As we drove the 2016 Outlander back to back with the 2015 model on the streets of San Francisco, we discovered that most of the 100 changes are all about increasing refinement. Enhancements such as acoustically insulated windshield glass, extra carpeting, and even foam blocks in the front fenders help quell some of the roaring tire noise that cursed the cabin of last year’s Outlander. The new Outlander also no longer flops around so much through corners. “This time around, we wanted to bring a little sportier handling,” notes Arnett.
Of course, 100 changes or not, the question is really whether the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander is better, not just different.
Did you have a little work done?
Although the 2015 Outlander received some mild visual tweaks, the 2016 model goes even further. Every panel ahead of the windshield is new, starting with a new fascia and grille sporting a styling look that Mitsubishi calls its “Dynamic Shield.” With a huge blacked-out center grille trimmed with chrome, the Outlander’s nose is certainly distinctive but not necessarily attractive. The 18-inch alloy wheels have been restyled, and out back there are new taillights and a new chrome finish panel for the liftgate.
Where the nip-tuck really makes a difference is inside the cabin, which both looks and feels far more modern. The incongruous faux-wood dash trim has been swapped out for nicer black pieces, and the steering wheel feels less plasticky and has a smart piano-black finish. Meanwhile, the center console and armrests have soft padding for your elbows, and the base audio system has more physical buttons to work in tandem with its touchscreen. Between the added quietness and the better materials, the cabin of the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander is a far more appealing place than before.
Squeezing more room out of the same size box
Perhaps the most important change to the 2016 Outlander’s interior concerns the folding mechanism for the second-row seats, which previously involved such a convoluted series of levers and movements that even Rube Goldberg would have been perplexed. Now you can stow the seats flat in just three steps by pulling numbered straps, dramatically cutting the time needed to increase cargo capacity. The second row also still slides back and forth a few inches and flips forward easily to permit access to the third row.
The Outlander is one of the few crossovers of this compact size to still offer a third row of seats, although once we clamber back there we are reminded that these seats are intended only for pre-growth-spurt kids. “I don’t want to say that this is a vehicle designed to be a third-row [vehicle],” concedes Arnett. “This is an emergency third-row seat.” If a family needs to cart home a neighbor kid from soccer practice, then these jump seats work fine. They quickly and easily fold into the floor, increasing cargo space; we suspect most owners would almost always leave the third row folded.
Wait, wait, don’t thrill me
Both the standard four-cylinder and optional V-6 engines are unchanged in the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander, although the four-banger receives a new continuously variable transmission that has better refinement, better efficiency, and a greater overall spread between gear ratios. Mitsubishi’s testing shows that 0-to-60-mph acceleration improves by about one second with the four-cylinder engine, although the all-wheel-drive Outlander with this engine still takes a thoroughly pedestrian 10 seconds to hit that benchmark.
The four-cylinder engine is perfectly adequate in city driving, where the new CVT smoothly changes ratios without the sluggish rubber-band feel of the older CVT. Most drivers would never notice that this CVT is any different than a conventional automatic transmission with a torque converter, and for urban driving the 2.4-liter engine’s 166 hp is plenty peppy.
Out on hilly roads and when merging on the highway, however, the engine begins to strain and thrash as it pulls this 3,300-pound crossover. We keep pushing deeper into the accelerator, but there’s just no getting around the fact that the four-cylinder Outlander is seriously slow. A product planner agrees that the Outlander needs more passing power but says engineers wanted to focus on low-end acceleration for city driving.
Maybe more motor is the answer
The 3.0-liter V-6 engine, which is available only on the top-spec GT model with all-wheel drive, is much quicker in all situations. The V-6 revs more smoothly and more quietly than the four-cylinder, and it works well with its six-speed automatic transmission, although naturally you pay the penalty in fuel economy, which falls to just 20/27 mpg (city/highway).
We can also tell that some work has been done to make the 2016 Outlander drive better overall, notably revamped suspension with new front springs and dampers. Sporty might be an overstatement, but the ride is very comfortable and there’s less cowl shake over bumpy roads. The Outlander does float and bounce over dips and crests more than we’d prefer, but at least the retuned electric-assist steering provides a greater sense of straight-line stability.
Dollars and sense
In terms of civility and ride comfort, the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander moves from far below par to about average for the crossover segment. A Honda CR-V is still more comfortable and a Mazda CX-5 is more fun to drive, but the Outlander is no longer the outlier in its class.
Above all, the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander represents serious value for the money. The new model’s entry price is actually down $200 compared to the 2015 version, and the Outlander can be optioned with impressive levels of equipment. All trim levels but the base ES offer a backup camera, push-button start, dual-zone automatic climate control, and heated seats. Advanced safety equipment such as lane departure warning and an exceptionally aggressive forward collision warning/mitigation system is part of a $1,550 option pack on midrange SEL models and included with a navigation system in the $3,550 GT Touring package. And having a third row of seats available with all-wheel drive for significantly less than $30,000 could be enticing to families on a budget.
The 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander is a smart, practical crossover that offers lots of features at an affordable price. While it still can’t match the style, refinement, or driving dynamics of the best new crossovers, the improved Outlander is no longer an also-ran. But rather than leaping to the top of the class, the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander simply catches up with its key crossover rivals. It’s different, and it’s better, but when compared to the competition, the Outlander is running in place.
2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Specifications
|Engine:||2.4L SOHC 16-valve I-4/166 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 162 lb-ft @ 4,200 rpm; 3.0L SOHC 24-valve V-6/224 hp @ 6,250 rpm, 215 lb-ft @ 3,750 rpm|
|Transmission:||Continuously variable, 6-speed automatic|
|Layout:||4-door, 7-passenger, front-engine, FWD/AWD crossover|
|EPA Mileage:||20-25/27-31 mpg (city/hwy)|
|Suspension F/R:||Strut-type, coil springs/multilink, coil springs|
|Brakes F/R:||Vented discs/discs|
|L x W x H:||184.8 x 66.1 x 71.3 in|
|Headroom F/R2/R3:||40.6/38.4/35.7 in|
|Legroom F/R2/R3:||40.9/37.3/28.2 in|
|Shoulder Room F/R2/R3:||56.6/56.1/51.4 in|
|Cargo Room F/R2/R3:||63.3/34.2/10.3 cu ft|
|Weight Dist. F/R:||56-57/44-43%|
|0-60 MPH:||8.0-10.0 sec (est)|