Mit­subishi Out­lander Im­proves in Hot Mar­ket for Fam­ily Crossovers

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - Derek Price cargaz­

When you’re shop­ping for a fam­ily-friendly cross­over, there’s no sense ask­ing your­self whether it’s a nice ve­hi­cle or not.

There just aren’t any bad ones in this seg­ment right now.

The ques­tion you need to ask is a bit trick­ier: Is it nice enough?

That’s what I keep won­der­ing as I drive the re­vamped-for-2017 Mit­subishi Out­lander, a three-row cross­over that starts at a bud­get-friendly $23,495 but has long strug­gled to stand out in a mar­ket over­sat­u­rated with strong prod­ucts.

It def­i­nitely makes a case for value shop­pers, par­tic­u­larly at the low end of its price range where, dol­lars-wise, it com­petes with some com­pact cars but of­fers a whole lot more roomi­ness and com­fort.

On mod­els that top out over $30,000 with lux­ury fea­tures like my SEL-trim tester, though, the value propo­si­tion is a bit harder to jus­tify. You have a lot more choices at that price, in­clud­ing some with more re­fine­ment if you look closely.

Mit­subishi has been work­ing on that crit­i­cism, and it makes big strides to­ward ad­dress­ing it with the Out­lander’s re­worked cabin for 2017. It feels more sleek and mod­ern now, with bet­ter ma­te­ri­als and nice graphics on its flashy new dig­i­tal in­ter­face. As a whole, its in­te­rior leaves a no­tice­ably bet­ter first im­pres­sion than the 2016 model did.

Its sus­pen­sion, though, is over­due for some tweak­ing. The ride feels just a bit old-fash­ioned, with a bounci­ness over bumps that most new crossovers have man­aged to mas­sage out of ex­is­tence. To­day’s crossovers gen­er­ally feel more taut than this one, some­thing that in­spires con­fi­dence when turn­ing or ma­neu­ver­ing.

On the high­way, though, the Out­lander shines. The sus­pen­sion does a good job soak­ing up the bumps at free­way speeds, de­liv­er­ing the kind of sup­ple, rea­son­ably quiet ride I like in roomy fam­ily ve­hi­cles.

Styling is al­most not worth men­tion­ing, since most of to­day’s fam­ily haulers all seem to copy the same jelly­bean theme. The Out­lander looks a bit more chis­eled, per­haps, let­ting some of this name­plate’s offroad his­tory show in its body, but it’s a sub­tle dif­fer­ence from the cookie-cut­ter cross­over masses that fill Amer­ica’s high­ways.

Most Out­lander mod­els come with a con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion (CVT) de­signed to de­liver good gas mileage from its 2.4-liter, four-cylin­der en­gine. My tester was rated for 25 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the high­way, both im­pres­sive num­bers for a three-row cross­over.

Per­son­ally, while I think the rub­ber-band driv­ing feel of a CVT is a mor­tal sin in sporty com­pact cars, it doesn’t bother me in ve­hi­cles like this one, which are de­signed more for com­fort­ably haul­ing kids and cargo than gen­er­at­ing smiles on twisty roads.

There’s one ex­cep­tion, though. Mit­subishi of­fers the Out­lander GT de­signed for peo­ple who want more ex­hil­a­ra­tion and per­for­mance. It comes with a 3.0-liter V6 cou­pled with a six-speed au­to­matic with pad­dle shifters.

Yes, I think pad­dle shifters on a cross­over are silly. Not all driv­ers agree, though, which is the whole point of th­ese dif­fer­ent fla­vors of Out­lander.

To ex­pand the palate even fur­ther, Mit­subishi is adding an en­try-level four-wheeldrive sys­tem called All-Wheel Con­trol (AWC) this year. It’s avail­able on the ES trim for $24,995 and comes with 2WD, 4WD and Lock modes.

A more so­phis­ti­cated Su­per All-Wheel Con­trol sys­tem is avail­able on the higher-end SE, SEL and GT mod­els. It adds an ac­tive front dif­fer­en­tial and spe­cial set­tings for driv­ing in snow or sav­ing fuel in eco mode.

Also new this year are a long list of op­tional safety fea­tures. You can now get blind-spot warn­ing with lane change as­sist, rear cross-traf­fic alert and a for­ward col­li­sion mit­i­ga­tion sys­tem with pedes­trian de­tec­tion.

Fi­nally, there’s news that al­ways makes me smile. The Out­lander of­fers Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto, so smart­phone ad­dicts can re­joice.

Start­ing at $23,495, the Mit­subishi Out­lander is one of the most af­ford­able cross­over ve­hi­cles that of­fers three rows of seat­ing in the cabin.

The Out­lander’s in­te­rior is up­dated for 2017 with nicer ma­te­ri­als and bet­ter tech­nol­ogy, in­clud­ing a suite of ac­tive safety fea­tures and smart­phone con­nec­tiv­ity.

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