Outlander was all new and well received in 2014. For 2015, Outlander carries over unchanged.
Outlander seats seven, having a standard third-row seat, which thins out the mid-size competition to mostly the Kia Sorento, Nissan Rogue, whose third row is cramped, and Hyundai Santa Fe, which stretches its wheelbase for the optional third row.
If you need a 7-passenger crossover because you’ve got 5 kids and/or carry sports teams everywhere, and you need good fuel mileage, Outlander is the call. It gets five miles per gallon more than the Sorento, 27 mpg combined versus 22 mpg combined, in 2wd. What’s more, it has received the Top Safety Pick designation from the IIHS, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Its smooth lines bring a good 0.33 coefficient of drag, without roofrails which aren’t standard. The headlights are tidy, and the front fascia isn’t big and bland. The styling is smooth and clean but not exciting. It looks substantial for families.
The interior has a soft-touch instrument panel whose gauges are uncommonly simple, clean, and easy to read. The air conditioning is outstanding, with a quiet fan even on full blast. The whole cabin is exceptionally quiet. For the 2014 redesign, Mitsubishi said they spent thousands of hours on reducing wind noise.
There is a fold-flat 60/40 second row and 50/50 third row. Access to the thin third row of seats is okay but not magic. There’s more knee room in the Outlander third row than the Nissan Rogue we tested.
The new 2.4-liter engine is single overhead-cam. It used to be double overhead cam, for higher performance; but today it’s all about efficiency. It uses electronic valve timing which Mitsubishi calls MIVEC (the i is for innovative, not intelligent like the others). It makes 166 horsepower and 162 foot-pounds of torque at 4200 rpm. The numbers aren’t big, but the power is good.
It’s smooth enough to maybe make you forget about needing a V6, on the freeway at 80 mph. For one week in Southern California it ran the freeway fast lane just fine. Later, on a short road trip, it was smooth plus effortless. Its CVT kicked down for the long gradual uphills, invisibly. This CVT feels like an automatic transmission. Mitsubishi raises the bar a notch in continuously variable transaxle technology, after seven years of development.
The base Outlander ES comes with front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available. The Mitsubishi system is ironclad, with many world rally victories to prove it. We’re pretty damn good at all-wheel-drive systems, a Mitsubishi engineer said at the Outlander launch. We’ve been doing it for 30 or 40 years.
They call it Super All-Wheel Control, or S-AWC, with the Super meaning torque vectoring (shifting the power between the front wheels as needed for grip) to further improve control during cornering. S-AWC is available down to the four-cylinder SE model. It has four driving modes: ECO, Normal, Snow and Lock, which gives the most drive to the rear wheels.
Mitsubishi calls its body shell Reinforced Impact Safety Evolution (RISE). There are energy absorbing sections in key areas of the body and chassis, including under the floor of the passenger compartment.
The 3.0-liter V6, also new in 2014, gets you there more powerfully if not necessarily faster on account of speed limits, and it will tow another ton (3500 pounds vs. 1500 pounds), if you have a boat to take on the lake with your five kids. The V6 is mated to a sweet 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. It comes standard in the all-wheel-drive GT model.
With either engine, the Outlander is classified as a low emissions vehicle.
The styling might be referred to as classic. Mitsubishi calls it an urbane design with mainstream appeal. It’s clean but not memorable or eye-catching. Bulges on the hood are way modest. The lines slope forward, following a well-defined crease above the door handles that carries back to the tops of the silvery taillights. But it’s no contemporary wedge, like the Hyundai Santa Fe tries more to be.
Our GT model was especially clean, with understated body-colored door handles and mirrors, modest matt-black cladding at the fenders and rockers, and chrome under and behind the side windows, but not surrounding them; Less is more, as Mitsubishi says to describe this design. Less black cladding on other models (no flares) looks more … elegant. The big non-elegant shark nose went away in 2014. It was a bit much … but we miss it. This Outlander is a bit not enough.
The grille is two horizontal bars, black with a big black air intake under the bumper. The GT wheels are handsome, black-and-bare alloy 10-spokes that look something like gingerbread men with Mitsubishi logos at their core.
It’s really, really quiet inside the Outlander. It’s so quiet that you could hear the tires singing, on the 2014 model. Mitsubishi addressed this with less noisy tires in 2015.
Two more features that get raves from us are the clean design and simplicity of the instrument panel, which is perfectly intuitive to read and to use. Especially the climate control, and that’s another rave: fabulous air conditioning. We ran errands with many stops on a 101-degree day, it was there for us every time, almost instantly. Our next test car was a 2015 Honda Accord, and it was not nearly as good as the Outlander. Plus, the Outlander fan is silent, even at high speed. We wonder why cars that are way more expensive can’t always offer powerful air conditioning with quiet fans.
Another nice touch is that the front seats elevate way up there, without creating any problems with headroom, and that view through the windshield makes the car feel smaller. Nice useful armrests for the driver. The bolstering in the seats could be tighter, but maybe not for Outlanders. However because the GT has need paddle shifters that invite play, when you do play you’ll probably wish for more bolstering. The padding under the standard fabric seats feels a just a touch on the firm side, while the GT’s perforated leather seats are sweet.
The 50/50 rear seats have less padding than the fronts. They tilt and slide forward to allow access to the 50/50 third row, which has less padding than the second row; and both rows can fold flat to make a big cargo space, with some effort. There’s 37.3 inches of legroom in the second row, and 28.2 inches in the knees-up third row, numbers which can give and take from each other as the second row slides forward. We’d say the third row is fine for kids age 6 or younger; it has cupholders but no storage cubbies, and a small window about the size of an airplane porthole.
The Sorento has more third-row legroom, while the Toyota RAV4, which doesn’t even have a third row, has the same legroom as the Outlander in the second row.
As for cargo space, there’s 10.3 cubic feet behind the third row, smaller than a sedan trunk; 34.2 cubic feet behind the second row, and 63.3 cubic feet behind the front seat. The Sorento, Honda CR-V and RAV4 all blow the Outlander out of the water, in cargo space behind the front seat (72.5, 70.9, 73.4 respectively), and we’re at a loss to explain why, because the Outlander and Sorento are about the same length, four and five inches longer than the 5-seat CR-V and RAV4. However, the Outlander posts its numbers as SAE cargo capacity, and the others might not adhere to the same standards. We wish every manufacturer would measure the same, for the sake of the consumer.
We suggest avoiding the $6100 Touring Package. All our interior criticisms are on those features, namely the touch screen, navigation system, and driver assistance with things like LDW (lane departure warning) and adaptive cruise control. We were happy in the four-cylinder SE with the standard instrument panel, which gave us everything we needed without attitude.
Especially that Lane Departure Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control. We have tested adaptive cruise controls that are so sophisticated you don’t even know they’re there, but the Outlander will slam on the brakes to maintain the distance you set; what’s more, when you override it, it keeps overriding you back, which puts you in the dangerous position of having to accelerate to free the brakes, when what you want to do is slow down. So of course you turn it off.
Same with Lane Departure Warning, whose default position is On, not Off (to be there when you need it and want it), for legal reasons no doubt. Every day near home we cross a very narrow steel bridge with steel guard rails on each side. We defy anyone to get across this bridge without LDW going off; heck, half the time the Blind Spot Warnings go off because the systems think the posts are cars. Continual beeps from warnings are distracting when you’re trying to concentrate. Turning it off is double distracting, because the button is down by the driver’s left knee and he/she has to take their eyes off the road to find it. So that’s how we found ourselves on this narrow bridge, driving while trying to find a button at the bottom of the dash under the steering wheel.
As for FCM, Forward Collision Mitigation, it was just plain hysterical. On the freeway, 100 yards away from a fixed object, it goes off like a very bad passenger: LOOKOUT! LOOKOUT! LOOKOUT! At 15 mph in stop-and-go redlight traffic, it’s impossible. It won’t let you get within about 30 feet of the car in front of you, without all the alarms and beeps going off.
Using the touch screen is problematic. Like so many other cars, it’s not easy to tune the satellite radio. In fact, at the launch for the redesign, we asked a product manager to perform the function we wanted, and after 12 touches he still hadn’t gotten there.
We couldn’t get all the functions we wanted on the display screen at the same time, because we couldn’t get things we didn’t want off it (not to say it isn’t possible). The screen gets very busy, with its history and eco score and other games. We wanted to watch fuel mileage and range, while listening to the radio and following the navigation, but had to call for help to get that set.
Speaking of navigation, it failed us. Voice command, like all of them, is a joke. The systems do not have smart ears. Once navigation is programmed, it doesn’t mean it’ll get you there. In downtown San Diego, it took 18 minutes to get 2 minutes away from the hotel. The directional arrows don’t give you enough warning time. We could go on.
Access to the third row on the passenger side will require the front-seat passenger to slide forward so the second-row 60-side seatback can be dropped enough to slide the seat forward.
Making cargo area is four pages in the manual, including all the warnings and cautions; it tells you as many things not to do as to do. Yes, we had to refer to the manual to drop the seats, which tells you something. Step one is remove headrests and stow them in the small luggage compartment underneath the floor of the cargo area in back. With the third-row headrests removed, the rear visibility is excellent.
The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine mated to the new CVT is extremely quiet and super smooth; we revved it to 6000 rpm redline, and could barely hear it. It’s quick enough, and will keep up with 80-mph traffic even in ECO mode. It works a bit to get there, but not a lot, unless it’s in ECO mode. So it’s NORMAL mode for accelerating, Eco mode for maintaining. We got 24.7 mpg at 75 mph in Eco mode. At a steady 70, the instant mpg jumps from 20 mpg to 30 mpg when you switch from Normal to Eco.
Around town, the 162 foot-pounds of torque wasn’t there below 2000 rpm, so that’s the only place the engine isn’t strong. The torque hits that peak at 4200 rpm, but around town you’re at way less than that.
Here’s how the S-AWC all-wheel-drive system works: in Eco mode, up to 20 percent of the drive will go to the rear wheels if needed for traction; in Normal mode up to 50 percent; in Snow it stays off the throttle; and in Locked it’s mostly 50/50 but can to go 30/70.
Meanwhile, power and braking will shift between the left and front wheels in corners, to better rotate the car. More drive to the outside wheel, less drive (braking) on the inside, and presto: the car turns quicker and more precisely.
Torque vectoring happens when you push it. You can feel a quick vibration in the wheel, like a split-second of abs.
The CVT uses what Mitsubishi calls ratio management control, to feel like an automatic transmission. You’ll never notice it. That’s what engineers have been striving seven years for, as soon as it became clear that drivers would not get used to that CVT rpm stretch. It’s the new standard.
Between the quiet engine and smooth CVT, we couldn’t feel the ratio changes. We watched the tach, and could see it changing by a few hundred rpm, but could hear or feel nothing.
It was almost the same with the sweet 6-speed automatic transmission that’s mated to the V6 engine; with a steady throttle in 6th gear, we paddle-shifted down to 5th, and then 4th, and could barely feel it. Sixth gear is tall, for fuel mileage. Fuel mileage is rated at a combined 23 mpg. We averaged 21.3 mpg during one week in the car.
The V6 in the Outlander GT is a single-overhead-cam 3.0 liter in its second year. It makes 224 horsepower and 215 foot-pounds at 3750 rpm. When you put your foot down, it feels rocket-ship fast and is super smooth. Around town, the engine feels less smooth but that’s only in comparison to how smooth it is at speed.
The handling of the GT is tight and quick, and the ride is steady and solid. We were impressed. The handling of the SE, with front-wheel-drive and the four-cylinder engine, was lighter and more nimble, but less quick, especially around town. The suspension delivered more jounce, but still wasn’t bad. We drove a 2WD SE for about 10 miles on gravel roads, much of it washboard, and the ride was smooth as can be.
The standard 4-cylinder engine is smooth and fast enough, and its CVT is impressively invisible; it gets top fuel mileage among 7-seat vehicles, plus its price is lowest. The styling is clean and contemporary if not exciting. The interior is clean, and the handling and ride pass every test for a midsize family crossover.