2019 Mitsubishi Outlander Review

Liz Kim | May 29, 2019

Introduction

In an all-out effort to capitalize on the white-hot crossover utility market, carmakers are tossing their entrants into the ring, hoping that something will stick and earn them a small but loyal base.

Mitsubishi’s contestant is a compact CUV that boasts a third-row seat. Although the 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander is essentially the same vehicle that was last redesigned for 2014, this year the automaker slightly refreshes it inside and out, giving it new styling details and revised driving characteristics in an effort to keep it appealing as an alternative to well-known players such as the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander photo

As a part of this effort to make the Outlander compelling, last year Mitsubishi trotted out a plug-in hybrid version of the CUV. The company claims that the Outlander PHEV is the world’s best-selling plug-in hybrid SUV, if not in America where it is the largest vehicle of its kind. Other plug-in hybrid crossovers from mainstream brands include the Kia Niro Plug-in and Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid, with the 2020 Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid arriving in fall of 2019. The rest wear premium or luxury nameplates.

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated an Outlander Plug-in Hybrid equipped with SEL trim. Options included Pearl White Paint, a Towing Package, floor mats, and a cargo mat. The price came to $37,965 including the $1,095 destination charge. A federal income tax credit of $5,836 is available for this vehicle, helping to take the sting out of that price.

What Owners Say

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Mitsubishi Outlander, it is helpful to understand who buys this compact SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

Outlander ownership skews heavily male. According to J.D. Power data, 61% are men, compared to 50% for the entire compact SUV segment. They’re younger, too, with a median age of 51 years (vs. 58). In fact, 30% of Outlander owners self-identify as members of Generation Y. Yet median annual household income is nearly the same as the segment, with Outlander owners reporting $89,394 vs. $91,270 for all compact SUV owners.

More Outlander owners identify as Price Buyers, though (32% vs. 23%). Fuel economy is also important, with 81% of Outlander owners saying it is a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle compared to 68% of all compact SUV owners. They’re also willing to pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (65% vs. 57%).

Significantly more Outlander owners agree that their friends and family think of them as someone who knows a great deal about autos (64% vs. 56%). This could reflect the Outlander’s male-biased ownership base, or Mitsubishi fans from the company’s Evolution glory days.

Owners say their favorite things about the Outlander are (in descending order) the driving dynamics, visibility and safety, exterior styling, interior design, and engine/transmission. Buyers indicate their least favorite things about the Outlander are (in descending order) the air conditioning, infotainment system, seats, storage and space, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says

In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own perceptions about how the Mitsubishi Outlander measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2018 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM

Exterior

This year’s minor styling facelift keeps the 2019 Outlander looking modern. It’s a blandly handsome vehicle that neither offends nor sticks in anyone’s memory, although I find the lack of gray plastic side cladding refreshing. The new 18-inch wheels are eye-catching, but the most noteworthy aspects of my test vehicle were its PHEV badging, and, most of all, the coveted carpool lane access sticker that the state of California bestows upon certain vehicles.

Interior

My test vehicle had a black-on-black interior, which tends to make many cabins look and feel smaller than they are.

Some big strips of faux carbon fiber trim jazzed things up a bit, but there’s no hiding the brittle, hard plastics that Mitsubishi uses to decorate the lower half of the Outlander’s insides. I can think of some subcompact CUVs with more upscale interiors, such as the Mazda CX-3, let alone the directly competitive CX-5.

I will say, however, that the interior quality has improved since I last drove an Outlander three years ago.  

Seats

Getting into the Outlander is akin to slipping into a minivan, as the tall windows, low doorsills, and low armrests made me feel like I was sitting up taller than I was. A good driving position is easy to achieve with the 8-way power adjustments, a feature which the front passenger also enjoys. In the rear, there was decent legroom and shoulder space, considering that it’s a compact utility vehicle.

Thankfully, the plug-in hybrid lacks the standard Outlander’s tiny third-row seat, the space occupied by the battery pack. While some may actually use the seat in case of an emergency, previous experience reveals that it’s so small and restrictive, making it best used for naughty children.

Climate Control System

Like the other controls haphazardly placed around the Outlander’s cabin, the climate controls require a bit of getting used to. The temperature adjustment is integrated into a round button, so you assume that it is a knob to be twisted. But no, it’s actually a disguised rocker switch, so you must push, push, push them up or down.

At least the controls are separated from the Outlander’s yester-tech touchscreen, instead of being integrated into them. A single air conditioning vent helps to cool rear seat occupants, a helpful new feature for 2019.

Infotainment System

Save for the tiny and stubby power/volume knob, Mitsubishi integrates all infotainment system controls and functions into its tiny 7-inch touchscreen display, which is flanked by a touch-operated shortcut menu bar. This design requires surgical levels of fingertip accuracy in order to get the function that you want. This is not easy when your eyes are on the road, where they should be, or when the Outlander bounces over a dip or a bump, which is often.

Actually, if you want to much as to change the radio station, you have to dart your eyes from the road to the screen and your finger quite a few times. Yes, there are redundant steering wheel controls, but there are many of those and it’s not readily apparent which button controls what screen. Perhaps with more time, and more patience, it would get easier.

No native navigation system is available for this SUV, but Apple CarPlay and Android Autos smartphone integration is standard and offers a map, bit of familiarity, and the convenience of simple voice control. “Hey Siri, let’s find some coffee!”

Storage and Space

Depending on the trim level, an Outlander’s cargo space can vary. The regular Outlander’s cargo area holds 10.3 cubic feet of stuff behind the third row of seats and 34.2 cu-ft behind the second-row seats (33.0 cu-ft in the GT). Fold the seats down for maximum volume, and you’ll have 63.3 cu-ft (61.0 for the GT). That maximum number is less than the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.

In the Outlander PHEV, the numbers further shrink because the battery takes up more room. Behind the rear seat, there’s 30.4 cu-ft., while maximum space measures 66.6 cu-ft (62.8 cu-ft in the GT).

Up front in the cabin, the glove box and cup holders are decently sized, but the Outlander doesn’t offer many other nooks, crannies and bins. There is plenty of wasted space on the center console.

Visibility and Safety

With tall windows and slim pillars, the Outlander provides good visibility in every direction. My test vehicle also had a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, helping a driver to see out. Additional driving aids included adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and a lane departure warning system.

If you get into a collision, rest easy knowing that the 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander gets a “Top Safety Pick +” overall protection rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, while the federal government deems this SUV worthy of a 5-Star overall rating.

Engine/Transmission

Two 60-kW electric motors, powered by a 12-kWh lithium-ion battery, supplement a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder gas engine to create a total of 190 horsepower and an electronic version of Mitsubishi’s Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC).

The front and rear axles each have their own single-speed transmission gear box, which helps with traction. The park setting for the transmission is located behind the shifter, which is similar to a Toyota Prius in terms of how you choose reverse, neutral and drive settings. The difference here is that the shifter is on the center console, not the dashboard.

Drivers have a choice of drivetrain modes. You can use the Outlander PHEV purely as a hybrid vehicle, or put it in EV mode for the duration of its 22-mile electric driving range. You can also use the engine to charge the battery in order to recoup some EV range, though that takes a toll on fuel economy. Deciding which settings are most appropriate for what kind of driving does require a bit of homework with the owner’s manual.

Furthermore, the Outlander PHEV lacks the seamless effortlessness that other plug-in hybrids can provide. Power delivery is non-linear, as there are pockets in the rev range where the SUV loses steam, especially when going uphill. In most situations, you have to think long and hard before attempting to accelerate to pass a vehicle. Simply put, acceleration is merely adequate at best.

My test vehicle came with an optional towing package, and Mitsubishi rates this PHEV to pull 1,500-lbs. of trailer.

Fuel Economy

Plug the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV into a standard household outlet, and in a mere 13 hours, with the 8-amp setting selected, you can go from a depleted battery to a fully charged one. Use the 12-amp setting and it takes 8 hours.

If you upgrade your home’s electrical system and install a 240-volt charging station, it’ll take 3.5 hours to top off an drained battery. Alternatively, use a CHAdeMO public fast charging station to grab an 80% charge in about 25 minutes.

What does all this time spent charging give you? A whopping 22 miles of electric driving range, which seems to quickly run out unless you choose the Charge setting for the drivetrain. The EPA says that you should be getting about 74 MPGe when you’ve got a full charge, or 25 mpg when you’re running the Outlander PHEV in hybrid mode. During a week of mixed driving conditions, I averaged 30.7 mpg, diligently plugging in the Outlander whenever it was in my driveway.

With its small 11.3-gallon gas tank, the furthest you’ll be able to drive the Outlander on a full charge and a full tank is 310 miles. For the sake of comparison, a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid gets an EPA-rated 41 mpg city/38 mpg highway, providing more than 500 miles of range on a full tank and with no plugging in necessary.

If you’re searching for a vehicle that you’re just driving for short distances around town, and you mainly want those miles to be electric, the Outlander works. If you’re looking for great mileage over the course of a tank of gas, you may end up disappointed. Outlander owners already cite fuel economy as their least favorite aspect of ownership; PHEV owners might feel the same.  

Driving Dynamics

I didn’t like driving the Outlander, unlike owners who cite the SUV’s driving dynamics as their favorite thing about the SUV. Perhaps the added weight and powertrain complexity associated with the PHEV drivetrain is to blame.

The brake pedal proved grabby, making for jerky stops. The overboosted steering felt numb and required more input than it ought to. But the worst offender was the suspension, which Mitsubishi claims is re-tuned for 2019.

Taking the kids to school, the Outlander’s suspension contacted the bump stops when taking the speed bumps near the school at my usual 20 mph. On anything but the smoothest of pavement, the underpinnings did little to quell wallow and roll. These qualities made it hard to enjoy driving the Outlander around town and on local canyon roads. It did, however, enjoy having electric motors at both ends of the SUV.

The suspension’s saving grace is compliance. On the freeway, it soaks up ruts, cracks, bumps, and divots like a sponge, delivering a serene ride.

Final Impressions

The 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander boasts cargo and passenger flexibility, along with a terrific warranty and impressive crash-test scores. At sticker price, value is hard to come by, but typically this SUV is available with big discounts.

When it comes to the plug-in hybrid version, I found the Outlander to come up shorter still, displaying its advantages only in limited situations. Its short 22-mile electric driving range and complex, often-unrefined powertrain detract from owning an alternative fuel vehicle, which makes it difficult to justify spending so much money on one.

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