Rotten Rental Car Review: Mitsubishi Outlander

What do you do when you’re in rural New York, have the keys to a brand-new car and a few hours to kill before a wedding? You drive! And then write about it. I’ve got the keys to a 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander ES for the next three days and similar to other posts, I always try to blog about my impressions.
This is actually the second time in the past few years I’ve piloted an Outlander. The first, was a white Outlander Sport that shuttled me all across Utah between five wild, national parks and a massive national monument called Grand Staircase-Escalante. Fancy sounding, right? That white Outlander Sport really impressed me for the ten days I had it. It was essentially everything I need in a vehicle to suit my outdoorsy, adventurous lifestyle I try so hard to live daily. Its all-wheel-drive system was excellent, it was fun to drive, got good gas mileage, wasn’t overly complex with high-tech gadgets and just looked cool. Sure I guess you could call it a cross-over, a word a absolutely cringe at when I hear it spoken, but the Outlander Sport has way more off-road cred than the competition. Not once did it get stuck going through a few muddy stream beds in Capitol Reef National Park, struggle going up the infamous Moki Dugway in a windy thunderstorm or feel out of place when bombing down some bumpy, desolate roads that carved deep into canyon country. But this Outlander I’ve been driving in Fishkill, NY is a complete shift away from the Sport model. It’s not as ‘off-roady’ or adventurous like its little brother, rather more suited for on-pavement daily driving you accomplish in a suburban or urban environment. It’s got three rows instead of two, front-wheel-drive, a sweet infotainment system, a bit more bling and chrome and loads of cargo space with the seats down. It also looks like a more traditional SUV rather than a lifted Lancer (which isn’t a horrible thing.) But let’s get to the basics.

Power comes from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that makes 166 horsepower and 162 lbs-ft of torque. Paired with a CVT (continuously variable transmission) automatic that shifts fine, Upgrade to the GT model and you get a snarly 224, 3.0-liter V6. The Outlander isn’t exactly the most fun SUV unlike its smaller Outlander Sport sibling, but slapping the gearshift over to the right puts it in ‘Sport Mode’ if you’re really craving some spirited driving. I wouldn’t call it a ruthless four-cylinder though. Loaded with five people and a bunch of luggage, the Outlander didn’t hesitate to get up to highway speeds, felt worthy accelerating from a stop and even 55mph passes on the tree-flocked interstate were done with ease. The Outlander isn’t fast but I also don’t feel as if its slow thanks to the Mivec’s peppiness. The EPA rates the Outlander with the four-cylinder and two-wheel-drive at 27mpg combined, 25mpg city and 30mpg on the highway. That’s impressive, because during driving I observed very similar mileage numbers. At 60mph on the interstate with the cruise-control on, the dashboard’s instant fuel economy continued to show 31mpg on our ride from the airport to our hotel. Again, that was with five adults and mulitple suitcases. There’s also an Eco Mode button on the center stack if you want the Outlander to chill even more on the throttle and improve your green driving score, shoot for the stars! (You’ll see what I’m talking about after paging through the vehicle information screens on the infotainment system).
While I wish this seven-seat Outlander had the available all-wheel-drive, this front-wheel version isn’t a complete disappointment. I was lucky to find a few stretches of very curvy roads that carve through some of the lush green hills near Newburgh. Throwing the gearshift into sport mode, the transmission lets you really ring-out the gears, revving high and not shifting into the next gear as you launch your way up and down and around empty two-lane roads. Handling was a positive surprise as the Outlander’s steering felt responsive and fairy tight. There was plenty of feedback in the wheel to fill a gearhead’s missing void of driving a sports car. Truth be told, I actually had some fun driving this SUV. Yes, I just said that. Overall the ride was smooth and the Outlander did feel planted however the occasional pothole bounced the vehicle around a noticeably. Apart from the faint occasional engine noise, the cabin inside was soundly quiet. Visibility was good all around except for looking far over your right or left shoulder towards the back of the car as that rear window is a bit porthole-ish small. A last minor thing I favored when driving around the Outlander was that from a driver’s eye view, it looked like you were driving a bigger SUV rather than a dorky cross-over thanks to the Outlander’s hood stretching tall and away from the front seats. Minor detail yes, but something I do appreciate.
A few years ago when Mitsu completely redesigned the Outlander, the 2014 model had a somewhat awkward, boring and complicated front end. Its grille was just trying too hard and looked chintzy. Now they’ve done it right, with front LED running lights, a healthy dosage of chrome and nice black accents. Overall this 2017, rally red Outlander is a looker. It’s sharp, clean and doesn’t have too many obnoxious design cues throughout. Black plastic paneling lines the wheel wells and rocker panels and classy strips of chrome on each door at knee-level, greet you when approaching either side. I think Mitsubishi just did a thoroughly good job shaping this Outlander’s exterior outfit. I would not be ashamed of backing it into my driveway for the neighborhood to see. The 18-inch, two-tone allow wheels pair perfectly as well. Inside, the cabin is simple, the way I like it. HVAC controls are buttons that respond quickly and are straightforward. Changing the temperature or airflow isn’t a headache. There are plenty of storage compartments and under the armrest is a bin with two USB inputs. The dashboard and front cabin is wrapped in a combination of faux, stitched leather and bits brushed chrome. Shiny gloss black, almost piano-like, accent pieces finish it off. The bigger Outlander seats seven thanks to a petite third-row. I’m a skinny, 6’2 and while I was able to easily climb back into the last row, past the sliding second row seats, knee and head room were tight. So taller folks could sit in the very back, but I’d feel claustrophobic for any drive longer than an hour. With the third-row seats up, trunk space is almost non-existent, but I like how there is a third-row there that you can use if that time comes. Hauling five adults and all of our luggage with the third-row seat down was easy.  Folding all the seats and the Outlander will swallow a generous 63.3 cu-ft of cargo. I could easily throw a kayak in there, a few mountain bikes and all my camping gear. That fold-down process is cumbersome though, as you have to remove the third-row headrests, tumble those seats, and then go around to the second row and perform a multi-step procedure to flip the second row seat cushions up and forward, then the seat backs down flat. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s definently something Mitsubishi could master better. I’d rather pull one or two levers and have the seats all down flat, instantly. In my station wagon, I am constantly folding down all of my seats to transport stuff, if I owned this Outlander I think it’d drive me nuts having to do that process every single time. So please, Mitsubishi, fix this!
The base trim, front-wheel-drive Outlander ES starts at $23,495 while higher-end, fully-loaded, all-wheel-drive GT trims sticker at $31,695. I had the SE model, which for $24,495 comes standard with heated cloth seats, power everything, 18-inch alloy wheels, push-button start, a backup camera, dual-zone climate control, LED running lights, Bluetooth audio and hands-free phone, steering-wheel audio controls and keyless entry. Despite having all these standard features, there are a plethora (I counted thirteen!) of sad-looking, blank buttons, reminding you that you could have paid more for a nicer equipped model with more options. why not just cover up these blank buttons with trim? Come on… This Outlander does have the new Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which effortlessly connects to your smart phone via a USB cable. In essence, it turns the 7-inch, touch-screen display into a smart phone and it’s wonderful. The system is responsive, quick and understands scrolling gestures. Gone are the days of frustratingly attempting to pair a smart phone device with your car’s infotainment system. Just hook up your phone and you’re good to go. Even with my ages old iPhone, I was able to quickly able to bring up all of my music, use Google maps, make calls and view and respond to text messages. It was so, so easy and I’m semi-depressed my 2005 Saab doesn’t have Apple CarPlay. The stock stereo in this trim package needs work though, as it sounds scratchy-lame compared to the optional, 710-watt Rockford-Fosgate premium stereo. There isn’t leather seating, a roof rack or power trunk lid (oh well) and the ES trim level lacks many of the advanced safety features like blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist like you get on the on GT model. But then again, do I really need any of that? Maybe just the roof rack and more bumping audio.
So I loved the Outlander Sport I drove a few years back because of it’s unique appearance, off-road capability, size, simplicity and sportiness. When we picked up the Outlander, I had some pretty high expectations. Now that I’ve had seat time in the more tame, bigger seven-seat model, I’ve been able to experience a different approach to the Outlander family. The pavement-bound Outlander SE I drove is am attractive, practical and comfortable vehicle that  has a few gadgets and gizmos I really love, like the Apple CarPlay. I like that you have the flexibility and convenience of a third-row, even if its tiny. The Outlander is somewhat fun to drive too and gets decent gas mileage. There’s a cavern of cargo space when you make all the rear rows of seats disappear and its climate controls, infotainment system and even cruise control don’t require a Doctorate’s degree to figure out and don’t require you to shield your eyes from the road for too long to adjust one setting. Of course, I’d still rather buy a fully-loaded, smaller Outlander Sport for the sake of my active lifestyle and hobbies, but if and when I have a family with kids and need a vehicle that can reliably make weekly trips to the grocery store, or hardware store, or for morning drop-offs at school, I’d probably consider this bigger, seven-seat Outlander. Similar vehicles like the Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V and Ford’s Escape flood the roads. There are just oo many of them and they’re all particularly boring in my opinion. Plus, Mitsubishi’s ten-year, 100,000 mile powertrain limited warranty is a huge selling point. Hopefully it’s a big enough of a selling point to keep pushing Mitsubishi‘s annual sales numbers higher and higher.
[Image ©2017 Hooniverse/Robby DeGraff]

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3 responses to “Rotten Rental Car Review: Mitsubishi Outlander”

  1. outback_ute Avatar

    I had a 5 seat version as a rental last year and had largely the same experience, although leaving it in normal mode on the transmission meant it was slow to let the engine rev more to get up hills etc in response to increased throttle openings. It would try to rely on the engine’s torque too much.
    Otherwise everything was fine which seems to be Mitsubishi’s mission statement.

  2. nanoop Avatar

    I don’t quite get the complaints about the folding procedure, that looks pretty standard for non-vans to me.
    I also don’t understand the shape of the third row’s headrests.

    1. caltemus Avatar

      Yeah, that seat folding method is par for the course. Gotta get an FCA minivan to get anything slicker.