The first time we drove a Mitsubishi Outlander, about 12 years ago, we were hooked. In those days, most compact sport-utility vehicles should have been equipped with coffeemakers so their drivers didn’t succumb to sheer boredom. The nimble, fun-to-drive Outlander stood in sharp contrast to the competition.
Yet it wasn’t enough to bring Mitsubishi into the upper echelons of automakers in the North American market. Indeed, Mitsubishi has dropped several models in recent years and currently offers just four – the subcompact Mirage; the compact Lancer; two versions of the Outlander; and an all-electric hatchback called the i-MiEV that barely registers on Mitsubishi’s balance sheet.
The Outlander, now in its third generation, remains one of Mitsubishi’s most successful projects. This year, the five-passenger Outlander Sport is holding its own, with 20,736 units sold. Sales of the bigger Outlander, with seating for seven, have increased from 9,225 through July 2015 to 15,428 so far this year. Those aren’t Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V sales numbers, but they do place Mitsubishi in the enviable position of watching its most profitable models outsell the cheaper vehicles.
That isn’t to say the Outlander is a budget-buster. Our fully equipped, V-6-powered Outlander GT with what Mitsubishi calls “Super All-Wheel Control” had a sticker price of $35,195, but a base model – with a 4-cylinder engine, continuously variable transmission and front-wheel drive – lists for about $23,000.
The Outlander still delivers competent handling, but the competition caught up long ago. This model remains attractive because it’s more off-road-capable than most “CUVs” – crossover utility vehicles – thanks to its high ground clearance of 8.5 inches, and selectable all-wheel-drive control. Careful shoppers may also notice it has standard features that may be optional on competing models. The third seat, not available on some compact and midsize CUVs, may also appeal to some, though it’s of little use to adults.
We found the Outlander enjoyable, though not exhilarating, to drive. It’s quieter than previous versions, but with road noise still noticeable. The car’s radio, optional navigation system and other infotainment features were easy to use, though the print tended to be small across the dashboard. The front and second-row seats are roomy and supportive. Unlike earlier Outlanders, the fabrics and plastics seem to be of high quality; only the decking material behind the third seat felt flimsy.
The manufacturer recommends the use of premium gasoline, a mark against the Outlander because premium is running 30 to 40 cents per gallon more than regular these days. With the V-6 engine and all-wheel drive, the Outlander is rated at 20 mpg city/27 highway.
Our Rally Red test car had a $3,500 option package that included a lane-departure warning, but not blind-spot monitors. (They’re unavailable on all Outlander models.)
On the plus side, the Outlander has big exterior mirrors and decent visibility out the quarters. And the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the 2016 Outlander a Top Safety Pick.
Steven Macoy (email@example.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
2016 Mitsubishi Outlander 3.0 GT
Engine: 3.0-liter V-6, 224 horsepower, 215 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic
Drive: Super All-Wheel Control
Weight: 3,593 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 18×7-in. alloy
Tires: P225/55R18 all-season
Ground clearance: 8.5 in.
Seating capacity: 7
Luggage capacity: 10.3 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 61 cu. ft.
Towing capacity: 3,500 lb.
Fuel capacity: 15.8 gallons
Fuel economy: 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway
Fuel type: premium unleaded gasoline (recommended)