in two, reflecting a lack of refinement. Lean a knee against the door panel, and it creaks like a mattress in a cheap motel. I’m thinking that maybe Mitsubishi should have made more than 125 changes to the new Outlander, rather than the reported 100.
Thanks to the broad, leather-wrapped, 8-way power driver’s seat, comfort is easy to come by. The front passenger is happy, too, despite the lack of a seat-height adjuster, because that chair sits fairly high off of the floor. The cabin feels wide, roomy, and airy, a sensation that continues for rear passengers ensconced on a sliding bench seat. Legroom is generous with the seat moved as far back as it will go.
One of two vehicles in its segment equipped with a third-row seat, the Outlander does a terrible job of transporting its maximum of 7 passengers. Only the most malnourished of adults will fit into the third-row seating area, and because the head restraints are, literally, inches from the back window, parents will not want their children sitting in the Outlander’s rear collision crush zone.
Plus, just 10.3 cubic feet of cargo space exists when the third-row seat is in use, enough room for a row of grocery bags or a compact folding stroller, but no more. My advice is to fold the seat, pretend it doesn’t exist, and enjoy up to 34.2 cubic feet of space (33 cubes with the optional sunroof). Maximum cargo capacity measures 63.3 cubic feet (61 with the optional sunroof).
During my week with the Outlander, my wife threw a small party for our daughter’s birthday, inviting four of her friends. Briefly glad that the Outlander had a third-row seat, she planned to use it to take everyone to the party. I said no, because I didn’t want to put any kids in this Mitsubishi’s third-row seat. We ended up taking two cars.
Tech Level4/ 10
Technology is increasingly important to the young buyers who might be drawn to the Outlander’s low starting price and who might be willing to give the brand a try. Mitsubishi is going to need to step up its game in this respect.
A touchscreen infotainment system is standard, equipped with a 6.1-inch display, HD Radio, satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity with music streaming capability, and a wide-angle reversing camera. My test vehicle’s larger 7-inch touchscreen display was paired with a navigation system, a USB port, an SD card reader, and real-time access to traffic, weather, and local gas prices.
Pairing to the Outlander’s Bluetooth system was easy, and receiving calls was not an issue. Making a call revealed a need for a natural voice-recognition system along the lines of Apple’s Siri technology. Also, with competing automakers offering access to Internet radio platforms like Pandora, Wi-Fi connectivity, connected services technologies, and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, Mitsubishi needs to hustle, and fast, to remain on Millennial shopping lists.
A rear-seat DVD entertainment system is an option for the Outlander. I don’t know about your kids, but mine have graduated to tablets and apps. Even at home, our television and DVD player are rarely in use.
In addition to expanding the Outlander’s infotainment offerings, Mitsubishi needs to put a blind-spot warning system into this crossover SUV, and preferably one accompanied by a rear cross-traffic alert system. In my experience, these features are far more useful than the lane-departure warning system that's an option for this model.
The lane-departure warning system is bundled with an adaptive cruise control system, a forward-collision warning system, and an automatic emergency braking system, creating a quartet of features that's optional for only the SEL and GT versions of the Outlander. When its long-range setting is chosen, the forward-collision warning system is quite eager to sound the alarm. Change to the short-range setting, and it emits warnings nearer the time a driver would need to take evasive action.
In crash-test assessments, the federal government gives the Outlander a 5-star overall rating when equipped with S-AWC, and a 4-star overall rating when equipped with front-wheel drive (FWD). In testing, the AWD version demonstrated a greater propensity to resist rolling over, giving it the higher overall rating.
As this review was written, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) had not established a rating for the updated 2016 Outlander. Last year, the SUV earned a Top Safety Pick rating, getting the top rating of Good in every crash-test evaluation.
Mitsubishi dealers want to sell you an Outlander, and they’ll do whatever they possibly can to put this crossover SUV in your driveway. The automaker is ready to support its dealers, too, even offering loyalty rebates to current Saturn and Suzuki owners. Are anticipated discounts baked into the Outlander’s price? Maybe. What’s important to keep in mind, though, is that you’re going to pay invoice or less.
While you will save money on the front end, don’t forget about my dismal fuel-economy result during testing. Also, the Outlander’s ability to retain its value over time rates average, according to ALG. A sketchy reliability history, caused in part by a thinned herd of current Mitsubishi Outlander owners, doesn’t help when it comes to determining whether or not this crossover will prove durable over time, and while the warranty is generous, occasional rumors about Mitsubishi pulling out of the U.S. market could shake consumer confidence in the program (and according to Mitsubishi, they are just rumors).
Perhaps the biggest hurdle for Mitsubishi and the Outlander, aside from the limited U.S. dealer network, is the fact that the company’s products simply aren’t desirable, like that Eclipse GSX auctioned on "Bring a Trailer" was in its day, or the way the mighty Lancer Evolution was until just this past year. Without vehicles that inspire passion, whether through exciting design or breakthrough engineering or innovative technologies or impressive performance, Mitsubishi has nothing to draw people to its showrooms.
During my test drive, I stopped to use a public restroom. I know, I know: TMI. After washing my hands, I used one of those new “air blade” hand dryers. It wasn’t a Dyson, though. Compared to the distinctive Dyson hand dryers, this white one was plain in appearance and shaped to allow water droplets to be blown into my face, and the blowers were rather weak.
Looking closer, I noticed that the manufacturer was Mitsubishi Electric.
I wasn’t surprised.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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