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2016 Mitsubishi Outlander: First Drive Review

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author photo by Kirk Bell June 2015

When baking a cake, it's important to follow the recipe to a T. If you take it out of the oven too early, leave out an ingredient, or use the wrong temperature, and the dough will remain raw and your confection will be ruined. Well, the same goes for automobiles. If you stop the development process too early or take some shortcuts, the vehicle will turn out raw. This is a lesson that Mitsubishi appears to be learning. After releasing an all-new Outlander in 2013, engineers put their compact crossover back in the oven, making more than 100 changes, and the result is a more fully realized 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander.

Updated Inside and Out

The most obvious updates have been made to the exterior, where chrome trim on the grille and body sides provides a more premium appearance. The top-line GT model also adds LED headlights and new power-folding side mirrors.

The changes to the interior are more significant. The steering wheel gets piano black accents and higher quality stitching. The trim changes from a faux wood to attractive piano black plastic, and contrast stitching is now found on the cloth seats and the cover of the instrument panel. More padding has also been added to the center console armrest to improve elbow comfort, and the headliner is a higher quality material.

Mitsubishi has also made 31 enhancements to limit noise, vibration and harshness. The windshield is now acoustic glass, and the rear-door glass is thicker. All four doors get damping sheets, and additional sponges are found in the door jambs. The floor adds insulation, sound deadener has been added throughout the vehicle, and fender insulators now limit road noise.

The result of all this work is a much more pleasant environment that is competitive in the compact SUV class. The materials feel substantial, noise levels are noticeably lower, and the signs of cost-cutting found in the 2014-2015 models are kept to a minimum.

Room for the Family and Their Stuff

The Outlander is unique among compact crossovers for offering a third-row seat that allows for 7-passenger capacity. However, Mitsubishi admits that the 2-passenger third row is really "emergency seating," as the space is only fit for kids. The second row is much roomier, but the seats are still too flat to offer long-trip comfort.

The third-row seat folds flat in a 50/50 split by taking out the headrests and pulling a pair of levers, but the second row is rather complicated to fold. It's a 3-step process to fold each side of the 60/40-split seat, involving a strap for each step. The good news is that the headrests don't have to come out, which is an improvement over last year. With the third row folded, the Outlander has 34.2 cu ft. of cargo space, and that expands to 63.3 cu ft. with all rows folded, both of which are competitive numbers.

Controlled Handling

Mitsubishi has also improved the structure itself. Engineers reinforced the front crossmember and added bracing in key areas to make the vehicle more rigid and improve steering response. They also chose firmer tuning for the shocks and springs to quicken responses without giving up too much ride quality. Those changes have worked, as the 2016 Outlander exhibits competent body control through corners and delivers a comfortable ride. Steering is predictable, with good straight-line stability, but little road feel.

Two Favors of Limited Power

The Outlander's two engines carry over for 2016. The base engine is a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that produces 166 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque. It's mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission that is updated to provide faster acceleration and respond quicker to throttle inputs. Unfortunately, even with the changes, the 2.4 delivers lethargic acceleration. Mitsubishi says the 0 to 60 miles per hour time is improved by a whole second thanks to the updated transmission, but that sprint still requires 10 seconds. At least fuel economy is thrifty. The Environmental Protection Agency's fuel economy estimates are 25 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway with front-wheel drive, and 24 mpg city/29 mpg hwy with all-wheel drive.

Buyers who choose the GT model will get a 3.0-liter V6 that makes 224 hp and 215 lb-ft of torque. It only comes with a traditional 6-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, and carries EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings of 20 mpg city/28 mpg hwy. Zero to 60 mph is likely around 8 or 9 seconds, which makes it competitive with the fours from most rivals. We prefer more power from our V6s.

Bottom Line

The updated 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander is a much better vehicle than its shortchanged predecessor. Interior quality and driving dynamics are now competitive in the hard-fought compact crossover class, but engine performance is still lacking, even for the V6. Combined with reasonable pricing, we can now see a reason to consider the Outlander. We can't say the same for the 2014-2015 models. Obviously, the Outlander needed another two years to fully bake.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Mitsubishi Outlander: First Drive Review - Autotrader