What Is It?

Mitsubishi is the perpetual underdog, scrapping and nipping at the hubcaps of the big players like a hyperactive automotive corporate schnauzer. It has to be that way: annual sales in fiscal year 2014 were a measly 81,593, downright dinky compared to ToyotaGMFord and the other automotive juggernauts. And its model line is missing most of the components of its competitors: the full-size Montero SUV is long gone, the Evo goes away at the end of this year, and it can’t seem to strike a deal with a partner to replace the long-gone Galant and soon-to-be-gone Lancer sedans (a promising sedan deal with Renault fell through last year and there’s nothing new yet).

Thus Mitsubishi really has to make the most of the vehicles it has left. Hence, two years into the model cycle of the Outlander CUV, Mitsubishi has slapped over 100 “new enhancements” and “close to 300” new part numbers on this 2016 Outlander. Those range from all-new sheet metal from the A-pillar forward to better sound insulation throughout and improvements to the four-banger’s CVT transmission.

Power still comes from your choice of a 166-hp 2.4-liter four or 224-hp 3.0-liter V6 driving the front two or all four wheels. The four-banger gets a newly refined CVT transmission while the six sticks with a six-speed automatic. 

What’s It Like To Drive?

Mitsubishi hired JDPower to come up with a list of things to improve on this new model and proceeded to go through it with the proverbial fine-tooth comb. Engineers changed everything from adding 1.5 inches more clearance to the rear hatch height to adding more infotainment buttons in place of flat screen controls. The latter we liked. We drove a 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander and a couple of the refreshed 2016s back-to-back just so we could tell the difference between old and new. The new model is, in fact, noticeably quieter and smoother than the old one. We didn’t measure sound with a decibel meter, but reductions in both road noise and wind noise were apparent. 

Our first drive was in a 2016 V6 model in GT trim and an S-AWC drivetrain. First thing we noticed was an odd but subtle porpoising over some pavement undulations. But that sort of went away, or maybe we got used to it. There was some body roll but you expect that in a crossover.  Then you notice how quiet it is; not a lot of wind or road noise got into the cabin and to our delicate ears. Mitsubishi spent a lot of time working on functions as miniscule as doors closing with solidity and sureness. So we opened and closed several doors several times and found ourselves content with that function. Mitsubishi was also proud of improvements to its second-row flip-fold seats. So we flipped and folded them several times – you pull three straps and voila, as they say in Japan. The seat bottom cushion does sort of flail about but the rest of the process is good and was, indeed, better than the same function on the 2015. The “emergency” third-row seat was likewise easy to fold, stow and even sit in, albeit for not very long.

Our second drive was in a 2016 with the 2.4 and the CVT. We came to the conclusion that we’d get this model if we were in a buyin’ mood. Who needs the V6’s 224 hp? We were pretty much happy with the four’s 166 and the powertrain was so unobtrusive we didn’t even notice it was a small-displacement four mated to a CVT...until we downshifted. Then the revs held at a higher speed for a little longer and we remembered. Most of the time in regular old city and suburban driving you won’t notice it. You have to really push it for its CVTness to come out. Mitsubishi calls it a CVT-8 because it is supposed to have eight fake steps in the shifting algorithm but you wouldn’t notice them unless you knew to anticipate them. For the mundane duties thrust upon most CUVs, you might as well have this CVT with its slightly improved gas mileage (27 EPA combined) and quit whining about it not being an automatic. Mitsubishi lists a 0-62 time of 10.2 seconds and points out that improvements in the trans efficiency of 26 percent account for that acceleration figure. The 2015 model got to 62 mph in 11.2 seconds.

Do I Want It?

You want to compare the Outlander to crossover utilities like the Honda CR-VToyota RAV4 and Ford Escape, among others. Line up the standard features and option packages of those and the other bazillion CUVs on the market and you may find that the Outlander offers more stuff for the dollar. Prices start at $23,845 for a FWD ES four-cylinder but, Mitsu points out, even that model gets 18-inch alloys. However, prices for the RAV4, CRV and Escape all start right around there, too. The difference is in how you juggle features-per-dollar, and that’s a lot of juggling.

Mitsu does offer that limited 10-year powertrain warranty, which the others don’t. There are many factors on the price list, though, and you have to consider all of them. You can load your way up to a V6-powered AWD model for over 34 grand but, as we found on a day’s drive, we liked that front-drive four-cylinder best, especially for the price. 

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