Mitsubishi Outlander
SEL 4-cyl CVT
First Drive
2016 Mitsubishi Outlander focuses on price and features over refinement
Small SUV makes an attempt to be more competitive with a freshening
How good does a car need to be to appeal to buyers? That's the question posed by the Mitsubishi Outlander small SUV, newly updated for 2016. While it's quieter now and feels more solid, the freshening goes only so far.

Mitsubishi seems to be turning into the Walmart of car companies. Price and practicality are the main attractions, while shoppers seeking higher levels of quality and design shop elsewhere. Forget about exciting rally-bred Evos or slinky Eclipse coupes. Those days are long gone, hastened by the brand's near-collapse in America. This is an automaker that once predicted it would sell a half-million vehicles a year here; last year it barely topped 75,000.

Now, the Outlander serves as Mitsubishi's unlikely flagship here. Unfortunately, when this generation was introduced for 2013, not only did it score near the bottom of Consumer Reports' ratings, but it was also panned by most critics and even Mitsubishi officials admitted that it wasn't ready for the U.S. market.

Enter the 2016 Outlander, which received many changes to address myriad shortcomings. Many changes attempt to make the Outlander look less proletarian, with more chrome trim and the addition of soft-touch materials throughout the cabin.

Initial Impressions
Other updates aim to be deeper. The biggest improvement is the addition of sound-deadening measures to subdue the previously offensive levels of interior noise. But they only go so far, as the standard 166-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine still creates plenty of racket when it struggles to motivate the Outlander. Even though the continuously variable transmission was also revised for 2016, this CVT reminds us why we often dislike this technology. Pressing the accelerator makes the car surge unevenly, like its horsepower is trapped in a clogged garden hose.

Suspension changes were made to address complaints about handling. However, the Outlander still feels rather ungainly to drive, with none of the agility that was once possessed by its predecessor. The ride is less stiff, and the car is quieter.

Inside, the Outlander received a bunch of updates, but they come across as half-hearted. The second row seat is less Rube Goldberg-esque to fold out of the way for cargo, but it still requires too many steps to perform. You still can't get a power driver's seat unless you choose the leather option, and adjustable lumbar isn't even offered.

In the key area of entertainment, the revised touch-screen audio system is easier to use, but it still suffers from tiny on-screen fonts that look like they were typed onto the screen.

Maybe some of these objections are eased by the Outlander's attractive pricing. Starting at $26,995 (without destination), the high-trim SEL AWD that we tried includes leather, automatic climate control, a power driver's seat, touch-screen radio, and heated front seats. That's not a lot of money for a feature-laden, leather-clad small SUV.

Practicality also proves to be an Outlander strong point. It is the only small SUV with a standard third-row seat--a huge selling point for big families on a budget. Maybe the cabin feels behind the times, but it has plenty of space. And although the boxy body lacks style, it makes for easy visibility.
CR's Take
The Outlander earns a string of "Good" scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), including the difficult front small overlap test. Mitsubishi is one of the few manufacturers to still offer a long powertrain warranty (10-years/100,000 miles).

Do these virtues redeem the Outlander? Not really. Given what it takes to make the honor roll in a small SUV marketplace full of overachievers, the Outlander settles for a "Participant" ribbon. That might be enough for buyers who just want a reliable and safe new car, with a good warranty, for a decent price. But most shoppers can do better--and want to do better--than settling for mediocrity.

We just bought a 4-cylinder AWD SEL version for $28,405 and will know how it stacks up among its peers when we start testing.
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