Let's face it, crossovers and SUVs have become the new normal for many American families often serving as a replacement for the family sedan (oh how the times have changed.) However, amid the sea of established entries from the likes of Chevrolet, Hyundai, Toyota, and Ford one plucky underdog is still hanging in there, Mitsubishi. The company once known for performance cars (as well as being recently taken over by Nissan) is banking its future on being green, and finally embracing the utility vehicle sales trend. With the Eclipse Cross currently dominating the headlines, can the Asian firm's other SUV entries still find a way to break through the established elite? or do they fall behind in the grand scheme of things.
To find out, we got behind the wheel of one of the members of Mitsubishi's new LE line of models, the 2018 Outlander LE. The "LE" designation (predictably) means Limited Edition, and our tester featured nifty looking model exclusive badging, as well as strategically placed black accents inside and out. Our favorite feature was the 17-inch black alloy wheels which serve as a visual calling card, and even managed to work nicely with our tester's Labrador Black Metallic Paint. The rest of the styling is function over form, but the fore-mentioned black paint does make the Outlander look a bit sportier, albeit not quite the same way as its smaller counterpart the Outlander Sport, nor the sorely missed Lancer Evolution. Despite this, the conservative suit of clothes should still please budget oriented families that want an SUV offering that still oozes a certain degree of swagger, but without breaking the bank in the process.
The interior of our tester fits the budget theme that defines other Mitsubishi models, with a simple layout that adds even more black trim to the cabin thanks to strategically placed plastic pieces. The cloth seats in our tester were surprisingly comfortable during long journeys, and there was even decent amounts of rear side bolstering. The second row is equally accommodating, but like the last Outlander we sampled, the third row is best left to either small children, or folded down to help increase cargo space. Many of the buttons are easy to use and are logically sized and marked. Visibility is good for the most part, but the rear pillars do create blind spots and the rear window is smaller than other entries.
A key change for the 2018 model year is the addition of an all new infotainment system. The old novel flip up unit and its hidden CD player are pitched, and in their place is an all new 7-inch infotainment system that features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability. This system is a massive improvement over the outgoing unit, and features better input speed, graphics, and a nifty looking startup screen when it is first turned on. Al the menus are logically spaced, and Mitsubishi's system even has satellite buttons to help ease initial frustration. Storage space is plentiful in the Outlander, with our tester featuring well placed cupholders, and enough storage to swallow sizable amounts of cargo and luggage.
However, the new infotainment system and the back in black color scheme do little to hide some of the quirks that still disappointingly permeate the Outlander's cabin. There are still copious amounts of cheap plastics, and the second row does not fold completely flat, and instead requires buyers to use an old school approach, with the bottom cushion folding forward before the rest of the seat can be lowered all the way down. Many of its rivals have long since abandoned that dated setup, and we hope one day that Mitsubishi will eventually do so too. Our tester also had minor build quality issues, with two pieces of ill fitting trim being discovered during our time with the LE.
Performance for the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander LE comes from Mitsubishi's familiar 2.4 liter four cylinder engine which delivers 166 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque. These figures ensure that the Mitsubishi will never be known for its track work, with our tester preferring to take its time in getting up to freeway speeds, as well as lounging its way through city driving. The four cylinder is paired to a CVT and while it did deliver commendable shifts during our time with it, it also had us longing for a conventional automatic. An optional 224 horsepower V6 is available on Outlander GT models, but buyers looking to add it to the LE will be saddled with the fore-mentioned four cylinder. Both engines are far behind rivals, and we look forward to seeing some of Nissan's influence be extended into providing much needed updates to the Outlander's performance hardware.
However, despite its lack of outright muscle, the four cylinder in our test vehicle did manage to excel in one crucial category, fuel economy. With the 2018 MAMA Spring Rally event taking place in Wisconsin, we enlisted the Outlander to serve as transportation to get us safely to Road America and back. With over 400 miles separating the track from our suburban office, we decided to start off with a 1/2 tank of gas to see how far our tester could go before it needed to be filled up. Incredibly, the Outlander managed to sip its brew all the way to the sleepy Western Michigan town of Hartford (a trek of over 200 miles) before flashing a low fuel light to let us know it needed a drink.
After its gas tank was topped off, we continued on our journey, and the Outlander continued sipping gas. In fact, our tester was so efficient that it still had over 1/2 a tank of gas left when we eventually crossed into Wisconsin, this feat certainly impressed us, as well as several Mitsubishi representatives that we met later that day. Part of this lies in its mpg ratings, with the Outlander managing to get an impressive 29 mpg on the freeway (front wheel drive models get a slightly higher 30 mpg.) This efficiency along with the transmission's ECO mode makes the Outlander a very good road trip vehicle, and this ability also allows the Outlander to be a compelling alternative to some diesel and hybrid SUV offerings that are currently out on the market. A brief detour in suburban Chicago gave the suspension the opportunity to showcase its smooth mannerisms, with even large speed bumps being well insulated from the driver.
Pricing for the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander LE starts at $26,145 for the base model, with our lightly optioned tester ringing in at $29,060 when its $125 carpet floor mats and $900 destination fee were factored into the mix. While this pricing is still on the budget side of the three row segment, it also shows just how quickly the Outlander has fallen behind segment entries like the Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe, Ford Explorer, and the Dodge Durango.
All of these models have had extensive updates during their time in production, and in some cases, outclass the Mitsubishi in several key categories. For example, the Ford Explorer features turbocharged powerplants, and the range topping Sport and Platinum models leave the Outlander GT in the dust thanks to their 3.5 liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6. Meanwhile, the Hyundai Santa Fe has more luxurious appointments, and slightly roomier 3rd row seating to boot.
Despite this, the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander LE is still a very compelling entry for those that want a functional three row SUV, but want something different that allows them to standout from mainstream SUV offerings. If you can live with all of its quirks, and make full use of the efficiency that the 2.4 liter has to offer, then the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander LE is the perfect companion for you and your driveway.