2017 Mitsubishi Outlander GT: Competence is not enough

By Christopher A. Sawyer
The Virtual Driver

(September 9, 2017) One upon a time, Mitsubishi was an automaker with a purpose. It built rugged, high-tech cars and trucks that people wanted to own. It had a plant in Illinois, shared technology and platforms (and entire vehicles) with Chrysler, and was Subaru before Subaru was Subaru, with its World Rally Championship Evo models and turbocharged, all-wheel drive Galant VR4s for the street.

Then,  just as suddenly as it had risen, Mitsubishi fell off the radar; its products slipping from bitchin’ to bland, and wow to warmed over.

To be honest, I didn’t expect much when they dropped off the Outlander GT S-AWD. It’s an inoffensively styled mid-size SUV with seating for seven and a 3.0-liter V6 under the hood. And in a market crammed with crossovers, inoffensive doesn’t set you apart from the crowd. However, a price tag of $34,090, which includes destination charges ($895) and the GT Touring package ($1,500), does price the Outlander up against a number of smaller competitors.

Another thing the Outlander has in its favor is interior room. There’s a surprising amount of space inside, and passengers in the first and second rows have plenty of head and leg room. Third row riders, not surprisingly, have less. And it’s best to look at those seats as tailor made for pre-teens, especially since entry into this row is best left to the limber.

Folding the third row flat opens up a good amount of space, and dropping the second row gives a flat, smooth surface perfect for hauling things. Things like wireframe decorative orbs in need of a good sandblasting and powder coating. The largest of the three just fit through the hatch, while the smaller pair rolled in easily. In fact, they rolled a little too easily, aided by the failure to tie them down before heading out.

Sometimes it’s possible to reach a hand back and steady errant objects, but this time doing so did little to stop them from acting like solids and stripes rolling across a pool table. Easing into and out of the throttle — easy with the torquey V6 — helped limit their motion, but there’d still be the occasional crash into the hard plastic interior trim.

About that trim. It’s surprisingly tough, and sustained a few gouges and scrapes. The matte finish on these surfaces accentuated the damage, whereas a light grain effect would have hidden it better. Then again, putting the brain in gear and tying the orbs down would have prevented any damage — and the mountain of paperwork that followed — at all.

The Outlander rides on Mitsubishi’s GS platform, which has been around since 2005. It was shared with DaimlerChrysler, but the termination of that partnership meant DCX, as it was then called, was free to modify the platform as it saw fit. The resulting JS platform soon was found on the Avenger and Sebring, as well as the more capable Journey crossover. Mitsubishi should have borrowed the plans from its former partner. It did a better job engineering and tuning Mitsubishi’s platform.

Unlike Mitsubishis of the not too distant past, the Outlander lacks any sporting pretensions. In fact, it seems to lack any pretensions at all, being both personality and gender neutral. The ride and handling are soft and comfortable, though this means the suspension bushings allow too much wheel recession (the rearward movement of the wheel designed to lessen impact harshness over bumps). As a result, the steering feels vague and lifeless, though this does have the benefit of making sure you don’t corner hard in a high center of gravity vehicle.

However, there’s no need in this day and age for carmakers to have to trade ride for handling or vice versa. It’s possible to have both. And the Outlander would be a much stronger market entry if it could possess both attributes in something approaching equal amounts.

In addition, the rubber switches on the front door handles, used to lock and unlock the car without using the key, were hit or miss in operation. Not because the switches didn’t work, but because you had to wiggle the switch slightly in order to guarantee it made contact. Another problem was the radio. It went out completely the first time out, and required shutting the car off and restarting to make the stations return. I felt like it was possessed by the ghost of Windows 7, except that there was no accompanying “blue screen of death.”

If the Outlander proves anything it’s that Mitsubishi needs to rediscover its desire so that it can once again build capable cars with a discernible personality. There’s nothing so wrong with the Outlander that it can’t be put right, and nothing so right that you’d choose it over a competitor if given the chance. And in a market full of choices, that’s a deadly combination.

The Virtual Driver