It may be understatement to say that Mitsubishi has had some challenging times lately in the United States. But at the recent media drive for the 2016 Outlander crossover, company vice president Don Swearingen said, “We’ve pulled ourselves out of it and the (new Outlander) is the best product we’ve ever brought to market.”
The company has high hopes for the major revamp of its midsize, seven-passenger crossover vehicle. The Outlander may not be a benchmark vehicle in this hot-selling segment, but the best crossovers were benchmarked by Mitsubishi to cherry pick the best enhancements. The previous-generation model had good bones but lacked refinement. The 2016 corrects those shortcomings and creates, at last, a crossover to challenge the dozen or so choices in this group.
The new Outlander is very recognizable with new sheet metal from the windshield forward, a large-mouth grille, new headlights and more chrome. The rear end was revised with a fresh fascia, LED taillights and more chrome. The interior gets a meatier steering wheel, improved leather, a fabric headliner and fabric-wrapped windshield pillars. The plastic elements are now less plasticky and the wood-grain trim was replaced with piano black and silver. The standard seats have better fabric upholstery and there’s more padding to the armrests. The audio system is more user-friendly with hard buttons (not touchscreen) for tuning and other adjustment while driving. Icons and labeling have been “commonized” for intuitive use.
The back seat has the same basic dimensions — including a comfy 37.3 inches of legroom. And the engineers simplified the seat flip-and-fold process to just three steps.
Perhaps most obvious in the redesign is the better soundproofing and a bigger emphasis on handling and drivability. There are more body reinforcements for a stiff chassis and for flatter handling when exiting corners.
Updates to mitigate noise, vibration and harshness total at least 31 processes, including more sound deadening, an acoustic-laminated windshield, thicker side glass and foam “sponges” to thwart noise passages. Even the door-closing effort and the sound it makes were refined.
“The smallest things add up to the biggest details,” said product planner Bryan Arnett.
The new Outlander is rolling into dealerships now and should be in good supply by the start of August. It is sold in three trim levels with front or all-wheel drive and a four-cylinder or V-6 engine with a continuously variable transmission.
It’s a plus (if not uncommon) that all models of Outlander have the same styling cues, including the chrome accents inside and out. No model has the look of a “price leader.”
Pricing starts at $23,845 for the front-drive ES four-cylinder. That’s $200 less than 2015 and it includes 18-inch alloy wheels (not wheels covers), LED running lights, tilt-telescopic steering wheel, power windows and side mirrors, six-speaker audio system, remote locking, cruise and audio controls on the leather-wrapped steering wheel and all the other updates.
The SE with all-wheel drive — Mitsubishi’s All Wheel Control — starts at $26,845 and the loaded SEL is $27,845. The V-6 GT starts at $31,845 and will go to about $35,000. Pricing includes the $850 freight charge from Japan.
One feature not well promoted is the long warranty: 5-years/60,000-miles bumper to bumper with roadside assistance and 10-years/100,000-miles for powertrain.
The 166-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder has good power and an eager 166 foot-pounds of torque to motivate the reasonable 3,340-pound curb weight. Fuel economy on 87 octane is 25 mpg city, 31 highway and 27 mpg combined and 24/29/26 with AWD.
Mitsubishi positions the GT, with its 224-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6, as the choice for those who will tow — but the 215 foot-pounds torque seemed light in its performance. Its fuel economy ratings are 20/27/33 mpg on premium fuel.
The continuously variable transmission was reworked to reduce power loss between engine and wheels. Mitsubishi claims a 0-62 mph in 10.2 seconds, which is the Japanese engineers’ test with a full tank of gas and two passengers. It is an improvement but still has some CVT “motorboating” and groaning engine noise. The GT gets a six-speed automatic, but it doesn’t translate to driving fun.
Mitsubishi is at work on more technologically advanced engines, such as turbocharging and direct injection, but that’s still a couple of years out.
The company also wants to make advanced safety technologies less expensive. The Safety Package, available on the SEL an GT, is reasonable at $1,500 and includes Forward Collision Mitigation (which will stop the car below 20 mph and greatly reduce impact or avoid collision above 20 mph), adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, power folding side mirrors and front windshield wiper de-icer.
The Outlander is the future of Mitsubishi, said marketing chief Francine Harsini. “It is a watershed moment for the brand and the cars that come after will do that to,” she said. “We can’t just blend in anymore.”
Mark Maynard is online at email@example.com. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage