Brand recognition is a big thing at the moment. Being able to say, “I drive a Mercedes-Benz” is a large part of why Mercedes recently has the baby A-Class. Then there’s the need for every hip, “I’m definitely keeping up with the times” individual to have a Tesla – views on efficiency and the Earth be damned. There are consumers out there, though, that don’t really care about the logo at the front of their vehicle. Instead, they care about substance. For those people, the 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander is all you could ever need.
Mitsubishi’s been busy of late. The Japanese automaker that has continuously been overshadowed by rivals Honda, Nissan, and Toyota is desperately trying to ditch its rallying history behind. Once a cornerstone for Mitsubishi, as the automaker won 34 world rallies, the rallying heritage now takes a back seat to more ordinary hallmarks. Value, features, and accessibility are new priorities. So are SUVs.
Take a look at Mitsubishi’s lineup and the automaker has just six vehicles. Of those, four are SUVs. The Outlander is one of the oldest and the largest, boasting seating for up to seven as standard. It’s also one of the few seven-passenger vehicles that’s available with a plug-in hybrid powertrain.
Call it a sign of the times or a major fork in Mitsubishi’s path, but the brand’s heading in a new direction. The main question with the Outlander is: how many compromises are you willing to make?
The Outlander may be old, especially on today’s congested eight-lane highways that are filled with SUVs and crossovers, but Mitsubishi has given the model some slight tweaks for the 2019 model year. There’s new styling at the front and 18-inch wheels that have a new design. Subtle changes don’t really help the Outlander look that different from the SUV that came out in 2016, but at least it’s something.
The most defining feature on the SUV is Mitsubishi’s “Dynamic Shield” that just might be as polarizing as Lexus’ spindle grille. It juts out, similar to a pouting child, and has enough chrome to make full-size pickup truck owners envious. It’s definitely a hate-it-or-love-it kind of design at the front, while the rear end is as plain Jane as can be. It’s an odd exercise in styling that doesn’t really come off as cohesive.
The Outlander SEL 2.4 S-AWC, which is not the range-topping model, we tested came with an impressive amount of equipment as standard. Heated side-view mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, 18-inch two-tone wheels, automatic headlights, fog lights, and silver roof rails are standard. The available SEL Touring Package brought LED headlights, LED fog lights, a sunroof, and automatic high beam assist.
The main selling point with the Outlander is the standard seven-passenger layout. Getting the obvious out of the way first, the Outlander’s third row isn’t comfortable for adults and might even be tight for kids. But it’s there and it doesn’t cost extra, which is a big bonus if you’re shopping for a three-row SUV.
Since the 2016 refresh, the Outlander has always offered a third row as standard, so that’s not entirely new. New items for 2019 include more supportive front seats, rear-seat climate-control vents, an electric parking brake, and illuminated window controls. Just like the exterior changes, they don’t drastically change the look of the SUV, but help keep things fresh.
Call it what you want, unsatisfactory, uneventful, or uninspiring, but the Outlander’s cabin clearly prioritizes comfort and ease of use over being attractive. Quality isn’t exactly terrible, but isn’t stellar, and neither is the design. Everything’s black and it’s a bit of a drag. The only pop of color comes from the fake carbon fiber trim piece, which is as out of place as a vegan at a crab festival.
Boring? Absolutely, but it’s quiet, comfortable, and, if you stick to the front two rows, spacious. Fold the third row down, and you even get a decent amount of cargo space for a compact SUV. The good thing about playing it safe, is that there’s nothing that will really let you down in other aspects. Mitsubishi made sure to get the major things right and the majority of it works.
The only major issue I had with the Outlander was the infotainment system and the placement of buttons. The infotainment system itself is a mess. It’s slow, clunky, unintuitive, and extremely frustrating to use. Thank goodness Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available, because using Mitsubishi’s system is torture. Whatever Mitsubishi charges for smartphone integration is worth it. Drop the money and don’t look back.
The second issue, and this is a minor one, is the layout of the buttons. The Outlander might be a compact SUV, but it’s not the easiest to see out of. So when I was parking it in my apartment complex’s tiny garage, I relied heavily on the available multi-view camera system. Unfortunately, the button to access the camera is a tiny little thing on the left side of the steering wheel. But the main control to navigate the instrument cluster is a massive button that’s on the left side of the dashboard.
It’s not just those two buttons, but the controls for the heated seats, which are recessed deep back in the transmission tunnel, and the “Eco Mode” button that’s oddly placed on the center console. Reorganizing a few of these buttons would make life a lot easier in the Outlander.
Our tester came with a 7-inch touchscreen, a nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate system (it bumps with the right music), an auto-dimming rearview mirror, leather seats, a heated steering wheel, and eight-way power front seats.
The Outlander’s major shortcomings can be found in the SUV’s powertrain. The SEL 2.4 S-AWC has a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that makes 166 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is the only gearbox of choice for the four-cylinder. While unflattering, this is the configuration that a lot of Outlanders have. A 3.0-liter V6 is available, and that comes with a six-speed automatic transmission. Without driving the V6, I can confidently say that it’s the engine you should get.
There are a few issues with the Outlander’s base powertrain. For one, it’s down on power. It may be a compact SUV, but the Outlander’s performance is well off of the mark. Then there’s the CVT, which oddly lurches right before an upshift. The swell mimics a turbocharger coming on boost, except it’s sporadic and unnerving. It’s almost as if the engine and the CVT are at odds with each other, never getting on the same page. And when one component finally wins one of the infinite battles, it has no idea what to do with itself.
Ride wise, things are much better. The Outlander is softly spring, much more so than other compact SUVs, which equates to a comfortable ride. There is a lot of body roll and the steering is as lifeless as someone that commutes over 100 miles to work one way. So, all-wheel-drive rally machine this is not.
There was nothing but clear skies during our time with the SUV, so we weren’t able to really play with all of the settings. But there are four modes to choose from, including AWC ECO, Normal, Snow, and Lock. We kept the Outlander in AWC ECO for the majority of the time, which only shuffles power to the front wheels. It felt fine, and I have no doubt that the Outlander would be able to traverse light snow or a dirt road with ease.
The Outlander’s powertrain is one of the major weak points of the SUV. Its not like fuel economy is that good, either, as the EPA rates the SUV to get up to 25 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. For the majority of people, it’s fine. But there are numerous options out there that have better performance, efficiency, and composure.
The popularity of an automaker ebbs and grows, similar to the rising tide. Mitsubishi’s last high fizzled out a long-time ago, when the automaker’s iconic Lancer Evolution still played a prominent role in the “Fast & Furious” franchise and the brand turned its back on its rally heritage. After that, came the dark times.
If you go off of the brand’s sales numbers, it looks like SUVs are bringing the automaker back into the limelight. Sales in March 2019 were up 36.9 percent from last year, which is an impressive feat. Sure the figures don’t get close to what Toyota or Honda put up, but a win is a win. So based on that, SUVs like the Outlander are helping push Mitsubishi to a temperature where the ice is just starting to melt.
And I can see why the Outlander is the brand’s most popular vehicle. It ticks off a lot of boxes the average consumer wants. A good audio system, great features, affordable pricing, a lengthy warranty, a spacious cabin (with seven seats), and a comfortable ride, the Outlander gets the major stuff right.
If you’re willing to overlook some glaring issues here and some minor setbacks there, the Outlander is a decent option in a crowded segment and it even has a trick up its sleeve with an extra row of seats. Whether it’s worth the sacrifice is something you’ll have to decide for yourself, but for $33,620, there’s a lot to like.