Reaching New Heights, Literally
Its very easy to feel more important than you actually are while doing this job. It feels pretty cool being picked up at the airport, on time, and taken over to a parking area where people you don’t know have prepared a vehicle for you to test. I couldn’t tell if I was adjusting to the high attitude or my ego was getting inflated. I was excited, and feeling optimistic, to be testing a crossover SUV high-mile country. It was a chilly 7 am morning when I met the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL sitting quietly in a parking storage lot.
I never liked the commercials for the redesigned Mitsubishi Outlander. I got the sense that whomever came up with the concept for them was more marketing wiz than gear-head. In my head, I like to imagine the brainstorming meeting went something like:
“Okay, what if we show the Outlander traveling up a mountain or picking up a heard of kids from school? Really show the diverse capability of this redesigned vehicle.”
– “Eh, sounds like a lot of expensive work. How about this! The commercial opens in total darkness showing only parts of the vehicle.”
“But how will people see-?”
-“Let me finish!…Then the lights turn on and we show a white Outlander parked in front of a white background.”
“…But won’t the body lines get lost in the background?
-” Don’t worry, we’ll hire a bunch of actors in costumes to stand around it.”
“Will the Outlander be moving at all? Or show visual examples of all its new features?”
Which is a shame because I personally like the way the Mitsubishi Outlander SEL looks. It’s handsome without trying too hard. It doesn’t need a glass roof, Tron inspired body lines, or LED sprinkled headlights to grab your attention in a showroom. It looks clean and crisp, for the driver who doesn’t need to prove anything but wants to smile when they see it in their driveway. One thing I noticed while driving around Denver is that it is primarily Subaru territory. I lost count of how many different generations of Outbacks and Imprezas I spotted, but my Mitsubishi Outlander SEL was the only one I saw. That can either be a good or bad thing depending how you look at it. I like to think of it as a good thing in that you’ll never lose it in a crowded parking lot or get it confused with a similar looking model. Driving a car that you don’t commonly see can give the owner a since of originality or exclusivity.
The Mitsubishi Outlander’s size puts it in a grey area between SUV and crossover. It is classified as a crossover but I personally think it relates more to an SUV. Nevertheless, the Outlander does come with third row seating, and both rows do fold down to give you the trunk space of a panel van. Driving it all over town, sitting in rush hour traffic, and going on long distance trips, I can tell you that the seats are pretty comfortable. They won’t rival a Lazy-boy recliner obviously, but you won’t feel exhausted from sitting inside the Outlander for hours on end. It makes for a good long distance hauler with room for 7.
This is the SEL, top of the line trim level, so it came well equipped. I had GPS, satellite radio, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, key-less push button start, lane departure warning, rain sensing wipers, and power folding side mirrors. It even came with a remote tailgate. Two clicks of the button opens the tailgate for you. Useful if you are unable to manually lift it for whatever reason, but annoying if you are perfectly capable of lifting the tailgate and forced to wait because it won’t let you open it on your own. The leather surface seats felt tight as a drum giving it a sporty premium feel. The interior was black so there was nothing too exciting to distract my eyes from the road, which is good. The interior of the Mitsubishi Outlander SEL is a nice, decent, place to sit while traveling.
The Outlander SEL was powered by a 2.4 liter four cylinder engine putting out just 168 hp. That means the Outlander won’t be winning any streetlight drag races. The high attitude didn’t do the Outlander any favors when it came to acceleration. Once it was up to speed it could keep up with traffic no problem but by modern day standards the Outlander’s performance felt a little under powered. There is a 3.0 liter V6 option, with 224 hp, but it is way thirstier. The 2.4 liter I was driving gets 29 mpg in city, 24 mph highway for an average of 26 miles per gallon. I was averaging 18-20 mpg during my week, but I was in high attitude and that affects engine performance.
Mitsubishi gave the Outlander an automatic CVT, which stands for Continuously Variable Transmission. Basically, you don’t feel that subtle jerk when an automatic transmission changes gear. CVT’s are like a single gear transmission which means it’s very smooth and helps regulate fuel economy. It’s nice when you are driving on a canyon road and don’t constantly feel the vehicle moving its gears around as it climbs, turns, and descends. This isn’t a race car so you don’t need to hit every apex with the Outlander, you can just grip the wheel and enjoy the ride. The Outlander comes in various trim levels that range from base to GT to the top of the line SEL. The Outlander starts at $22k, but with the SEL touring package it jumps to $33k.
Off-Road & City
As I mentioned earlier, I took the Mitsubishi Outlander off-road to see how it’s full-time four wheel drive system carried itself when the pavement runs out. On the center console there is a big round button that allows you to select the setting on Mitsubishi’s S-AWC, which stands for Super All-Wheel Control. Little surprised it took a team of people to come up with that name, but I digress. You can select between Snow, Gravel, Tarmac, and Mitsubishi claims that S-AWC helps elevated drive-power, cornering ability, and vehicle ability.
I was a little nervous at first because the Outlander doesn’t give off that rugged vibe like other vehicles with off-roading pedigree do. I drove it off-road and up a mountain without getting stuck, damaging it, or struggling. The only trouble I had was with its all season tires which would sometimes slip on the loose rocks and gravel but the S-AWD fed the power through and kept the Outlander moving forward. Over rough terrain the suspension took the abuse that was meant for my spine by absorbing many of the larger bumps and dips. I did not think the Outlander would continue to be this comfortable off-road, so I was pleasantly surprised with its performance and doesn’t look great up in the high country?
The main drawback with the Mitsubishi Outlander is that it feels too under powered. Maybe if I get an opportunity to drive one at lower attitude it will perform differently but other reviews have shared my opinion that it just feels slow. If you live in a city with fast traffic, like San Antonio, you are going to make a lot of tailgating enemies. Acceleration is too slow for our impatient world of instant results. The remote automated tailgate can be annoying if you don’t need it, and the interior is a little low in quality compared to other vehicles in its price range. The Mitsubishi Outlander is a 7 passenger crossover that is both comfortable and charming. When someone says they want a vehicle that’s, “not too fancy”, this is what they have in mind. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Denver, Colorado, and the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL made the journey better than I could have ever hoped for.
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