Test Drive: 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL
The smallest Japanese car company with American dealerships is generating an outsized media buzz with its newest U.S. release — a plug-in hybrid version of its compact Outlander crossover. The PHEV version will go over 20 miles on a full charge before switching over to conventional hybrid mode, but still offers all-wheel-drive traction because the rear wheels are driven by a second electric motor.
But the hype obscure the fact that several gas-powered versions of the 2018 Outlander are still available. A 2.4-liter inline four cylinder engine is standard, and it can ordered with either front-wheel-drive or the company's acclaimed Super-All Wheel Control all-wheel-drive system.
Although it is not as fuel efficient, there is a good reason for considering the conventional four-cylinder version — it costs a lot less, because battery-powered vehicles still come with a premium. That's the case with every electrified versions of a gas-powered car. Production volumes for EVs are still not yet high enough to reduce the additional costs of the batteries and electric motors.
But gas-powered Outlanders also cost less than virtually all comparably equipped competitors. The base ES front-wheel-drive version starts at just $23,945. The entry level all-wheel-drive version can be had for $25,445.
In fact, the different versions of the gas-powered Outlanders are just about the least expensive crossovers on the market with three rows of seats. Although the last row is strictly for children, most compacts only have seating for five.
Our test Outlander was a well equipped SEL version with the 2.4-liter engine, S-AWC and a wealth of options, including a leather interior, a large sunroof and multiple safety system. It's price was just a little over $32,000, which is well below most similar crossovers with the same equipment.
To be fair, there are some reasons why our test Outlander was so relatively inexpensive. It is not not as refined as its competitors, although Mitsubishi has significantly improved its production quality in recent years. The four cylinder engine is a little underpowered for the vehicle. And the exterior styling is clean, the front grill looks like something that has evolved over the years instead of being designed on a clean sheet of paper.
But, among other things, major advancements have been made in the responsiveness and noise level of the Continuously Variable Transmission, which is now close to industry standards. The interior materials have also been upgraded in recent years.
Our test version also came with Eco and Sport modes. Eco modes normally reduce the throttle response improve mileage. Our push button activated one didn't feel all that different from the default "normal" mode, but we didn't use it enough to document any mileage difference. And although off-the-line accelaration and freeway passing was better in the manually activated Sport mode, the CVT transmission also sounded more strained, dampening the enjoyment. But at least it was available.
For those who want more power and sportier handling, the GT version of the Outlander comes standard with a 3.0-liter V6, a Sportronic six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel-drive. It starts at $32,245.
The PHEV version starts at $34,595 — which is over $9,000 more than the least expensive gas-powered S-AWC version. Although the PHEV version gets the EPA equivilent of 74 miles per gallon (mpg), our test Outlander was EPA rated at 25 mpg in the city and 30 on the highway, which is decent for any all-wheel-drive vehicle — including those with less seating.
While the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander may not be the most sophisticated crossover on the market, it should be considered by anyone looking for value.
2018 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL
Base price: $27,995
Price as tested: $32,060
Style: Compact crossover
Engine: 2.4-liter 4 (166 hp, 162 lbs-ft)
Transmission: Continuously Variable with Eco, Normal and Sport modes
EPA fuel economy: 25/30
Length: 184.8 inches
Weight: 3,373 pounds
Final assembly point: Okazaki, Japan