Here’s something you might not know. Mitsubishi, the Asian automaker formerly of Eclipse and Montero fame is still around. Is the company poised to become relevant again after coasting through its meager existence for some time now?
While rivals like Isuzu, Suzuki and Daewoo have been sucked into the automotive singularity, Mitsubishi has been consumed by the Renault/Peugeot/Nissan Alliance. That’s right, Mitsubishi will be working with Mercedes, just like the Renault/Nissan folks are for future projects. But that’s future stuff, what’s Mitsubishi doing right now?
Well, after spending some time in the latest Outlander SEL compact crossover — one of just four remaining Mitsubishi models in the U.S. market — I have to say I found myself comfortable but longing for change.
The Outlander is the largest “compact” crossover Mitsubishi sells stateside. The vehicle is 185 inches long, which is similar to the Chevy Equinox albeit with a shorter wheelbase at 105 inches.
Power comes from a 2.4-liter inline four making 166 hp. Paired with a CVT transmission, EPA mileage ratings are 24/29/26 mpg. The real-world average for my week with the car was 27 mpg, admirable.
You’ll notice that power output number is pretty modest, and the Outlander drives it. The car cruises just fine but as soon as you move to merge, pass or the incline ticks up the car feels strained. It whines for mercy and several times my wife jokes that I might need to “Flinstone the thing.” Aside from lacking power, there is a balance between ride comfort and handling that should please most people. Mitsubishi’s S-AWC three-mode all-wheel control (Mitsubishi terminology for AWD) with normal, snow and sport modes was onboard my tester, but I didn’t get any gnarly weather to check its chops.
Inside the cabin, you find a surprisingly comfortable set of powered front seats (SEL trim) and a roomy second-row layout that splits, slides and reclines separately. Behind that is an almost comically tiny third-row seating design that also folds out of the way, unless you’re packing in several very small children that third row will spend 90% of its time folded down for storage space.
Looking at the spec list for the car does cause some initial excitement, but a great deal of that drains immediately out of your right foot when you find the gas pedal.
Mitsubishi has provided a good number of creature comforts in the Outlander. Heated leather seats, heated leather steering wheel, Apple and Android Auto compatibility, passive access and push-button start, dual-zone auto-climate, selectable all-wheel drive, power liftgate, blind-spot detection, cross traffic alerts, and lane-change assist all come standard on the SEL level for under $29,000. Almost more impressive is that at the base price of $24k you get goodies like rain-sensing wipers, halogen lighting, rear privacy glass, 18-inch alloy wheels, heated and power-folding side mirrors as well as a new 7-inch touchscreen. The creature comforts almost make up for the painfully sluggish drivetrain.
Perched inside the Outlander you are rewarded with excellent visibility all around. The roof pillars are narrow and the crossover’s styling feels very open. In addition, the selectable-mode camera setup makes checking your corners an absolute breeze.
Steering wheel buttons and physical dash buttons were easily decipherable in the dark but the new touchscreen seems to have interactive touch targets designed for baby fingers. Only when stopped could I competently use the thing without unintended inputs. What the touchscreen does have going for it is crisp graphics.
The Mitsubishi Outlander SEL S-AWC didn’t disappoint, but it certainly didn’t inspire either. Looking at the spec list for the car does cause some initial excitement, but a great deal of that drains immediately out of your right foot when you find the gas pedal. The Outlander has the body, face, and clothes but it just doesn’t have the heart.