Mitsubishi is the quiet company in the U.S. auto market; we hardly hear a peep out of the Japanese vehicle maker. Its lineup is compact and advertising minimal.
But the star of its lineup for several years has been the Outlander, a competent crossover with available AWD and a standard third row seat. That’s certainly something to tout to families looking for inexpensive wheels and the ability to carry 7 passengers.
This is a high value vehicle with handsome, if understated, looks and just enough of everything to make it a pleasant choice for a young and growing family. Plus, the base Outlander ES starts at just a smidge under $25,000.
For 2018 Outlander adds a number of attractive features at that bargain price. There’s a new 7-inch radio/info screen mid-dash, plus rearview camera, dual zone climate controls, heated side mirrors and Bluetooth. Much more can be added, for modest cost, but this is a healthy start. Plus 4-wheel-drive (Mitsubishi calls it Super All-Wheel Control) can be added to any model for $2,000.
All the basics are fine here too. For power all but the top-end GT model feature a 2.4-liter MIVEC 4-cylinder engine that creates 166 horsepower and a torque rating of 162. That’s not racy by any means, but sufficient for everyday driving.
That engine is linked to a CVT automatic. Some continuously variable transmissions feel clunky, but this one is smooth and efficient and helps the Outlander get good gas mileage. That’s becoming important again as we’re at roughly $3 a gallon for regular fuel.
No speed demon, the Outlander gets off the line fairly well, then acceleration lags between 20 and 40 mph. After that, it’s fine and on a trip to Indianapolis and back the Outlander cruised the highway with ease. I also got 30.1 mpg in about 90% highway driving with two of us and luggage aboard. The EPA rates this model at 24 mpg city and 29 mpg highway.
Handling is a strong point with a light steering feel, but precise enough to put minivans and larger SUVs to shame. The Outlander corners well on the highway and felt nimble while not being pushed around by strong winds.
Ride is fairly stiff in the city where cement streets offer a lot of expansion joints and potholes, but on the highway it was calm and comfortable. Outlander rides on a 105.1-inch wheelbase, just short of what I consider the minimum wheelbase for overall ride comfort, 106 inches. Still, with several people aboard the tested Outlander, which ran on 18-inch tires, is a comfortable highway cruiser with a fairly quiet interior.
Braking is fine and there’s stability and traction control standard. The tested SEL also came with S-AWC the on-demand AWD system Mitsubishi offers. A dial on the console sets it to normal, snow, off-road settings and allows customization too. It’s as easy as turning the knob to engage.
Inside, the SEL features leather seats and this is just one level down from the premium GT model that packs a 224-horse 3.0-liter V6. My test vehicle was a dark metallic blue (Cosmic Blue) with a black over tan interior with perforated tan leather seats. There’s black fake wood trim mid-dash and a tan roof liner overhead, while the wheel is leather with a black hub. The console and center stack trim is black gloss.
Seats are nicely contoured and comfy, better than some I’ve suffered through on pricier cars. Heated front seats are standard on the SEL too as is an 8-way power seat for the driver, but there’s no lumbar adjustment. The front passenger’s seat is manually adjusted. Second row seats offer plenty of leg and headroom, while that third row is snug for all but small kids.
The rear seat easily folds flat and the second row seats use straps that are pulled to spring the bottom cushions forward and allow the seat backs to fold down to extend cargo room. It’s easy enough and works, but the mechanism feels inexpensive and flimsy. In back there’s also a power hatch that is standard on the SEL.
Outlander’s dash is well laid out and easy to see and use. That 7-inch touchscreen is just the right size for this vehicle and was simple to figure out. Sadly it has no navigation system, but did include satellite radio and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay systems, along with a couple USB ports below it.
The test vehicle added the SEL Touring package for $3,000, but it’s also a strong value, including a sunroof and shade, LED headlights and fog lights, a heated steering wheel, multiple-view backup camera, upgraded Rockford Fosgate premium audio system with 9 speakers, plus automatic high beam headlights.
In addition to the standard rearview camera and blind-spot warning system the package added several key safety features, including forward collision mitigation that warns of possible front-end collisions, lane departure warning (which can be turned off) and smart cruise control.
The only other addition was carpeted floor mats for $125.
I liked this interior, which looks a bit more basic than many, but that made it simpler to use, so more functional. Sadly the sun visors don’t slide, and the fuel door release lever is black and hard to see next to the driver’s seat. It needs a white fuel logo atop it. Yet the power side mirrors fold flat when the crossover’s ignition is off and there’s push-button start and an inside hatch release.
The steering wheel is a manual tilt/telescope model with the usual phone and radio volume controls on the hub, along with controls for the smart cruise system.
Pricing for the tested SEL model starts at $28,935, including delivery, and with the options it ended up at $32,080. That’s more than $3,000 below the average new car price and much less than the average SUV. There are five trim levels overall and even the top-end GT starts at roughly $33 grand, so value runs the line’s gamut.
For folks looking for a hybrid, Mitsubishi is launching its PHEV model that will come in SEL and GT trim, starting at $35,865 and $41,565, respectively. While the cost is more, remember that you’ll be getting much better gas mileage over the vehicle’s life.
So while Mitsubishi is quiet about its lineup, you could be cheering it’s economy and value. Outlander is raising the bar for entry-level crossovers where value and helpful features, not fluff, are selling points.
FAST STATS: 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL S-AWC
Hits: Easy handling, on-demand AWD, good gas mileage and offers a third row seat. Comfy seats, power hatch, sunroof, heated seats and steering wheel, plus blind-spot warning, rearview camera, and other safety upgrades.
Misses: Lacks power in midrange 20-40 mph, fairly stiff ride, no navigation system and sun visors don’t slide.
Made in: Okazaki, Japan
Engine: 2.4-liter MIVEC 4-cylinder, 166 hp
Weight: 3,527 lbs.
Length: 184.8 in.
Wheelbase: 105.1 in.
MPG: 30.1 (tested/mostly highway)
Base Price: $28,935 (includes delivery)
SEL Touring package (forward collision mitigation, lane departure warning, smart cruise control, auto. high beam, power sunroof & shade, Rockford Fosgate premium audio w/9 speakers, multiview camera, LED headlights & fog lights, heated steering wheel), $3,000
Carpeted floor mats, $125
Test vehicle: $32,080
Sources: Mitsubishi, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage