2016 Mitsubishi Outlander

SAN FRANCISCO — Sales of Mitsubishi's Outlander were up 6 percent in the first half of 2015 compared to 2014. The second half of the year should bring even more success to Mitsubishi's largest vehicle in North America with a considerably refreshed 2016 edition now reaching showrooms. And more good news arrived early in July when Cars.com ranked the compact crossover the most affordable three-row in America based on sales price, fuel cost, and five-year residual value.

The really good news is just starting to reach consumers who will discover that 2016 model — which has received some styling tweaks including a new "Dynamic Shield" grille, a design that has become popular with automakers — has been endowed with a quieter interior, an improved ride, and better handling.

To make the new Outlander even more attractive, Mitsubishi has set the starting price at $22,995, which it says is $200 lower than the 2015 model.

In addition to the new front end — love it or hate it — the new Outlander gets redesigned front fenders, 18-inch alloy wheels, halogen headlights, LED position lights, color-keyed front and rear bumpers with chrome accent, color-keyed exterior door handles, and a new rear fascia.

In fact, Mitsubishi people seemed proud to point out that the refreshed 2016 model has at least 100 improvements to the platform, drivetrain, interior and exterior styling. Their goal was to make the Outlander more competitive against the big guys in the segment such as models from Honda, Toyota, Ford and Hyundai.

The Outlander comes with two engine choices — both carryovers from 2015 — a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine generating 166 horsepower and a 162 pound-feet of torque mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and a 3.0-liter V-6 making 224 horsepower and 215 pound-feet of torque mated to a standard six-speed automatic. Although we aren't fans of the CVT it seems to work well in the Outlander with little whine. Performance is on the low side of adequate and we feel most people in the market for a compact crossover will find it acceptable.

The biggest upside to the 4-cylinder/CVT combo is its 31 mpg highway mileage rating. Surprisingly, the V6, despite an additional 60 horsepower, doesn't feel that much better, but if you opt for the heavier all-wheel drive option and regularly haul big loads (four and five passengers and cargo) we recommend the bigger engine although it is available only on the top GT trim.

For comparison purposes, we estimate that the 4-cylinder in two-wheel guise can accomplish a 0-to-60 run in about 9.5 seconds. Throw in the heavier all-wheel drive setup and you can expect performance to fall off. The V-6 should accomplish the same run in around 8 seconds.

By driving 2015 and 2016 models back-to-back, we noticed first hand some of the improvements Mitsubishi touts. Handling is improved — a trait obviously noticeable — due in part to platform reinforcements that increases rigidity, and retuned shocks. Steering feel also seems slightly better perhaps due to new electric power steering.

Mitsubishi has accomplished its goal of creating a quieter cabin, an attribute that gives any vehicle a more upscale feel. Even the door-closing sound has a more quality thump to it due to the use of different seals and hardware. Higher quality materials are used on the interior with more soft touch features. Updated gauges, a restyled steering wheel, a new Mitsubishi Multi Communication System navigation and display audio system, improved seating surfaces and headliner, and a redesigned folding rear seat for easier operation.

All Outlanders feature three rows of seats with a generous cargo area measuring 63.3 cubic feet, but with the third row in place there is a rather meager 10.3 cubic feet of grocery hauling space. At the same time, second-row seat legroom is good, and the seats will slide fore and aft and recline for long-distance comfort. Be advised the third row is strictly for children.

Mitsubishi offers most of the safety equipment now available on most vehicles today. Optional safety equipment includes forward collision mitigation, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control. Standard features are many including seven airbags, antilock braking with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, hill start assist, active stability control and tire pressure monitoring.  Strangely absent from the list is blind spot monitoring. Officials said it was coming sometime in 2016.

The Outlander comes in four trim levels — base ES, SE, SEL and GT — starting at $23,845 including destination charge and climbing to $31,845 for a GT with all-wheel drive.

We found the new Outlander a very likable crossover that should serve its owners well over the years, especially with its 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. The problem for Mitsubishi is the excellent competition it faces from such nameplates as the Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. But we think the refreshened 2016 model is good enough to carve out a sizable niche.

— Jim Meachen