2020 Mitsubishi Outlander still well behind the competition

By Jim Prueter

(October 25, 2019) If you’re thinking that you weren’t even aware Mitsubishi was still in the U.S. car business, you wouldn’t be alone. With outstanding competitors from the likes of Honda, Mazda and others, Mitsubishi doesn’t exactly have top-of-mind awareness among consumers shopping for a new vehicle.

After the departure of Suzuki a few years ago, most thought Mitsubishi would soon follow, given its last-place position on the monthly sales charts, a stale product line, and a disappearing dealer network. It even closed its lone U.S. assembly plant in Illinois and now imports all of its vehicles from Japan.

Yet, seemingly knocked down and out more than the record-holding professional boxer Simmie Black (an amazing 95 times), Mitsubishi is still alive and kicking, pegging its hopes on the red-hot crossover utility market with three new vehicles: the Eclipse Cross, Outlander Sport, and Outlander, whose lineup includes the PHEV plug-in hybrid tested here.

The Outlander is the largest Mitsubishi vehicle offered, one of the roomiest in the compact-crossover segment, and the only plug-in hybrid powertrain in its class. While Outlander comes standard with a third row of seats, our PHEV only comes with two rows, since it has to make room for a battery pack. On the upside, cargo space is a roomy 30.4 cubic feet, even more with the second row seats folded forward.

The Outlander received a mild refreshing for 2019 with additional updates for 2020, including a more advanced updated Super All Wheel Control for every all-wheel-drive Outlander. All versions above the ES trim level get standard forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, and automatic high-beams, as well as a new 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen. All Outlanders get power-adjustable lumbar support on the driver seat. Second row seats have been redesigned for 2020.

Our plug-in hybrid Outlander is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making a meager 117 horsepower. But wait, with two electric motors – one for the rear tires and one for the front tires – the total horsepower output increases to an estimated 190. If you plan on towing with your Outlander, know that the capacity tops out at 1,500 pounds.

The electric (EV) part of the Outlander PHEV is a 12 kWh lithium-ion main drive battery pack that comes standard with DC Fast Charging, which can charge it to 80 percent capacity in about 25 minutes, assuming you have access to a DC Fast Charger (which can be hard to locate). Recharging with a standard household outlet from empty can take up to 13 hours. That time drops to 3.5 hours with a 240-volt charger. 

The EPA says the Outlander PHEV can cover up to 22 miles using electric power alone. However, during our weeklong testing we achieved a full 25. That’s often enough mileage to cover many daily drivers’ one-way work commute. Plus, in most states, that qualifies it to permit a single occupant to travel in the HOV lanes. Once the electric range is exhausted, the Outlander switches over to the gasoline-powered engine where combined fuel economy is rated at 25 miles per gallon.

On the road, acceleration feels nearly adequate from a stop or for overtaking a vehicle when passing in EV mode, less so with gasoline only power. But don’t expect zippy acceleration. The suspension delivers a rough ride with vibrations traveling through the seats and steering wheel. Handling is skittish with excessive body motion on sharp cornering and curves.

Inside, the cabin has a rental car feel with sub-standard materials and switchgear. The center console armrest is tiny and placed too far back, with minimal storage. There’s a pair of cupholders at the front of the console but no place to store your smartphone when charging.

Our Outlander included a standard touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability but the system is far from attractive or intuitive and is short on features that are available on most competitor vehicles.

We did like that the PHEV comes with an exclusive 1500-watt AC power supply with two outlets that can power an LED TV or other plug-in devices. It also comes with standard dual climate control, a 710-watt Rockford-Fosgate audio system with nine speakers, a multi-view camera, heated leather seats, heated steering wheel, and safety features like adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, blind spot warning with lane change assist and rear cross traffic alert, and hill start assist.

Against all odds, Mitsubishi has seemingly carved out a fairly good niche for itself, with a vehicle that’s quite roomy, offers a lot of no-cost extras, has good crash test results and overall bang-for-the-buck pricing. But exterior styling is bland, and the interior looks and feels cheap. The infotainment system is outdated and of poor quality. Further, if how a car drives and handles is important to you, the Outlander isn’t the vehicle you should choose.

With a total MSRP of over $42,000, its more money than we would spend for a Mitsubishi, especially when there are more compelling compact crossover utility vehicles to choose from. Available federal and state-specific tax credits does make the price more attractive.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $41,495
Price as Tested: $42,695
Engine: 2.0-liter gas-dual electric motor plug-in hybrid with 190 total horsepower and a CVT automatic transmission.
Fuel Economy: 74 MPGe (combined electric city/highway) 25 MPG (combined gasoline city/highway).
Seating: 5

Crash Test Results: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety “Good”, highest possible 5-star rating from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Where Built: Okazaki, Japan

Competes With:
Chevrolet Equinox
Ford Escape
Honda CR-V
Hyundai Tucson
Jeep Compass
Kia Sportage
Mazda CX-5
Nissan Rogue
Toyota RAV4
Volkswagen Tiguan

Fab Features
Plug-in-hybrid powertrain