While Mitsubishi's Outlander got a whole new front-end look for 2010, what it really needed was a remake of its base four-cylinder engine, which is weak and doesn't get good gas mileage, either.
Some problems with a car can be overlooked if there are enough positives to overcome them. The Outlander has its positives, but the four-cylinder engine and transmission drag down the driving experience too much to warrant consideration. Fortunately, the Outlander can have an optional V-6 powertrain that delivers better performance.
I tested a midlevel four-wheel-drive Outlander 2.4 SE with an as-tested price of $27,140.
The 2010 Outlander gets a significantly revised front end that features new headlights and a different grille.
Previous versions of the Outlander had a sleek front end with a grille that wasn't overly large, but the new model draws heavily on the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution high-performance sedan, which features a large, trapezoidal grille. To see what the Outlander looked like before the introduction of the big grille, check out a side-by-side comparison of the 2009 and 2010 models.
The new grille gives the crossover a much bolder appearance — too bold for my taste. It makes the nose of the Outlander look like a giant Dustbuster, and it isn't nearly as well-integrated as the similarly styled one on Mitsubishi's new Outlander Sport. Despite the similar name, that car is a completely different, smaller crossover.
Four-Cylinder Power (Or Lack Thereof)
As mentioned, the Outlander's base powertrain is a letdown. The 168-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder teams with a continuously variable automatic transmission, and the results are uninspiring, to say the least.
The biggest problem with the drivetrain is that acceleration isn't as immediate as you'd expect — or as what you get from the Outlander's competitors. Press the gas pedal when cruising along and you'll get some extra noise, but then it feels like the CVT is slipping and there's no resulting increase in speed. You have to really press down to get appreciable acceleration, and the experience makes the Outlander seem not particularly powerful. By comparison, Nissan's four-cylinder/CVT combination in the Rogue crossover provides much more responsive performance.
The Outlander doesn't have trouble maintaining cruising speeds, but if I were seriously considering one, I'd definitely think hard about spending the extra money for an XLS or GT trim level to get the 230-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission. That combination offers a much better driving experience than the four-cylinder and CVT, though Mitsubishi recommends more expensive premium gas for the V-6. The four-cylinder runs on regular.
The four-cylinder drivetrain also comes up short in the gas mileage battle that's under way in the small-crossover segment. Among non-hybrids, the four-cylinder Chevrolet Equinox is the leader right now, with EPA ratings of up to 22/32 mpg city/highway. By comparison, the four-cylinder Outlander's gas mileage estimates are closer to the bottom of the pack.
|Four-Cylinder Crossover Gas Mileage (city/highway, mpg)|
|All ratings are for automatic-transmission models.|
|2010 Chevrolet Equinox||22/32||20/29|
|2010 Hyundai Tucson||23/31||21/28|
|2010 Toyota RAV4||22/28||21/27|
|2010 Honda CR-V||21/28||21/27|
|2010 Ford Escape||21/28||20/26|
|2010 Nissan Rogue||22/27||21/26|
|2010 Mitsubishi Outlander||21/27||21/25|
|2010 Subaru Forester||--||20/26|
|2010 Volkswagen Tiguan||18/24||18/24|
Ride & Handling
The Outlander's steering response is one of its best attributes. The wheel has a nice weight to it — heavy enough, without being a chore to turn — and the Outlander reacts quickly to steering-wheel adjustments. The overall setup is among the best in the small-crossover segment.
Less appealing is the Outlander's ride quality. The suspension is pretty successful at limiting body roll when cornering, but you pay for it when the road gets rough.
From the driver's seat, it doesn't feel like the suspension provides a whole lot of bump absorption — especially when you hit large ones, which really jostle the cabin — and there's also quite a bit of suspension noise. A little more damping would definitely be appreciated, but the Outlander cruises smoothly on relatively decent roads. In this class, a little extra ride comfort would more than make up for any loss in handling capability.
The crossover's uncluttered dashboard sweeps across the front of the cabin, broken up only by the instrument hood. The dash panels are made of hard plastic, but they have nice graining and don't look the least bit cheap, and everything fits together well. Three large knobs below the audio system control most climate functions; the simple setup works well, but the knobs feel a little low-grade.
It took me a little while to find an agreeable driving position in the manually adjustable front bucket seats (a power driver's seat is optional), but once I did they proved comfortable even on longer drives; I spent six hours on the highway in the Outlander over the course of a day, and I walked away not feeling any worse for wear. The seats in my SE model were finished in mesh fabric and had leather accents.
The Outlander's second-row bench seat is impressively roomy for adults — it's one of the best in the class, rivaling the likes of the Equinox. I had plenty of room to sit back there, and I suspect other taller passengers would, too. In models with the optional third-row seat, which my test car had, the second row slides forward and backward in addition to providing the recline feature that five-seat models have. I had the seat in its rearmost position, which reduced third-row legroom.
The Outlander and Toyota RAV4 are among the few smaller crossovers that offer a third row, and in both models seating capacity increases from five to seven with the extra seat. The Outlander's third row is clearly meant for children, but I suspect some kids will really like riding back there, far away from mom and dad up front.
Compared with most seats, the Outlander's third row is really flimsy-looking. The seat cushion and backrest are very thin, though that means it doesn't take up much space, allowing you to fold it flat into the floor when it's not needed.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Outlander Good overall scores, the highest rating possible, in its frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests. It received an Acceptable rating for its ability to prevent whiplash injuries in rear-end collisions.
Standard safety features include antilock brakes, side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags for the first two rows of seats and an electronic stability system. The curtains aren't designed to protect third-row passengers.
For a full list of safety features, check out the Standard Equipment & Specs page.
Outlander in the Market
The small-crossover segment is one of the most contested corners of the automotive world right now, with new and improved models continuously attempting to one-up each other. Against this kind of field, the four-cylinder Outlander just doesn't have what it takes, though the optional V-6 offers more competitive performance.
While the four-cylinder model does have some good qualities, like nice steering and a large backseat, there's just not enough good stuff here to recommend it ahead of competitors like the Equinox and Rogue, among others. It's time for Mitsubishi to head back to the drawing board and come back with its own world-beater, because the Outlander isn't it.
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