Spending a week in the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL not only has changed my mind about the vehicle, but about the entire car company.
With the demise of the Montero, a genuine body-on-frame sport utility, and the Evo, a genuine street-legal rally car, I would have argued that Mitsubishi itself could become the next importer to withdraw from the U.S. automotive market, and that few people even would notice.
I was overwhelmingly unimpressed by the company’s initial i-MiEV electric car (hopefully, the new-for-2016 version is much improved) and the non-Evo version of the Lancer was, well, unexciting. There was/is no 2016-model-year Mirage compact, though the 2017 version was unveiled at the recent Los Angeles auto show.
Which leaves Mitsubishi with the Lancer, new i-MiEV and two versions of the 2016 Outlander, a crossover utility vehicle; there’s the plain Outlander, which has three rows of seats, and the Outlander Sport, with two rows.
I used the word “plain” in describing the Outlander, but after driving the car for a week I want to change that adjective. This isn’t just another ordinary crossover that puts three rows of seats above a rather compact footprint. This is a surprisingly capable and almost luxurious vehicle that drove off with a best value award at the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle competition.
Base price on the 2016 Outlander is $22,995 (or add 2 grand if you want all-wheel rather than front-wheel drive). That’s the basic ES version. There’s also an SE that starts at $23,995 and the upscale SEL, which is what we’ve been in, at $24,995.
For that price, you not only get seating for seven but leather-covered seating, with heated front seats; a power-adjustable driver’s seat; dual-zone front climate controls; gloss-black interior accents; 6.1-inch touch-screen display with HD radio; Bluetooth; rear camera; power locks, etc.; cupholders front, middle and rear; rear underfloor storage; hill-start assist; auto-off headlamps; fog lamps; heated exterior mirrors; 18-inch wheels; a full array of airbags, and more.
While the engine doesn’t present very impressive power numbers, we did a drive from the floor of the Valley of the Sun in Phoenix up to Payson and the Mogollon Rim in the Outlander and (a) the CVT was never hunting to find the right gear, (b) this little powertrain has plenty of spunk, climbing from around 1,100 to a mile high posed no serious challenge, and (c) the CVT provides a Sport mode that holds its gearing so you don’t have to ride your brakes as you descend back down into the Valley.
Not only the powertrain but the car’s steering and suspension proved agile and responsive as we hustled up the fast but winding road through the mountains between Phoenix and Payson. The Outlander proved itself more than capable, and even sort of fun to drive.
And while the performance might belie the power numbers, there’s the bonus of the Outlander being rated at 25 miles per gallon in town and at 31 on the open highway.
Rear seats upright and there’s room behind them for groceries or a couple of overnight bags. Fold them down (which requires removing the very tall headrests; tall, we figure, to provide more protection) and there’s lots of room, and fold down the second row as well and you can go big-box shopping.
Our press-fleet Outlander came equipped with one option, the SEL Touring Package. For $5,250 you get navigation, forward collision mitigation, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, auto headlight control, rain-sensing wipers, power remote liftgate, power folding exterior mirrors , windshield-wiper de-icer, power sunroof and 710-watt Rockford Fosgate premium audio with satellite radio.
Add in destination fees and the as-tested price was $31,095.
Also available are a $1,900 SEL Premium Package that includes the sunroof, 710-watt audio, power liftgate, power folding mirrors and windshield washer de-icer and a $1,550 SEL Advanced Safety Package with the forward collision, adaptive cruise, lane departure, auto headlamp, rain-sensing wipers, power mirrors and de-icer. There are also all sorts of accessories, from remote starting to rear-seat DVD player.
Not only is the Outlander well-equipped, it’s nicely designed as well and features Mitsubishi’s “Dynamic Shield” styling theme.
Although there’s no trophy to go with it, here’s more praise: I’ll recommend the Outlander to my youngest daughter when she’s ready to replace the compact crossover in which she’s been hauling around three of my grandchildren. That’s about the highest endorsement for a vehicle a grandfather could offer.
2016 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL
Vehicle type: 7-passenger crossover utility vehicle, front-wheel drive
Base price: $24,995 Price as tested: $31,095
Engine: 2.4-liter four-cylinder, 166 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm, 162 pound-feet of torque @ 4,200 rpm Transmission: continuously variable
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches Overall length/width: 184.8 inches / 7.13 inches
Curb weight: 3,340pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 25 city / 31 highway / 27 combined
Assembled in: Okazaki, Japan