2009 Mitsubishi Outlander SE 4×4 Review
The Mitsubishi Outlander is another entrant in the crowded mid/compact crossover segment that includes competitors such as the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Dodge Journey, Hyundai Santa Fe, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-7, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner, and Subaru Forester, among others. With so many competitors from nearly every mainstream brand, vehicles in this segment need to set themselves apart from the crowd by offering unique features or a better value proposition than other vehicles in the segment. For instance, the RAV4 offers the fastest acceleration with its optional V6 engine, while the Santa Fe, RAV4, Outlander, and Journey are among the few the offer available three-row seating, which is a remarkable option in such a compact vehicle. My job was to figure out what Mitsubishi’s Outlander did better – and worse – than its competition.
Many Mitsubishis have somewhat awkward styling, such as the Endeavor midsize crossover, Raider midsize pickup, and Galant midsize sedan (though that car’s latest styling update helped a little in that regard). However, a few recent products such as the Outlander and Lancer have shown some promise, especially relative to the previous generation of both of those models. The Outlander is probably among the better-looking entrants in its class, with some upscale features such as LED taillights and fairly large 18 inch wheels. The styling is an interesting mix of curves (such as the bulging fenders that overlap into the doors) and hard angles (such as the unique D-pillar treatment, visible on the profile shot). The Outlander is a modern-looking crossover and just kills competitors such as the RAV4 and CR-V in the looks department; it manages to look modern without trying too hard or necessarily eliciting controversy. The front has a traditional upper grille and large lower air intake, bisected by a body-colored bumper. Below the lower air intake, flanked by optional foglamps, is a silver-painted section that adds an interesting detail to a front end shape that would otherwise be somewhat dull-looking. Note also on the profile shot how the bottom of the windows angles upward as the eye moves from the front of the vehicle to the rear, while the top of the windows follows a gentle curve upward to the rear doors, then slopes gently downward until reaching the hard corner at the D-pillar. Overall, the exterior works because the Outlander looks like a more expensive vehicle than it really is.
Inside, at first glance (note I said ‘glance,’ and not ‘contact’), the perception of a somewhat upscale vehicle continues. A large LCD navigation/display screen resides in the middle of the dash, and the electroluminescent gauges are recessed in deep tunnels, with a multi-color LCD information display between them. There were magnesium shift paddles hiding behind the leather-wrapped steering wheel, and cruise control and redundant audio controls on the steering wheel. Although the seats were cloth (actually cloth seating surfaces, with vinyl on the bolsters, which I found to be a somewhat odd look), the Outlander’s low-gloss, well-fitting interior and aforementioned premium features made it look great. However, once you start to touch things, you remember that you’re in a $28,644 Mitsubishi, not a $50,000 Lexus RX. For drivers who only touch the steering wheel and shift knob, the interior is soft-touch, but everything else is plastic that echos when knocking on it. At least it’s low-gloss and well-fitting.
I found interior room to be on par with other offerings in the class, and could find a comfortable position in any of the first two rows. The four-cylinder Outlander SE is available with a $500 third-row seat package (a new option in the four-bangers for 2009), and my test vehicle was equipped with it. This seat was a perfect illustration of offering something for no reason other than to advertise a vehicle as one that can hold seven passengers. Accessto the third row was easy enough, as the second row moved out of the way with no fuss. But once back there, the extremely thin seat proved to be something I wouldn’t want to spend more than 15 minutes riding in, even if I was a pre-teen. As a 6’4″ 34 year old, I held out for about 60 seconds in my driveway before abandoning the experiment. Not only is there practically zero legroom, but the support bar on the lower cushion is separated from a passenger’s rear end by only about a half inch of “padding.” The headrest design – no doubt a nod to space- and cost-saving – is also ridiculous. They are thin, semi-soft plastic and very tall and narrow. When passengers are in the third row, you’re supposed to flip them up, but they do little more than obscure view to the rear.
The upshot of such a lousy, thin third-row seat is that it folds pretty neatly into a small area to improve cargo capacity. Even with the seat open, there was more cargo room than I would have expected; I could fit a week’s worth of groceries for my family of four behind the third row withtout stowing the seat. With the seat folded, the load floor is flat and obviously substantially larger. The rear hatch/tailgate design is pretty slick; the top-hinged hatch covers about 75-80% of the overall cargo opening and it’s usually sufficiently large to load your cargo (yet still not too high from the ground) without the need to open the lower tailgate. However, if you desire a lower loading height or need a tailgate to sit on, the stubby “flap-fold” tailgate slickly opens Transformers-style. I don’t know why Honda and Toyota insist on installing single-piece, side-hinged cargo doors on the CR-V and RAV4, when even a single-piece top-opening hatch would be so much easier to use, particularly when parked on a hill.
The Outlander SE is equipped with a standard 650-watt Rockford Fosgate stereo with nine speakers and a 10″ subwoofer, including Sirius Satellite Radio. Speaking from the perspective of a car guy and not an audiophile, t’s really a pretty good stereo for this level of vehicle. Its power is obviously plentiful, but to my ears, its sound didn’t seem to be as clean or sophisticated as some more expensive stereo offerings. One feature that generated a lot of conversation among my friends was the “Punch Level” setting in the sound settings menu. In addition to the usual bass, treble, balance, and fade, there was a setting to adjust the system’s punch level. Dialing it up to the maximum and adding some volume, I could have easily expedited the date that I’ll finally need a hearing aid. It also would have been pretty easy to annoy fellow drivers and nearby pedestrians with a high “punch” setting and putting my windows down. The punch was so dramatic that I could actually feel the beat coming from door speakers onto my pants legs, as if there were small bursts of wind. It’s too bad I spend most of my drive time listening to comedy talk shows on Sirius-XM.
Along with the audio settings, the navigation/multimedia display also had several other interesting configuration and information options. For example, similar to the fuel-economy graphing capabilities that a Prius has, the Outlander can display a graph of outside temperature over time. The vehicle can also display barometric pressure and its current altitude (the latter thanks to its GPS navigation system). Overall, I’d give its infotainment system a 7.5/10, but it was actually one of the better ones on the market.
The Outlander that I tested was the second of three CVT-equipped vehicles in a row, and a week with it did little to change my dislike of that type of transmission. While it always was in the correct ratio, the perception of sluggish responses was always there. One of the commenters in my editorial, CVTs are Like a Disease, noted that his parents’ Ford Five Hundred’s CVT gave the sensation of having a marshmallow for an accelerator pedal, and that was about right. Putting the transmission into manual mode and using the shift paddles helped the sensation a little bit, but I always detected that the ECU was limiting torque to preserve the CVT until the Outlander was rolling, so quick launches were not an option. Power from the 2.4 liter 168-horsepower four cylinder was almost adequate, but the Outlander clearly would have benefited from the optional 220-horsepower 3.0 liter V6, which still probably would lose a drag race to a RAV4 equipped with its 3.5 liter V6. The other benefit of the V6 is that it comes with a conventional six-speed automatic rather than the CVT. Braking and steering feel are both about on-par for the class.
I observed fuel economy of about 21 mpg during a week with the Outlander. The EPA rates the four cylinder AWD model at 20 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway, and during some steady-speed stretches did see economy in the mid-20s. The V6 AWD model is rated at 17/23. In comparison, the RAV4 AWD V6 is rated at 16/26, so it is one mpg worse in the city but one better on the highway, while having a smoother engine that makes about 100 more horsepower. The four-cylinder 2010 Chevrolet Equinox will have a 30 mpg highway rating, so Mitsubishi needs to step up its fuel-economy game a bit for the Outlander in future model years.
Pricing seemed pretty reasonable for all of this vehicle’s content. The base price of the Outlander SE AWD was $25,895 including destination. Adding the third-row seat ($500), navigation package ($1,999), and Bluetooth ($250) brings the final MSRP to $28,644. According to TrueDelta, when normalizing equipment differences, this is about $2,000 less than a Toyota RAV4.
It’s not hard to see why the Outlander is one of Mitsubishi’s more successful vehicles. It combines good looks, good value, and some nice high-tech features that aren’t available in other vehicles in its price class. I may be too old at age 34 to fully appreciate the Rockford Fosgate stereo, but 650 watts in a $26,000 vehicle seems like a pretty good value to me. Now, if they’d just ditch the CVT, I’d like it even more.