With its 2016 Outlander crossover sport utility vehicle, it almost seems as if Mitsubishi has channeled the adventures of Hansel and Gretel.
A few years back, like the famous fairy tale kids, the Japanese manufacturer lost its way in the deep woods of customer disillusion and was written off by some experts. But the company found its way back with a sack full of design and engineering pebbles and now looks toward new sales horizons.
The new Outlander boasts hushed and redesigned interior and exterior styling touches, along with standard alloy wheels, markedly improved handling, a lower entry price, third-row seat with clever folding second-row seats, and a newly tuned continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
strong>Outlander offers four trim levels: ES, SE, SEL, and GT. The entry-level ES is available with only front-wheel drive while the GT boasts standard all-wheel drive and a V-6 engine. The others are equipped with four-cylinder engines. SE and SEL trims offer a choice of front- or all-wheel drive (for an additional $2,000).
All versions use Mitsubishi's new CVT, which operates unobtrusively with belts and pulleys to seamlessly multiply power without the shift points found a conventional automatic transmission. However, the GT's transmission has a manual shift mode, controlled by paddles mounted on the steering column, that mimics shift pauses.
With a starting price of $22,995, the ES comes well-equipped with such features as automatic climate control, six speaker audio system with steering wheel controls, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, power windows with one-touch up and down on the driver's side, heated outside mirrors, remote locking, cruise control, and full safety equipment. While the entry-level ES does not have a rear-view camera, all other Outlanders do.
The focus of this review is an all-wheel-drive SEL, which has a starting price of $26,995. A pre-production model, it had only one option package, a $1,550 suite of safety equipment that includes adaptive cruise control, front collision mitigation, lane departure warning, rain sensing windshield wipers with defrosters, and automatic folding outside mirrors.
Other option groups are available, including a $5,250 Touring package that includes the foregoing plus a power tailgate, premium audio system, motorized glass sunroof, satellite radio, and a navigation system. Blind spot warning is not offered yet, so be sure your outside mirrors are adjusted properly.
Power is delivered by a 166-horsepower four-cylinder engine with 162 lb.-ft. of torque. It's not particularly fast, with a manufacturer's estimate of 0 to 60 mph in about 10 seconds with a full tank of fuel and two passengers. The new Outlander's forte, however, is precise handling and quiet long-distance cruising. For a compact crossover in this price range, it is unusually silent inside with negligible intrusion of road, mechanical, or wind noise.
Interior touches like shiny piano black accents on the designer steering wheel, tasteful trim, and soft-touch surfaces give the Outlander an aura similar to some luxury cars. Unfortunately, the sun visors do not slide on their support rods to adequately block sunlight from the side.
A button on the console can select a choice of four drive modes: eco, normal, snow, and lock. The last is a misnomer because it doesn't lock anything; instead, it recalibrates the all-wheel-drive system to send most of the power to the rear wheels for quicker, more responsive handling around curves. The steering also delivers solid, on-center, straight-line tracking.
As of now, the Outlander is the only compact crossover with seven-passenger seating (Toyota used to offer a third-row seat in its RAV4 but dropped it). Mitsubishi representatives said they expect most owners to leave the third-row seat folded to expand the 10 cubic feet of cargo space to 34 cubic feet. That's prudent, because the third row is rudimentary and a bit difficult to access, and should be reserved for occasional use by agile children. Fortunately, the second row of seats divides 60/40, and slides forward to share knee room between second- and third-row passengers.
The second row also uses a clever system to drop the headrests, flip the seat cushions forward, and flop the seatbacks to provide a flat floor that expands the total cargo area to 63 cubic feet.
Mitsubishi plunged to its lowest point in 2009 with U.S. sales of 53,986, including 15,457 SUVs and crossovers. The 2016 Outlander can adeptly lead the company on a new road out of the forest.
Copyright © 2015 Motor Matters
|Base price||$26,995 (as tested: $29,393)|
|Curb weight||3,494 lbs.|
|Engine type||16-valve SOHC 4-cylinder|
|Epa mileage rating||24 mpg city, 29 mpg highway|
|Fuel capacity||15.8 gal.|
|Horsepower (net)||166 at 6000 rpm|
|Overall length||184.8 in.|
|Torque (lb.-ft.)||162 at 4200 rpm|
|Vehicle type||7-passenger AWD compact CUV|
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