2022 Mitsubishi Outlander First Drive – No Longer the Short Kid At Recess


 

Remember recess kickball? Invariably, a pair of jocks and/or popular kids would square off, choosing, in turn, their sides for the battle over the red rubber ball. The draft lines would dwindle to a few undesirables – the uncoordinated, small kids certain to be a drag on the lineup but required to be there via a teacher-enforced fairness doctrine.

Mitsubishi, I’m sad to say, has been that little kid at the end of the bench for many years. Their offerings haven’t been the first choice in any of the limited segments in which they compete. Rather, they’ve become the default choice of those who’ve defaulted before, owing to their reliance on subprime buyers.

Maybe not for long, however. With an entirely new platform shared with one of the bestsellers in the class, the 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander has a new look and a compelling list of features that could move this three-row crossover into the starting lineup.

[Disclaimer: Mitsubishi invited journalists to an event in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to and from which I drove. Hotel and meals were provided, and COVID protocols were adhered to well – including rapid testing prior to attendance. I also somehow ended up with a branded coffee mug – I think it looked like my camera lens while I was swabbing my sinuses and I shoved it in my bag.]

Much has been made – by Mitsubishi insiders and by pundits alike – about the platform-sharing within the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, and how this new Outlander is ultimately the first real fruit of the alliance, as closely related to the Rogue as it is.

Incidentally, I’ll go on record by noting an opportunity missed — an encore appearance of the Pride of Kenosha, the two-door sedan Renault Alliance, should be strongly considered.

Mitsubishi skipped the 2021 model year entirely – with the exception of the Outlander PHEV plug-in hybrid, which soldiers on for now on the existing platform – to focus on the 2022 model year. Mitsubishi representatives tell us that a plug-in version of this new Outlander is coming – eventually. As it is, the only powertrain available is a 181 horsepower, 181 lb-ft 2.5-liter four paired with a CVT. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive (Super All-Wheel Control or S-AWC to the marketing team) available throughout each trim.

Notice I snuck that detail in about three rows of crossover goodness? Maybe consider sticking that short kid who got picked last for kickball in that back row – it’s, at best, an occasional seat for anyone with legs. Mitsubishi admits as much – but comfort in the front two rows is as good as anything in the class, including RAV4, CR-V, and Rogue. Having that third row – standard on all Outlanders, by the way, and a feature only available on one other (it’s optional on the Tiguan) comparable – is a nice “in case” feature, like the time I got stuck with a few extra of my kid’s friends at a birthday party and I had to be the good dad and drive ‘em home. In those cases, it’s better to make the kids a little uncomfortable but safely belted in their own seats rather than piling them atop each other and having the liability of someone else’s spawn potentially getting hurt in a crash. Again, it’s an edge case, but potentially worth considering when you look at your future child-rearing and hauling situation.

If you fold that third row down, rear cargo room is class-competitive at 33.5 cubic feet. The second row has a 40/20/40 split, too – so the center section can fold to accommodate long stuff like skis or hockey sticks while hauling the brood. The semi-aniline leather on the top trims is lovely, with contrasting quilted stitching details and a two-tone treatment on the dash, doors, and armrest that breaks up the monotony.

Mechanically, the Outlander is quite similar to the Rogue – however, there is a roughly 200-pound weight penalty, give or take, between the two platform mates. This should explain the slight blunting of EPA fuel economy estimates – the Outlander is rated for 26 mpg combined for the AWD model and 27 mpg combined for the FWD, while the Rogue ranges from 28 to 30 depending on trim and drive.

Styling of the Outlander is polarizing – especially if you look at photos taken with cell phones or wide-angle lenses. The entire front looks incredibly wide for the size of the vehicle – Mitsubishi tells us that width and height were emphasized in the design. I’d imagine that more than passing glances were directed toward various Range Rovers and the Ford Explorer when penning the broad, flat hood with prominent O U T L A N D E R badging on the leading edge. I promise you – it looks better in person than in photos.

From the side, I especially like the minimal black cladding around the wheels – the double creases over each wheel arch are unusually handsome details. The flat roof again makes the Outlander appear more substantial than it really is – it’s a genuinely handsome crossover.

I will say that while the 20-inch wheels fitted to this top-trim SEL S-AWC model – and, really, most versions of the Outlander – are quite handsome, I’d like a taller sidewall. The ride quality is generally good, but the roads around Hell, Michigan, might have been paved with good intentions somewhere around 50 years ago and not touched since. Impacts with the craters and ruts that Michigan calls roads can be a bit harsh, though the unibody takes each hit without shuddering. It’s basically competitive with the rest of the class – I just think a bit of extra isolation via more forgiving rubber would be welcome.

Power from the 2.5-liter four is reasonable if not exhilarating, while Nissan’s CVT is getting better the more they tune it to act like a traditional geared automatic. In this case, there are eight “speeds” programmed to create steps in the acceleration, doing a nice job of minimizing the rubber-banding feel of older CVTs. Road noise is generally muted, while the engine does make itself heard a bit under hard acceleration.

Tech within starts with an eight-inch center screen in the base ES trim, bumping up to nine inches on the SE trim and above. All have standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay – the CarPlay is wireless on the 9-inch screen. On higher trims – SE with Technology Package and above – a 12.3-inch LCD instrument panel makes the gauges look marvelous. An optional 10-speaker Bose audio system sounds excellent to these ears.

Pricing starts at $25,795 (plus $1,195 for destination/delivery) for a front-drive ES trim (add $1,800 for all-wheel-drive across the board) fitted with standard 18-inch wheels, forward collision mitigation, rear automatic braking, blind-spot warning, and the standard Android/Apple smartphone connectivity suites. The SEL-Touring with all-wheel drive package I drove rings the register at $36,445 plus fees. It sounds like a lot of cash – but it’s priced within a few hundred dollars up or down with the rest of the competitive set. Mitsubishi tells me that residual values are expected to be significantly better than in previous generations — thus leasing rates should be much more competitive.

And it’d genuinely competitive, unlike previous efforts in the class. Regarding the platform sharing — a Rogue by any other name would smell as sweet as the 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander. No longer the last kid picked, it deserves a place in the lineup when you’re shopping for your next family crossover.

[Images: © 2021 Chris Tonn, interior images courtesy Mitsubishi]

 





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