Test Drive: Mitsubishi Outlander can grow on you

The Japanese automaker Mitsubishi has struggled for many years in the U.S. market, but it does fairly well in the crossover-utility segment. Most of its entries have disappeared from the showroom. But still going strong are the Outlander and Outlander Sport — compact CUVs with a few novel twists.

The Outlander badge accounts for almost all of Mitsubishi’s U.S. sales, according to the company’s March 1 sales report. More than 17,000 left the showrooms in January and February, compared with about 3,700 Lancers and Mirages. Overall, Mitsubishi sales — mainly driven by the CUV lines — are up 23.4% for the calendar year.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Limited Edition

The Outlander satisfies two cravings common to U.S. car buyers. First, it’s comparatively inexpensive. Second, it’s likely to be the only one on your block … though we were surprised to find our white 2018 Outlander LE parked right next to a nearly identical Outlander during a visit to family in Nanuet, N.Y.

The base Outlander ES, with front-wheel drive, a 4-cylinder engine and continuously variable automatic transmission, starts at $23,495. Our well-equipped LE, with all-wheel drive, was priced at $29,290 with options and destination/handling fees.

The first Outlander we drove, about 15 years ago, was unique among CUVs and SUVs for its remarkably sharp handling. It was the only vehicle of its type we had test-driven, up to that point, that actually was fun to drive.

Today’s Outlander has a different personality. Taller and heavier than the original model, it felt a little top-heavy, and its ride ranged from firm to harsh. Strangely, however, the Outlander grew on us as the days passed. We came to enjoy its driving dynamics. And we noticed it was solidly built. Wind noise was practically absent.

In addition to its low price, the Outlander stands apart from its competitors in a number of ways. First, its 8.5-inch ground clearance compares with some of the most rugged sport-utility vehicles. Second, its standard third-row seating is unusual in CUVs of this size and price, if not unique. The third row isn’t suitable for adult use, but technically, the Outlander seats seven. (The shorter-bodied Outlander Sport seats five.)

In LE trim, the Outlander comes with a long standard-equipment list reminiscent of Hyundai and Kia models: fog lights, heated exterior mirrors, power glass sunroof, blind-spot and cross-traffic warning systems, rear-view camera, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, roof rack, Apple Carplay and Android Auto compatibility, satellite radio, and steering-wheel audio, phone and voice controls.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Limited Edition

The 166-horsepower engine and CVT transmission deliver 24 mpg city, 29 highway. We split the difference in mostly highway driving. The Outlander GT-3.0 comes with a 224-horsepower V-6 engine and 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, while the PHEV version is a plug-in hybrid capable of running up to 22 miles on battery power alone.

The Outlander received a top five-star rating in government crash tests and has been rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander LE

Price: $29,260

Engine: 2.4-liter inline Four, 166 horsepower, 162 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: continuously variable

Drive: all-wheel

Ground clearance: 8.5 in.

Weight: 3,527 lb.

Suspension: four-wheel independent

Wheels: 18×7 alloy

Tires: 225/55R18 all-season

Seating capacity: 7

Luggage capacity: 10.3 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 63.3 cu. ft.

Maximum towing capacity: 1,500 lb.

Fuel capacity: 15.8 gal.

Fuel economy: 24 mpg city, 29 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

 

Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

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