When I heard I was going to get a Mitsubishi Outlander for a test drive, my first thought was: Mitsubishi is still around?
It’s a small joke, but it does hide some very painful truths. Mitsubishi is barely a shadow of what it once was. About a decade ago it was selling close to 350,000 cars in this country. Now it’s down around 50,000. While it still sells more than a million cars per year worldwide, the latest numbers I’ve seen show it back in 16th position (even Suzuki blows it away).
Throw in the fact that Mitsubishi is getting rid of both the Eclipse and the Galant, and you realize that the Mitsubishi is at a crossroads.
That’s where the Outlander comes in. It’s one of three cars that Mitsubishi will continue to sell in the US, along with the Lancer and the MiEV electric car (which is only sold in a few states right now).
So is the Outlander going to save Mitsubishi? Let me start by saying that after my week with the top of the line 6 cylinder GT model, I liked it. If you’re looking for something different from all your neighbors, it’s a worthy choice. But I can’t say it’s a car that wowed me.
Let’s start outside. It definitely looks different from the competition. It has a fairly long snout that makes a pretty bold statement. Personally, I liked the look. I can see how it ties in with the designs from other Mitsubishi models. It’s slightly smaller than some of the competition. Where I have to step up slightly to get into my wife’s Toyota Highlander, I just slide right across into the Outlander. The Highlander is two inches taller and five inches longer. The Outlander has an interesting flap fold tailgate. The main hatch lifts up, but there is a small tailgate that can go down if necessary.
Inside, I liked the front row. My test car had the touring package with leather seats and I liked their look. It was very upscale. The dash was simple, which I consider a good quality these days. The display had buttons built into the unit. The only thing that worried me was the fact that to put in a CD, the display had to mechanically move forward and then flatten out (all at the touch of a button, of course). I can just imagine the repair bill when it breaks outside the warranty. (Of course maybe by then we won’t care about CDs…).
While I liked the front row, the second row didn’t scream comfort. The seat seemed rather flat and the leg room qualified as OK. Of course, row two is one heck of a lot better than the third row. It’s one of those flip-up seats that only seems like something you’d want to use in a pinch. (Don’t pinches always imply some pain?)
Starting the car is interesting. It has a keyless ignition, but it doesn’t have a push button. You still turn a key-like switch on the steering column. Not good or bad, just unique.
You have your choice of the 2.4 liter 168 horsepower 4 cylinder engine or the 230 horsepower 3.0 liter V6. My test car had the V6. My only complaint was that it seemed to take a moment for the power to kick in after you stomped the throttle. The V6 is rated at 19 city/25 highway mpg while the 4 cylinder gets 23/28. The dash has an “Eco” indicator which shows when you’re getting better mileage (which amazingly happens when you coast or take your foot off the gas!). It also has paddle shifters, although I’m not sure they’re truly necessary on a crossover in this range.
I liked driving the Outlander. It’s smaller but nicely agile. My test car had the Super All Wheel Control system. (Watch Mitsubishi’s video here.) Mitsubishi wants to play off its rallying history and calls it a both a performance and safety improvement.
I see two big problems for the Outlander. First, my test car stickered at $35,300. That included the Touring, Entertainment and Navigation packages that added about $6,500. That’s a lot of money for this car and I’m not sure it delivered. You can get a base model for about $22,000, but it will have a 4 cylinder and a much plainer interior. With Kia and Hyundai making killer cars for a lot less, Mitsubishi needs to come up with more value.
The second problem may be even bigger. They need to figure out how to make people care about their cars. Their rallying history is great, but no one in the US cares. The Outlander is actually built at a plant in Normal, Illinois, so there are economic reasons to hope it survives.
Value and Marketing. Easy fixes, right?