New & Used Mitsubishi Outlander: In Depth
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Mitsubishi's Outlander is a compact crossover utility that offers two or three rows of seating. Most recently fully redesigned for the 2014 model year, and now updated for 2016, the Outlander is in its third generation of U.S. sales. It competes with vehicles like the Dodge Journey, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, and Toyota RAV4—as well as, perhaps, the Kia Sorento.
The Outlander has slightly more aggressive styling than many other crossovers of its size, giving it more of a sporty wagon look in some respects. Flared fenders, a very vertical front-end design, a sloped roofline, and a strong rear pillar define the proportions, while the Outlander's higher stance and rugged lower cladding bring it back to the crossover crowd in terms of both design and functionality.
MORE: Read our 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander review
The Mitsubishi Outlander was first introduced for 2003. At the time, it was only offered with a 140-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission. From 2004 through 2006, the Outlander got a 160-hp version that made it a bit perkier, but both versions feel adequate for around-town driving though somewhat overwhelmed with a full load or on the highway. A five-speed manual transmission was introduced in 2005, but not many models were equipped with it. Overall, this generation of Outlander models was quite unremarkable to drive, with a rather soft ride, decent but uninspiring handling, and well-appointed but somewhat cheap-feeling interiors. Safety features are also rather slim, with ABS and side airbags only standard on the top XLS until 2006, and electronic stability control not available.
Mitsubishi redesigned the Outlander for 2007, using the new Lancer platform as the basis for its crossover. It was initially offered with a choice of two engines: a 2.4-liter four-cylinder making 168 hp and mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) or a 3.0-liter V-6 good for 220 hp and paired with a six-speed automatic. It continued to offer a choice of front- or all-wheel drive.
This time, the Outlander was a bit larger and offered a small third-row seat. In general, this generation of Outlander looks and feels substantially more sporty and upscale, and the Lancer's sporty driving character finally carries over. V-6 models weren't quite as fast as expected, and with a significant increase in weight, the four-cylinder was overwhelmed, sounding even more coarse and boomy than in the previous generation—in part due to the CVT keeping the engine at one speed for extended periods of time.
Mitsubishi finally made use of the sporting heritage of the Outlander's Lancer cousin in 2010 when it added a GT model. It combined the V-6 with the S-AWC all-wheel drive system from the Lancer Ralliart and Evo models, which includes different Snow, Tarmac, and Lock modes for increased control. It also received handling and suspension upgrades to improve performance all around.
For 2010, all Outlanders got a version of the Lancer's even more blunt, shark-like grille, along with a more carlike air dam, plus some interior enhancements including a padded dash for top-of-the-range models along with an available navigation and entertainment system than employs a voice-command interface called FUSE. The XLS was later dropped, and a few more standard features were added to the 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander.
Mitsubishi had announced that it would turn the Outlander name into a sub-brand, much like what Subaru had formerly done with its Outback line. And in the 2011 model year, it followed that plan and introduced the Outlander Sport, a smaller, more carlike and fuel-efficient model with some of the same styling cues.
The current Mitsubishi Outlander
The 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander made its debut with completely different styling, doing away with the 'shark-like' front end and more wedge-like profile. Mitsubishi was selling the Outlander on more aggressive styling and driving attributes, but it has clearly repositioned the latest model toward value.
The Outlander is one of the least expensive vehicles available with three rows of seating. Models equipped with the third row can carry up to seven passengers. Because of the Outlander's compact overall size, the third row is strictly for occasional kid-hauling duties. All Outlanders have an easily configurable driving position with a tilt/telescoping steering column, as well as adequate head- and legroom for adults in the second row.
The Outlander offers a choice of either a four- or six-cylinder engine. Base models use a 2.4-liter four that makes 166 hp and is paired with a continuously variable transmission, which is a surprisingly lively combination. The more expensive GT model gets a V-6 that's good for 224 hp; the added power is nice, although the engine requires premium-grade fuel and isn't terribly efficient. Torque is also pretty low and uninspiring. It does come with a conventional six-speed auto, which is more to the liking of those interested in performance.
Safety firsts for Mitsubishi in the Outlander include Adaptive Cruise Control (with three distance settings), Lane Departure Warning, and a Forward Collision Mitigation system that will, at lower speeds, first signal that an obstacle or other vehicle is ahead and then apply the brakes and bring the vehicle fully to a stop.
Today's Outlander offers one of the strongest sets of standard equipment for the money, among compact-to-mid-size crossovers. And if it’s three-row models you’re considering, the new model is the features-for-money champ.
Base ES models don’t include Bluetooth or alloy wheels, but if you can look past that they include automatic climate control, keyless entry, and a six-speaker, 140-watt audio system, among other things. Leather, a sunroof, and a power tailgate are available on the top models.
A plug-in hybrid version of the Outlander, with a complex drive system that's capable of both series and parallel hybrid operation, has been postponed until the 2017 model year.
In the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander, which is at present one of the brand's better sellers, the brand takes that current third-generation model and has sharpened up the front-end styling, subbed in a new, more responsive CVT in four-cylinder models, and added many refinement upgrades and cabin improvements. The suspension has been tweaked and the body stiffened as well, and the seat-folding arrangement for the second row is now a lot easier.