There was a time, not too far back, when the Mitsubishi Outlander had a certain too-cool-for-school aura. It was so little-known that, like some exotic species, it stood out in the vast herds of mid-size, me-too crossover sport-utes from Detroit, Japan and Korea. It also drove well enough, performed its duties capably enough and was priced reasonably enough that its owners paid no penalties for being different.
But lately the Outlander’s many competitors have improved sharply, in performance and features, while it has not. Yes, the Outlander was revamped for 2014, but not hugely, and the updates for 2015 are just a few minor tweaks to the styling and the options menu.
This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with the new Outlander, particularly the top-line 3.0 GT S-AWC with the V-6 engine and all-wheel drive (which Mitsubishi rebrands as “Super All Wheel Control,” hence the “S-AWC” in the trim name). On the other hand, 224 horsepower and 215 torques ceased being remarkable long ago, even in the lower half of the family-ute class, and what’s noteworthy these days about a six-speed automatic transmission with shift paddles on the steering wheel? Or a backup camera, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure alerts and a front collision sensor with automatic braking? (What, no blind-spot monitors?) How about a drive-mode selector that lets us choose between Normal, Eco and Snow settings? Been there, done that. Boy, are we spoiled. Even the Outlander GT’s 20/28/23 city/highway/overall MPG ratings don’t raise an eyebrow any more.
If you’re just looking for a family wagon that sits SUV-upright and can haul five people, two little kids and some groceries in comfort, the Outlander ES or SE variants might be of interest. They have four-cylinder engines mated to continuously variable automatic (CVT) transmissions. The ES is front-wheel-drive only and should deliver 28 miles per gallon overall; AWD is an option on the SE, but this cuts the fuel efficiency to around 26 MPG overall. Sticker prices start at $24,000 and $25,000, respectively, and with a very free hand on the order form can climb into the upper thirties. Don’t go there. And since even a FWD-only Outlander weighs about 5,000 pounds, don’t expect much acceleration from just 166 horsepower, either.
The price of our 3.0 GT started at about $29,000 and topped out at $35,145 with the $6,100 GT Touring Package: a satnav system on a seven-inch touch screen, Bluetooth, a pushbutton tilt-and-slide sun roof, roof rails, leather seats and a power-operated liftgate, along with the features mentioned earlier—plus a Rockford Fosgate stereo with a big subwoofer and nine speakers that can push out 710 watts of sound. (This might be the Outlander’s claim to fame.) Again, go crazy with the special packages, floor mats and mud guards, and you’re looking at 40 grand.
That’s steep for a vehicle that simply doesn’t stand out in any meaningful way. Inside and out, the Outlander is functional but not pretty; it doesn’t turn heads or prompt questions from the sidewalk. The V-6 moans like a Hoover and the transmission sometimes wanders while shifting, but the vehicle handles predictably, rides easily, cruises in reasonable quiet, and puts no undue burdens on anyone in the first two rows of seats.
Mitsubishi has struggled for years to stay vital in the US market. I once suggested to a rep that that the answer to the company’s prayers might be a really badass sports car named the Zero, but he just looked blank. Too young, I guess. But, Pearl Harbor aside, that’s really it—Mitsubishi wants a breakout model that grabs our attention. Slide a high-torque gas-electric powertrain underneath an alloy Outlander body that’s been to the gym, dress up the interior with cool shapes, materials and toys, and roll it out the door at an everyday price, and watch our pulse rates climb.
It could happen. Elsewhere in the world, Mitsubishi has just begun offering a plug-in hybrid Outlander that’s alleged to be the most efficient SUV on the planet. That’s exactly what Mitsubishi needs: a vehicle where the word “most” applies to something other than the stereo output.
2015 Mitsubishi Outlander
Base Price: $23,195 (ES 2WD)
Price As Tested: $35,145
- Driving position
- Roomy front cabin
- Sound system rocks
- Sometimes-sloppy transmission
- Engine noise
- Tepid personality