This review is part of a 10-car comparison of compact crossover SUVs. The Mitsubishi Outlander is ranked 6th place of 10.
Today’s consumers can be forgiven if they forget about Mitsubishi. Though it’s still successful globally, the automaker’s American sales have fallen to almost negligible levels and it competes in only a handful of market segments.
And in recent years, it hasn’t often competed all that well, either. When this reviewer spent a week in a then-new 2014 Outlander, it showed itself to be decently roomy and decently fuel-efficient, but slow and noisy; generally cheap and dated-feeling; and overall not much of a class standout. It wasn’t without merits – rare for this size and price point, it fits a third row seat; it also does well in crash tests – but it almost didn’t seem worth including in this comparison. What’s the value in confirming that a slow-selling model that no one’s heard of is indeed worse than its competitors?
Fortunately, this reviewer gave Mitsubishi the benefit of the doubt that a set of 2016 updates really had been more than a fresh face with more chrome. And a test drive revealed that while a number of the Outlander’s flaws remain, it’s a far more credible contender in a tough class than one might expect.
The family-friendliness of a third-row seat and good safety scores are still appealing. Gas mileage is still competitive even with newer models. The driving dynamics have been refined to give the Outlander a more solid, less tinny feel than before. There’s more sound-deadening material, reducing noise levels. The interior quality has seen some upgrades, as has the in-dash technology.
To be clear, the updates don’t transform the Outlander into a class leader. It’s still noisy and slow, it still isn’t especially enjoyable to drive, and it still has various design annoyances. But they do transform the Outlander into a crossover worth considering if you care more about space and value than about luxury or sportiness, as long as you can find it equipped in a way that suits you.
The vehicle reviewed for this comparison – a 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL equipped with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive system, sunroof, power driver’s seat, infotainment screen, and alloy wheels – has a sticker price of $29,745 and has an estimated transaction price of $26,367. That model also comes equipped with various luxury and convenience features that include leather seats (the only way to get power seat adjustments) and a power liftgate (the only way to get a sunroof). The Outlander doesn’t offer blind-spot monitoring at any price. Note that the particular model driven for this review is an SE with cloth seats.
The Outlander is also available with a 3.0-liter V6, and it should not be confused with the smaller, cheaper, cruder Outlander Sport model.
Why to buy it
The main way that the Outlander distinguishes itself from the competition is its third-row seat. Just one other vehicle in this comparison offers one – the Nissan Rogue, which has it as an extra-cost hard-to-find option. Mitsubishi has it as standard equipment. There’s also a clever design that allows the rear cargo mat to stay in place even as you raise the third-row seat, meaning that you can use it without needing to find a place to store the mat, though this does take up some space.
Granted, it’s not a very roomy third-row seat. Even children will be pinched in the far back of the Outlander, and adults can barely wedge themselves into the tight space. There’s also almost no cargo space remaining with the seat in use. Popular larger crossovers like the Honda Pilot and Ford Explorer don’t have much to worry about from Mitsubishi on the versatility front. But those are big, heavy, expensive models; the Outlander is a reasonably priced, maneuverable, fuel-efficient crossover that can carry an extra person or two in an occasional pinch.
Perhaps even more importantly, the Outlander isn’t just a one-trick pony; it’s no longer a generally undesirable car built around handy seven-passenger seating. Even if you’d keep the third-row seat folded at all times, the Mitsubishi isn’t a terrible choice. It has a pleasant interior ambiance, user-friendly controls, plenty of passenger space, a decently composed ride, good mileage, excellent crash-test scores, a fairly low price, and a long warranty. It’s a sensible crossover for someone who puts everyday practicality and value near the top of their priority lists.
And depending on the options you want, you may be able to find the Outlander costing several thousand dollars less than a comparably equipped competitor.
Also, some buyers will like the idea of having a different crossover from all their neighbors. Only 19,000 Outlanders were sold in the U.S. last year, by far the lowest volume of the 10 models in this comparison. Six of the other nine sold at more than 10 times the Outlander’s volume, led by the Honda CR-V at almost 350,000 units.
Why to skip it
The Outlander may be a sensible choice for some buyers, but even so it’s only one of many sensible options – and in a number of ways, it’s not the strongest even for the sort of buyers who’d find it appealing.
First of all, the Mitsubishi’s functionality is compromised by curiously lacking cargo space. The fact that there’s a minimal amount behind the third row is to be expected, but even folding down the middle row yields a maximum of only 63.3 cubic feet. (Cargo space in the most common configuration – third row folded, second row in place – is competitive at 34.2 cubic feet.) The Outlander is even one of the longest vehicles in this class.
Furthermore, the middle row seat is also fussy to fold down despite some 2016-model updates, and it’s even more annoying to put back due to a spring-loaded seat cushion that bounces around. The arrangement at least yields a flat cargo floor, but, again, less space than most competitors. The seat cushion also wobbles when it’s in place.
The Outlander’s value quotient is also compromised, depending on what options you want. As with a few competitors, wanting a sunroof or even a power-adjustable driver’s seat pushes you into a pricey model with loads of options – and a sticker price of nearly $30,000. If you want a good bargain and are particular about the options that you want, the Outlander may not be a good choice for you. It’s still competitive in terms of price even with heated leather seats, a power liftgate, and other goodies added on – but if you weren’t going to buy those, the Outlander becomes a value alternative without a price advantage.
The Outlander’s biggest issue, though, is a factor that would turn off many buyers in the first place: It’s no fun to drive. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine has the least power of the models in this comparison – just 166 horsepower for a fairly heavy vehicle – and even gentle acceleration results in groans of protest. The car isn’t all that slow when you do put your foot all the way to the floor and keep it there; it’s hardly quick, but not trailing every competitor. The issue is just that however you drive it, hard or gently, the engine always sounds like it’s overworked. Mitsubishi has added sound-deadening material for 2016 to quiet down the ride; this is effective when you’re cruising at a steady speed, but the engine cuts through any time you push on the gas.
Handling is also reluctant, without agility or eagerness. The Outlander is maneuverable, with a tight turning radius, but there’s a sense of lethargy to its responses. For a time, this was one of the sportiest crossovers; that changed back in 2014, and the latest updates focused on the ride quality rather than the handling.
Overall, someone who prioritizes driving enjoyment or a sense of luxury would likely choose something quicker, nimbler, and spiffier than the Outlander. And some of the flaws, like the noisy engine, can be hard for anyone to overlook.
If you just love it
If something about the Otulander really resonates with you personally – the way it looks, the design of its cupholder, a particular rare feature, or anything else – just be aware that you don’t have to settle for this level of acceleration and handling in this class, and be sure you’ve practiced folding the rear seat. Otherwise, it’s a generally decent vehicle for the money, if you can find the features you want without paying for ones you don’t.
If you just hate it
If something about the Outlander simply rubs you the wrong way but you do want a car much like this one, the most similar competitor is the Nissan Rogue. It’s another model that prioritizes sensibility over excitement, but it’s better executed overall, with less reluctant acceleration and handling, more cargo space, and class-leading gas mileage. And, as noted, it’s also offered with a third-row seat, the only other car in this comparison to do so. But Mitsubishi undercuts the Rogue’s price depending on the options configuration that you want, especially if you were interested in the Rogue’s extra-cost third row, and beats its safety ratings.
The Subaru Forester is another basic, practical crossover sold at a lower price than most competitors. It’s more pleasant to drive than the Outlander, has plusher seats, has similarly strong safety scores, and gets even better gas mileage. You don’t have the option to save money by getting a two-wheel-drive Subaru, though, and there’s no third-row seat available. The Forester’s dashboard also feels a little more basic than the Mitsubishi’s.
Other solid all-around crossovers are the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4. Both offer outstanding cargo space and well-finished interiors. The Honda is the nicer to drive of the two – the RAV4’s steering and handling isn’t much better than the Mitsubishi’s, though it’s at least quicker and quieter – and it’s also cheaper and more fuel-efficient than the Toyota. The CR-V has frustrating audio controls, though.
Lastly, although it’s not in this comparison, note that another option for cheap seven-passenger seating is the Dodge Journey midsize crossover, which can be purchased cheaply thanks to generous discounts. This aging model has a plush interior and a nice ride, but it handles clumsily and doesn’t get good gas mileage.
The Outlander occupies a middle ground of the crossover class – it’s not threatening the class leaders, but it’s not a dismal choice overall if you prefer it. And its third-row seat, while small, gives it a notable unique advantage.
If you aren’t picky about acceleration, handling, or feature content, it could certainly be worth giving the Outlander a test drive to see if it fits you right, especially given its strong crash-test performance and potentially compelling price tag. But there are a number of likable options that Mitsubishi hasn’t surpassed.
Overall grade: B-
More from this comparison:
– Next review: 2016 Toyota RAV4 XLE (5th place)
– Previous review: 2016 Hyundai Tucson Sport (7th place)
– Rating the 10 compact crossovers – how do they compare in different ways, such as comfort, performance, and fuel economy?
– Ranking the 10 compact crossovers – how do they stack up for different types of buyers?
– Introduction to this comparison
More about the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander:
Gallery of exterior and interior photos
Vehicle base price (MSRP): $23,845
Version tested: SEL S-AWC
Version base price (MSRP): $27,890
Vehicle price as tested (MSRP): $25,340
Vehicle price as comparable (MSRP):* $29,745
Estimated transaction price as comparable:** $26,367
Test vehicle provided by: Fitzgerald Mitsubishi; Annapolis, Md.
Length: 184.8 inches
Width: 71.3 inches
Height: 66.1 inches
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
Weight: 3,494 pounds
Cargo volume behind third-row seat: 10.3 cubic feet
Cargo volume behind middle seat: 34.2 cubic feet
Cargo space, rear seat folded: 63.3 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds
Ground clearance: 8.5 inches
Turning circle: 34.8 feet
Engine (as tested): 2.4-liter I4
– Horsepower: 166
– Torque: 162 pound-feet
Transmission (as tested): CVT automatic
Drive wheels (as tested): All-wheel-drive***
EPA city mileage: 24 miles per gallon
EPA highway mileage: 29 miles per gallon
EPA combined mileage: 26 miles per gallon
Fuel capacity: 16.6 gallons
Assembly location: Japan
For more information: Mitsubishi website
* Prices as comparable reflect vehicles equipped with all-wheel-drive, power-adjustable cloth seats, an infotainment system, a sunroof, automatic climate control, and a blind-spot monitoring system, or the nearest equivalent.
** Estimated transaction prices are based on data from Truecar.com and dealer quotes.
*** The listed specifications reflect the vehicle reviewed with all-wheel-drive. The vehicle driven has front-wheel-drive.