2016 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL S-AWC: Can CUVs revive the brand?

 

Not that long ago CarBuzzard.com reviewed the Mitsubishi Outlander GT, the top-end offering of Mitsubishi’s newest crossover. We liked the GT, so we figured it was time to take a look a different trim, the 2.4 SEL S-AWC. The biggest difference between this version and the GT is a smaller 2.4-liter engine paired with a CVT versus the V6 with a six-speed automatic. The 2.4 SEL is one step down from the GT, and doesn’t come with as many standard features. For a brand that only offers four nameplates, it’s imperative to strive for greatness because they’re fighting a big market. Was Mitsubishi able to achieve its lofty goals?

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander

The interior of the Outlander is clean and functional, and the quality is much improved.

An important part of attracting buyers is styling, and in that department Mitsubishi scores well. It’s not going to set the world on fire, nor will it offend, and we’re okay with that. The Outlander is clean and contemporary, and will look good for years to come. Same with the interior; it’s functional and clean, with good ergonomics and plenty of space and comfort to please a solid middle class. Is it enough to make loyalists turn away from their Ford, Chevy, Honda and Toyota CUVs? Probably not, but if you’re looking for something that’s outside of the regular offerings, you won’t be disappointed.

As we mentioned previously, our test model came with the 2.4-liter inline four instead of the 3.0-liter V6, so we will focus our content on the differences. While the V6 makes 224 horsepower and 215 lb-ft of torque, the 2.4-liter pumps out 166 horses and 162 lb-ft of torque. That’s considerably less with two fewer cylinders. On the plus side, the 2.4-liter enjoys better fuel economy, with city/highway numbers of 24 and 29, versus 20/23 for the GT. The base weight difference between the two is minimal: about 121 pounds. The GT beats the SEL’s power-to-weight ratio by about five pounds, and while it might look like a major difference on paper, in the real world, the 2.4-liter serves the vehicle just fine. Keep in mind we tested the Outlander with just the driver inside. If it was fully loaded with seven occupants and their cargo, you’d be reading a different story.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander

The Outlander’s 3.0-liter V6 features a six-speed automatic seen here, while the rest of the lineup with the 2.4-liter inline four come with CVT.

In addition, because of the smaller engine, the transmission is continuously variable instead of a true six-speed. While there are good reasons to use a CVT (fuel economy, less delay when shifting), we remain on the fence about them. We admit the whine isn’t as noticeable as in early CVT-equipped vehicles, but it takes away some of the fun and sportiness that comes with shifting, even in an automatic setup.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander

S-AWC is the shining star of Mitsubishi vehicles. Impressive grip makes for fun handling.

Towing capacity also drops noticeably from the GT, with the smaller engine only capable of a max tow rating of 1,500 versus the 3,500 for the 3.0 GT. The rest of the interior and exterior dimensions remain identical, including fuel tank size and cargo area. All suspension components are the same, namely the MacPherson strut front and Multi-link rear setups. The Outlander is a composed, comfortable ride that will perform everyday tasks without complaint. If you want to start tossing it around corners, go ahead if you have the S-AWC, or Super All Wheel Control. Although we didn’t drive the Outlander anywhere that required that mode during this test period, we have spent time on the track in various other Mitsubishis with this feature and found it to be one of the best traction control systems in the market. It’s unshakeable at speed in corners, and provides impressive grip in seriously low-traction situations like water and snow.

 

For 2017, the Outlander GT gets a multiview camera.

For 2017, the Outlander GT gets a multiview camera.

While we tested the 2016 model, Mitsubishi intends to stay up with the market segment; to that end, the list of what’s new on the Outlander for 2017 is as follows:

  • Standard shark fin antenna
  • Updated interior featuring newly designed gloss-black center floor console, cargo 12v power outlet, front courtesy floor lamps, knit fabric sun visors and washer fluid low-level warning lamp
  • New entry level All-Wheel Control 4WD system
  • Smartphone Link Display Audio system with enhanced SiriusXM® Satellite Radio and Apple CarPlay™ and Android Auto™ support
  • Blind Spot Warning (BSW) with Lane Change Assist (LCA) and Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA)
  • Forward Collision Mitigation System with Pedestrian Detection
  • Wiper de-icer standard on all 4WD trims
  • Heated steering wheel
  • Electric parking brake switch
  • Automatic high beam headlights
  • Multi-view camera system
Mitsubishi Motors eX Concept

Mitsubishi Motors eX Concept is a hint at the next CUV from Mitsubishi, which will be revealed at the upcoming Geneva Motor Show.

In Mitsu’s lineup, the iMiEV electric car is a non-player with sales of about 2000 units in six years. The Lancer has sunsetted the Evo performance model, and sales for the sedan are below 15,000 for 2016 year to date. The much-bullied Mirage subcompact’s 20,000-unit sales year to date is not even half of the Ford Fiesta’s, which leaves the brunt of the work to the Outlander and Outlander Sport models. So it’s understandable that, according to Alex Fedorak, head of Public Relations for Mitsubishi, the focus in the U.S. is on CUVs, and “they will continue to be an important part of our brand identity along with all-wheel control.” Fedorak continues: “We will be introducing a third CUV to the lineup at the Geneva Motor Show. It will be sized between Outlander Sport and Outlander and will feature a new smaller, yet more powerful engine. It will be available in dealerships in 2018.”

As far as the Outlander and Outlander Sport specifically, Fedorak states that “Outlander Sport and Outlander will evolve, with the Outlander Sport getting smaller and the Outlander growing in length and width. Those product changes will take us to the end of the decade.” It’s good news for Mitsubishi that the Outlander sales are growing, and 2016 has surpassed every year of Outlander sales for 13 years with the exception of 2003. The Outlander Sport hit its peak in 2015 with almost 37,000 units sold. If it can keep this momentum going with new features and new CUVs, Mitsubishi will continue to exist as a niche player in the game. The car business in America is not for the weak, and Mitsubishi is showing that it’s not giving up, and will continue to climb the ladder one CUV at a time.