Several years ago, John Phillips of Ellsworth chided me for my lukewarm review of the car heavily favored by him and his wife, Jane — a Mitsubishi Outlander. John exhorted that his Outlander was “stone reliable.” He was correct; that generation of Outlander was a stone, and it was reliable, practically the only virtues exhibited at that time.
Now, after over a decade as part of the Nissan/Renault alliance, and after multiple years of declining product offerings in America (not a strong market for the brand) as well as sliding sales levels, Mitsubishi gives us a brand-new Outlander that is longer, wider, smoother and a much more polished stone. The new Outlander could actually be called a little gem.
Basically a Nissan Rogue wearing larger, bolder sheet metal — while installing a third-row seat that fits passengers with virtually no legs — the new Outlander is a broad-stroke reimagination of the brand’s top-selling (and most important) product. It still has a CVT automatic, it still uses a small four-cylinder engine, and it still beats several rivals on fuel economy. The compact crossover’s all-wheel control AWD system ($1,800) lets drivers select from several traction modes, while regular operation is heavily biased to front-wheel-drive efficiency.
Besides the dynamic new face ahead of a broad, flat hoodline that will make you think the Outlander is much larger than it really is, the Mitsubishi has a significantly enhanced interior.
Trim levels start with ES, beginning at $27,290 up to our optioned SEL trim with a sticker of $38,590. While this seems not aligned with our previous images of Mitsubishi as an entry-level automaker with an occasional sports car twist thrown in (think Eclipse, VR-4, Lancer Evo X, and 3000-GT) this Outlander has grasped several pages from the Hyundai playbook and stocked our White Diamond-painted SEL with a host of goodies — the features that buyers clamor for.
Even compact crossover buyers want the goods now, and the Outlander works hard to meet those expectations. Heated steering wheel, rear-door sunshades, heated front and rear semi-aniline leather seating, quilted leather door panels, hands-free power liftgate, giant heads-up display, big Bose speaker system, panoramic sunroof, headlight washers plus a multi-view rear camera — it is all here. Even the current alphabet soup of electronic driving aids is included: BSW, LCA, RCTA, AEB, LDW, LKA, ACC, LDP, TSR and FCA. Work on each of those, there is a test later.
Besides the third row, which might work with the 5-and-under crowd (only VW’s Tiguan is similarly equipped), there are triple climate zones as well as an oversized 12.3-inch driver’s info panel straight ahead with excellent contrast for each panel of info plus any other corresponding data. And the center dash panel, with navigation and Apple/Android functionality, has to be one of the most efficient of the current touchscreens on the market, a simple yet sophisticated Nissan design that features two large knobs and precise touch-buttons. Screen clarity and ease of use are simply top-notch; kudos to some smart engineering.
After many years of 50,000 miles of annual driving, several irrefutable impressions develop. Below 40 degrees or above 70 mph, your fuel economy drops precipitously. At 80 mph on America’s interstates, no matter what the posted speed limit, you are just as likely to be passed as pass anyone else. Prius drivers are not. And not enough cars have adequate sound suppression to stem the onslaught of wind and tire noise at speeds over 65 mph.
Roaming around the hometown created fuel economy of 32.6 mpg in the Outlander — beating its EPA projection of 30-mpg highway. On the actual highway, at the elevated pace necessary to not get run over by other traffic with a real destination in mind, the Mitsu returned an admirable 26.8 mpg during a long 300-plus-mile run to Massachusetts.
Driving the Outlander is also an upgrade over any previous edition. The ride is well-damped, the handling is secure, the steering feel is composed, and the cabin is quieter than several cars costing more and from brands that should be doing better by now. The 2.5-liter 181-hp engine, right from Nissan, is adequate for 98 percent of driving, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a nice little turbo-motor on the options list. The electric shifter is part of a fad for these devices, as the small ‘Park’ piton will stymie some drivers.
We are several years late, Mr. Phillips, but here is some love for your beloved Outlander. This new one is a good one, and you won’t have to argue with anyone to convince them.
Next week: GMC Canyon AT4