SAN FRANCISCO – Although they might not admit it, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if some within Mitsubishi Motors feel a bit like TV weatherman Phil Connors (played brilliantly by Bill Murray) in the movie Groundhog Day, when it comes to the Outlander, the company’s popular compact utility vehicle (CUV).
Haven’t we been here before?
Yes… sort of.
The Outlander, one of Mitsubishi’s best-selling vehicles in Canada (particularly in Quebec, which accounts for about 40 per cent of its sales), was all-new for the 2014 model year. Top to bottom, front to back, inside out.
Then the 2015 model year rolled around and there were more changes. And for 2016 there are over 100 more.
With so many changes (or enhancements, as the company likes to call them) on offer, Mitsubishi is taking big swings at getting the vehicle right, in itself an admission that the 2014 model didn’t quite hit the mark.
The Outlander comes in four trims for the Canadian market. The ES (in either front or all-wheel drive) is powered by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine mated to a CVT with an output of 166 hp / 162 lb-ft. Upper level SE and GT models come with standard all-wheel drive and are powered by a 3.0-litre V6 engine (224 hp / 215 lb-ft.) and a six-speed automatic transmission.
The CVT (known as the CVT8 for 2016), first introduced on the 2015 RVR, has been refined to deliver better throttle response (thanks to a 26 per cent torque loss improvement, combined with engine ECU tuning), which has shaved a full second off the 0-100 km/h time in the 4WD models. These enhancements also yield slightly improved fuel economy. The 6-speed automatic carries over essentially unchanged.
Mitsubishi employs two different versions of its four-wheel drive systems for the Outlander: ES and SE models get the regular AWC (All Wheel Control), while S-AWC (Super All Wheel Control) comes standard on the GT.
Essentially, the difference between these two set-ups is the addition of a snow mode for the S-AWC, in addition to the Eco, Auto and Lock modes also available on the AWC version.
On the styling front, dramatic changes have been made to the Outlander’s appearance. New sheet metal from windshield forward highlight the changes, which also include a redesigned front fascia, LED headlights and DRLs (daytime-running headlights). The rear gets similar changes: a new rear garnish for the lift gate, LED tail lamps and a redesigned fascia.
Other exterior changes include new fenders, power folding rearview mirrors, door garnish and new 18-inch alloy wheels.
On the inside, Mitsubishi has peppered the Outlander with a long list of changes, large and small. Among them are knit headliner and A pillars, contrast stitching on the instrument cluster cover, new seat cloth fabric, contrast seat stitching on cloth seats, improved leather, a new accent panel and a revamped navigation system. My personal favourite? Standard windshield de-icer (all trims).
The second row seats also receive a new flip-up seat cushion and an auto headrest fold function.
On the road, the 2016 4-cylinder is noticeably quieter than its outgoing counterpart. Mitsubishi has put a lot of effort into drumming as much harshness and noise as possible out of the Outlander and it shows.
Wind and road noise has been reduced thanks to improved material for the front fender block and a fender insulator designed to reduce noise emanating from the forward wheels.
The 2016 Outlander’s ride and handling also feel noticeably better than the outgoing model. Thicker front suspension cross members, along with larger shock absorbers and the addition of a dynamic damper make the Outlander’s handling more neutral and precise. The rear shocks also have new cylinders and a revised spring rate.
The V6-equipped model I drove on the back end of the drive route (roughly 48 kilometres), also gave a good account of itself. Not worlds apart from the 4-cylinder model in terms of overall handling and performance, but it was quieter at cruising speeds.
Of all of the enhancements Mitsubishi has layered into the Outlander, the ones in the cabin really tell the tale. The touch points (steering wheel, dash cowl, console trim bits, etc.) have the look and feel of higher quality. The navigation system has also been overhauled with new graphics and a more logical arrangement of buttons, and it all works quite well.
In sum, there’s a lot to like about the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander. It’s the only non-luxury Japanese CUV that offers a V6 engine and Mitsubishi has managed to hold the line on pricing despite a long list of enhancements. The biggest increase is just $500 and the most expensive trim (GT S-AWC Navi) has gone down by $430.
The only problem I foresee for the Outlander is the CUV segment it competes in, which is a hotly contested one in Canada. The Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV-4, to name two, also offer compelling value propositions and have a higher profile than the Outlander.
Conquest sales from these models is going to be tough, but if prospective buyers decide to drop by their local Mitsubishi dealer, they’ll find the Outlander to be a compelling alternative.
2016 Mitsubishi Outlander – SPECIFICATIONS
PRICE: $25,998 – $38,498; as tested, $38,498
ADD-ONS: $1,450 (freight), $250 (PDI), taxes, licensing
TYPE: CUV (compact utility vehicle)
PROPULSION: front-engine, front-wheel drive (ES-FWD); front-engine, all-wheel drive (ES-AWC, SE, GT)
CARGO: 3,630 litres (behind front seats)
TOW-RATING: 1,500 lbs. (ES); 3,500 lbs. (SE, GT)
ENGINE: 2.4L 4-cyl. / 3.0L V6
TRANSMISSION: CVT / 6-speed automatic
POWER/TORQUE: 166 / 162; 224 / 215
FUEL CONSUMPTION (city / highway): 9.2 / 7.5, regular fuel (ES FWD); 9.7 / 8.1, regular fuel (ES-AWC); 11.9 / 8.5, premium fuel (SE, GT)
BRAKES: 294 mm / 11.6-in. (front); 302 mm / 11.9-in. (rear)
TIRES: P215/70R16, all-season (ES, SE); P225/55R18, all-season (GT)
STANDARD FEATURES: LED daytime running lamps, stability control, windshield wiper de-icer, silver painted roof rails, rear window defroster, rear wiper and washer, rear privacy glass, heated front seats, 60/40 split folding second row seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shift knob, Bluetooth, USB, cruise, steering wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls and more
ACCESSIBILITY: Very good. High ground clearance makes entry and exit a snap.
COMPETITION: Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Edge, Honda CR-V, Jeep Cherokee, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV-4
WHAT’S BEST: Sharp styling update, comfortable highway cruiser, well-equipped trims
WHAT’S WORST: Modest power output, competent overall but doesn’t excel in any one area
MOST INTERESTING: Approximately 70% of all Outlanders sold in Canada are V6 models, almost the exact inverse of the U.S.
All photos courtesy of Mitsubishi Motors