2016 Mitsubishi Outlander GT S-AWC
A superb little crossover SUV that deserves your attention2016 Mitsubishi Outlander GT S-AWC
I don’t know about you, but to my eyes the Outlander looks much nicer in this taupe-mocha metallic than it did in black. Quartz Brown, as Mitsubishi calls it, softens the SUV’s harder elements and highlights its subtler charms, seeming to smooth out its long, upright profile, giving it an all-round classier appearance.
The Labrador Black model just noted was a four-cylinder SEL S-AWC trimmed version I tested just prior to this one, whereas the model before you today is a top-line V6-powered GT S-AWC variation on the Japanese brand’s compact crossover theme. I lauded the less equipped version for its improved styling, luxurious interior filled with more standard and optional features for the money than most competitors, excellent performance and thrifty fuel economy, so you’d be right in guessing that this more upscale, performance-oriented Outlander would also get an enthusiastic thumbs up.
For starters, the differences between the two are nominal at first glance, being that even the base ES gets finished to such a high standard already that the SEL feels like a luxury ute, the bottom feeder getting a premium-grade soft-touch dash top wrapping all the way around the left side of the primary gauge package as well as the other way around the center stack, the same treatment for the front door uppers, while hovering above is a set of fabric-wrapped A-pillars, highly unusual for the class yet welcome just the same.
Additional base features include auto-off halogen headlamps, LED positioning lights, heatable side mirrors, LED taillights, color-keyed exterior door handles, power locks and windows, speed-sensitive variable intermittent wipers, rear privacy glass, 18-inch two-tone alloy wheels, remote keyless entry, a multi-information display, illuminated vanity mirrors, single-zone auto HVAC, a leather-wrapped tilt and telescopic multifunction steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shift knob, chrome-plated inner door handles, a sunglasses holder (that sadly gets nixed with the sunroof), hands-free phone with audio streaming, a 140-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with six speakers and USB/iPod ports, an ECO mode switch, seven-passenger seating, 60/40 split-folding second-row seats, 50/50 folding third-row seats, hill start assist, four-wheel discs with ABS, electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, traction and stability control, tire pressure monitoring, and seven airbags including one for the driver’s knees, which is a shockingly long list of gear for a base SUV starting at just $22,995 plus freight and dealer fees.
Of course my tester was in top-line GT S-AWC trim so it included all of the above other than those items replaced with something better, such as the second-rung SE model’s fog lamps, color-keyed power side mirrors with integrated turn indicators, proximity access with pushbutton ignition, color multi-information display, high-contrast gauge cluster, heatable front seats, dual-zone auto climate control, rearview camera, and HD radio. Additionally, the near top-tier SEL model grandfathered up roof rails, gloss black-line interior accent panels, leather upholstery, leather-clad armrests and trim panel inserts (these very nicely done with French-stitched detailing), and an eight-way powered driver’s seat, while lastly my top-line tester’s GT trim boasted auto-on/off LED headlamps, power-folding side mirrors, chrome beltline moldings, silver roof rails, rain-sensing wipers with a windshield de-icer, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with an integrated Homelink universal garage door opener, a drive mode selector with AWC ECO, Normal, Snow, and Lock settings, satellite radio, a powered glass sunroof, and a powered liftgate.
Of note, both models I tested featured the same stylish gray bamboo-like inlays on the instrument panel ahead of the front passenger and across the door panels, while the enhanced primary gauge package just mentioned in the features list included eye-catching blue, red and white on black dials with an upgraded high-resolution color multi-information display at center, whereas the digital graph-style gauges for engine temp and fuel were done out in a cool aqua green-blue.
The switchgear in the two models was also very good, with tightly fitted, well-damped buttons, knobs and toggles throughout, although I had issue with the rotating knobs on both trims’ infotainment systems, as they were tiny and therefore a bit difficult to twist. Fortunately the volume control on the left steering wheel spoke worked perfectly so I used it more often than I do with other vehicles, probably a good thing as it kept my eyes more focused on the road ahead. On that note the Rockford Fosgate “Punch” stereo, optional even with in my GT, sounded much better than the base system thanks to 710 watts of mind-numbing power and a big thumping 10-inch sub, this one producing awesome bass response ideal for dance and rock, while it also performed well when listening to other genres such as jazz and classical, not to mention talk radio.
Differentiating the GT further from the rest of the Outlander lineup is its 3.0-liter V6 and standard S-AWC driveline, AWC being Mitsubishi-speak for all-wheel drive, plus it also gets a six-speed Sportronic automatic transmission with idle neutral logic and paddle shifters, a more conventional approach to the four-cylinder’s CVT.
I know, along with the earlier lists of features and this engine upgrade I could be rattling off the available options of a premium branded compact SUV, although if I were, depending on the brand, some of these items would be left off the menu. As it was, my tester featured the only option package available in top-tier GT trim, a $3,350 GT Touring package that added the Mitsubishi Multi-Communication System (MMCS) with SD-card sourced navigation featuring real-time traffic information, 3D mapping, voice command, display guidance and a CD player, all integrated into a seven-inch LCD touchscreen, plus adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and forward collision mitigation. This meant the GT S-AWC’s base price of $30,995 plus freight and dealer fees grew to $34,345, which is still less than most fully-featured compact SUVs in the mainstream volume class that don’t offer anywhere near as many goodies and aren’t anywhere near as nicely finished inside.
Most don’t drive as well either. Suitably settled into the extremely comfortable, well-bolstered powered leather driver’s seat. I made sure to set the two-way seat heater to its topmost temperature for toasty warmth, much appreciated on a cold winter’s day. While I previously noted the four-cylinder’s CVT was better than most, I was glad the paddles at my fingertips connected through to a regular six-speed automatic, which together with S-AWC, launched the little SUV forward with gusto. The 3.0-liter MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve-timing Electronic Control) V6 isn’t the most powerful in its class (although there aren’t many left that offer six-cylinder performance so it’s a step ahead of most), but it nevertheless adds 58 horsepower and 53 lb-ft of torque to an SUV that weighs only slightly more than base, the complete numbers being 224 units of thrust at 6,250 rpm and 215 lb-ft of twist at only 3,750 rpm, a differentiator that not only adds to your daily dose of performance but also increases the Outlander’s towing capacity from 1,500 to 3,500 lbs, and max trailer tongue load from 150 to 350 lbs.
Another positive is a rather shallow ongoing dent in your wallet, the V6 only increasing fuel consumption from 24 mpg in the city, 29 on the highway and 26 combined with the four-cylinder and AWD to 20 city, 27 highway and 23 combined, while premium unleaded is now recommended for maximum performance yet not required.
The engine pulls nicely and transmission snaps through gear changes quickly, prodded via nice big rally-style magnesium paddles for even more driver engagement, so it’s not too difficult to quickly get past posted speeds and into costly territory. A good thing its four-wheel discs scrub off speed quickly, and at least as importantly that the Outlander’s fully independent suspension can handle the forward weight shift when doing so. It handles lateral forces just as well and much better than most challengers, the spirit of Evo trickling down (or rather now haunting, RIP) through most of Mitsu’s offerings. Its MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear setup isn’t anything new for the compact SUV segment, but the way Mitsubishi goes about tuning it is masterful, the Outlander’s ability to effortlessly snake through serpentine two-laners even when the pavement underneath is far less than ideal a real delight. Of course, such agility can help avoid potential accidents too, the S-AWC all-wheel drive system going far to aid the suspension’s ability, especially in inclement weather. You’d think that such handling chops would result in a punishing ride, but the exact opposite is true with the Outlander delivering nothing but comfort over those same rough roads and an even more sublime ride on smoother suburban streets.
Incidentally, AWC was first offered in the 2001 Lancer Evolution VII, although for the Outlander its capability is not quite as all encompassing. Basically it combines Mitsu’s electronically controlled four-wheel drive system with active skid and traction control, allowing a torque vectoring effect that can really be felt. There’s a large circular button on the lower console that reads “S-AWC” yet doesn’t actually switch on the automatic system as one might think. Rather, it swaps between drive modes, the GT’s including Four-Wheel Lock mode to get you out of deeper snow, sand, or any other obstacle that could otherwise get you stuck, plus Snow mode, AWC Eco, and Normal mode. That said there is no Sport mode, which I found odd considering all the money spent on paddle shifters. Then again the GT felt like it was in Sport mode when left to its own devices in default mode anyway, so I can’t complain.
Along with its smile inducing performance the Outlander is a fabulous family mover and impressive load hauler. The third row was more spacious than expected (yes I climbed back there to make sure, and I’m a medium-build five-foot-eight), while you won’t get complaints from front or second-row passengers either. What’s more, you certainly won’t feel like anything is missing when time comes to load it up with cargo, although the standard 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks aren’t the most convenient to stow away. First you need to walk around to each side door and flip the lower cushions upward and forward before dropping the seatbacks down, but believe me the result is worth your time and effort. Those seats fold completely flat which makes for a huge cargo compartment, the net result being 63.3 cubic feet of maximum gear-toting space. With the second row sitting upright the Outlander is still quite accommodating at 34.2 cubic feet, and then when the third row is in use you’re still left with 10.3 cubic feet of capacity, which is mighty impressive for a compact crossover SUV loaded up with seven occupants.
Some more positives I’d like to leave you with include the highest possible Top Safety Pick + rating from the IIHS when its active safety equipment is included, these items specific to this GT S-AWC model and its optional GT Touring package, although lower trims still manage four stars out of five in NHTSA crash tests. Additionally, Mitsubishi gets an above average reliability rating from J.D. Power and Associate’s 2015 Vehicle Dependability Study.
This is the perfect segue to Mitsubishi’s industry-leading warranty at 10 years or 100,000 miles for the powertrain and five years or 60,000 miles for comprehensive “bumper-to-bumper” coverage. Feel free to price out optional warranty coverage when at a competing brand to see how much coverage you’d otherwise be getting at no extra charge with Mitsubishi.
Brand detractors will quickly point out that Mitsubishi needs to give away more to attract buyers as it’s hurting in sales, and to that I say, “And your point is?” Yes, it’s a bit dumbfounding to think the Outlander is dead last in popularity when considering all that’s on offer and just how good it is, but such is the challenge of getting noticed in a world dominated by Honda CR-Vs, Toyota RAV4s and Ford Escapes. These are all excellent compact crossovers, by the way, but none is particularly better than this Outlander GT S-AWC. Drive these three and then the Outlander, after which I think you’ll appreciate my point of view. It’s a superb little CUV that deserves a great deal more respect than it gets.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press.