2018 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL S-AWC Podcast Cover Image

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SEL S-AWC Can the new Outlander swim with the sharks?

For the last few years, whenever a Mitsubishi arrived I got a little depressed. They were bottom-feeders—tinny, no fun to drive, just cheap, cheap, cheap. (And believe it or not I get no satisfaction from complaining. I’d much rather like a car.) But when I spotted this one waiting for me under the lights at the airport . . . it was different. It’s the Outlander, Mitsubishi’s compact crossover SUV, but the 2018 model. It looked grown-up. More mature. Better!

Check out the cabin: a bright touchscreen loaded with apps, power-adjustable heated leather driver’s seat, a heated steering wheel and all the toys: LED headlights. Blind spot monitors. Rear cross-traffic alert. Lane departure alert. A power tailgate. Heated mirrors. Power sunroof. Adaptive cruise control. Automatic high beams. Collision sensing and emergency braking. A rear-view and top-down camera that makes parking a breeze. Yes, this was the top-end SEL AWD model, optioned up to $32,000, but the three less pricey Outlanders also have some of these features.

Now here’s where the new Outlander still disappoints a bit: on the road. The 4-cylinder engine makes just 166 horsepower. In normal driving it’s fine—but for merging onto the highway or outrunning the zombie apocalypse, it’s slow, and the continuously variable transmission doesn’t help much (and it can get whiney). The bigger-bucks Outlander GT, with a more powerful V-6, might be better to drive, but it suffers in gas mileage. We got about 24 MPG overall.

The Mitsubishi Outlander’s party trick is that it crams three rows of seats—room for seven, if not all adults—into what looks to be a compact two-row vehicle. Climbing into the third row is somewhat easier than you might expect, but it’s best not have legs back here. Or a head. Even in the middle row, headroom is tight, at least for me. But the Outlander really does have seven seats.

Previous Outlanders were vehicles that no one really aspired to but a lot of people bought, simply on their low price and long warranty. Now, Mitsubishi wants to dance with the stars in this super-competitive niche—the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Mitsubishi is banking on the Outlander’s new content, refinement and looks, and not as much on price. I hope it goes well for them.