By on July 27, 2011

Platform shared with the Evo + three rows of seating = the ideal vehicle for an enthusiast with kids? This formula encapsulates the promise of the second-generation Mitsubishi Outlander. But back when it was introduced, for the 2007 model year, the reality fell short, with too many rough edges in both the chassis and the interior. Last year the Outlander was freshened with a more Evo-like nose, an upgraded interior, and a new GT trim that added an active front differential. More than ever Mitsubishi was pitching the Outlander as the family hauler for enthusiasts. But do the tweaks go deep enough?

The Outlander was already a handsome crossover when fitted with the 18-inch wheels standard on all but the base model (which gets 16s). Though the crisp sheetmetal dates back to 2007, it’s doesn’t appear dated. Flared wheel openings and a kinked beltline keep the exterior from appearing generic without taking it over the top or appearing tacked on. The new, more distinctive nose adds some aggressiveness and more clearly marks the vehicle as a Mitsubishi.

Inside, Mitsubishi has done an admirable job of upgrading the interior for pocket change. Most of the plastic castings remain the same, but padded vinyl surfaces have been added to the instrument binnacle, instrument panel fascia, and upper doors. Though the vinyl has a budget look and feel to it—no one will mistake it for leather—it’s a big step up from hard plastic. That said, plenty of cheap bits remain, and door handles evince a tinny clang when the portals are opened, so the overall effect isn’t convincing. The Outlander was short on refinement even by 2007 standards, and the revisions aren’t thorough enough to keep up with competition that has lept forward.

The view forward from the driver’s seat is about ideal for a crossover: not too far from the windshield, and also not too upright. Simply a good car raised a few inches. The view rearward is good, and enhanced by large mirrors and (with the optional nav) a rearview camera. The front seats will work better for some people than others, as the non-adjustable lumbar bulge is prominent. Thankfully the active headrests don’t jut uncomfortably far forward. More of a problem: the steering wheel does not telescope and is positioned a little too far away for those of us without long arms.

Though Mitusbishi has stuffed three rows into the body of a compact crossover (183 x 71 x 66 inches), the second row is roomy enough for adults even when slid all the way forward. Slide it back, and there’s large car legroom. The second row is also high enough off the floor to provide decent thigh support and an open sitelines. The third row, which is more difficult than most to set up and stow, could not be more rudimentary. The bottom isn’t even a cushion. Instead, cloth that doesn’t attempt to match the other seats is stretched over a perimeter frame, hammock-style. Okay for kids, less okay for larger, heavier people. Even with kids back there the second row must be slid forward to make room for legs. Bottom line: if you’re just looking for occasional space for two kids, it’ll do. For full-time or adult use, perhaps not.

Even with the third row up there’s enough space behind it for a few large duffels or a major grocery run. There’s almost as much room behind the third row as in a Honda Pilot, a much larger vehicle, and far more than you’ll find behind the third row in a Kia Sorento or Toyota Highlander (much less the RAV4, which dealers rarely stock with the third row). It helps that the well behind the seat is very deep. And, to access this deep well, the bumper folds own tailgate style. You won’t find a lower liftover. The third row collapses flat into the floor—with little in the way of padding, it takes up very little space when stowed. The second row doesn’t fold to form a flat floor, but this is to be expected given how extremely low the rear floor is. The front passenger seat does not fold, a shame as this would take a highly versatile interior to the next level. A rigid cargo shelf as see in the PT Cruiser to form a flat floor with the second row would also be a nice touch, but the optional cargo cover is the window shade type.

While Mitsubishi’s 230-horsepower 3.0-liter DOHC V6 can’t deal out thrust the way Toyota’s or Kia’s stronger, smoother 3.5s can, with the throttle open wide it’s certainly more energetic than the fours Honda and Nissan rely on in their compact SUVs. Even with all-wheel-drive, torque steer is occasionally in evidence. At part throttle the six leaves more to be desired, with both the throttle mapping and the six-speed automatic transmission’s programming oriented towards economy rather than behavior worthy of the GT label. So in casual driving the 3,780-pound Outlander GT feels weaker than its specs suggest. The GT model includes some outstanding fixed position magnesium paddles alongside the steering wheel, but this powertrain is not worthy of them.

And the economy? The EPA numbers of 19/25 miles per gallon (city/highway) and the numbers I observed about the burbs (18 to 20) are little better than those of larger crossovers. Then again, the Kia Sorento does even worse (18/24) while the Toyota RAV4 does just a touch better (19/26). In this segment, if you want excellent fuel economy you want a four-cylinder engine.

My hopes were highest for the Outlander GT’s chassis. With the GT label and the active front differential, I figured this could be the three-row vehicle enthusiasts who’d been overly lax with birth control have been looking for. But it’s not. While the Outlander GT steers and handles better than the related base Outlander Sport I also reviewed recently, and about as well as other compact crossovers, it’s still not good enough. Even with the fancy differential, the effect of which was never evident, there’s too much understeer even in moderately aggressive turns. Also too much roll and not quite enough body control. Not a bad chassis for casual drivers, but not a willing, competent, confidence-inspiring partner for those of us looking to do more than get from one point to another. The Goodyear Eagle LS tires, an oddly casual specification for a “GT,” give up the fight early, and the nose then plows for the outside curb.The moderately heavy steering feels like it would communicate well if only the rest of the chassis and the tires would do their parts, but it cannot carry the entire team.

Ride quality is similarly passable, but lacking in polish. Bumps are absorbed well, but the engine noise, road noise, and sensations through the seat of one’s pants are those of an inexpensive, somewhat dated vehicle. Ford dropped off a new Focus the last day I had the Outlander GT, and the difference in refinement was night and day. Ford’s latest feels like it should cost twice as much as the Mitsubishi, boding well for the upcoming Escape replacement and not reflecting well on the Outlander. A decade ago the Outlander’s materials and refinement would have been competitive, but in recent years industry norms have been advancing rapidly. The tight, slick, smooth, and hushed sound and feel that used to only be obtainable in expensive European machinery is now available in a $20,000 Ford. Mitsubishi has a lot of catching up to do if it hopes to survive.

Is the Mitsubishi as inexpensive as it feels? While the tested vehicle’s $33,290 sticker might not seem low, a Kia Sorento SX runs nearly $3,000 higher when similarly outfitted with leather, sunroof, and nav. TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool suggests that about $1,150 of the gap is due to the Kia’s additional features, leaving an adjusted price difference of about $1,800. Don’t need these three big ticket features? Then the Outlander GT’s list price falls to $28,590. A similarly-equipped base trim Toyota RAV4 is priced only a few hundred dollars higher, but adjusting for remain feature differences opens up a nearly $3,000 advantage for the Mitsibishi. Bottom line: once you consider the Outlander’s features, every other three-row crossover costs considerably more. A Hyundai-like 5/60 bumper-to-bumper warranty, plus 10/100 powertrain warranty for the first owner, further sweetens the deal.

So the Outlander GT isn’t a driver’s crossover. Marketing rather than engineering appears to have pushed the GT label. For now, you must spend real money to obtain such a beast. And, even with the very welcome interior upgrades, the Mitsubishi’s materials and refinement remain at least five years behind the industry norm. But the Outlander’s exterior remains attractive and its interior is a triumph of packaging, with an excellent driving position, three rows of seating, and good cargo space inside a compact body. Add in a relatively low sticker price and long warranty, the Outlander likely deserves more attention than it has been receiving. Just not from enthusiasts.

Mitsubishi provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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36 Comments on “Review: 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander GT...”

  • avatar

    Look at Kia.
    Look at Hyundai.
    Then look at Mitsubishi.

    The South Koreans have shown over the past two decades how to take advantage of an available US market, how to evolve their products from ugly ducklings into swans, how to establish credibility within the industry, and how to establish a quality reputation with US buyers.

    Now that the US Market is no longer growing exponentially, the work they have done is rewarding their efforts.

    Mitsubishi could have been a player if they did half as much work as the South Koreans. Twenty years ago, they had established a very nice market beach head in the US thanks to their excellent work with Chrysler. Mitsubishi has thrown it all away.

    • 0 avatar

      I have a 2007 Outlander (virtually identical to the current model, save for the front clip — I like the older version better) and am happy with it. It’s a great deal for the segment, and with a 100,000 mile powertrain warranty, what’s to worry about? (5 year, 60k bumper-to-bumper warranty for subsequent owners)

      You can’t get a Kia Sorrento or RAV4 with the same equipment for near the Outlander’s price. And since the Outlander depreciates so fast, it’s a steal used. I got mine used with 29k miles for $18,500. It’s a loaded XLS with every option that sold for about $30k new.

      Granted, the interior is a bit cheap — the third row is reserved for my kids only, but they like sitting back there; the hard plastics aren’t much to crow about; and the “carpet,” which is more like some cardboard with dryer lint glued to it, sits on top of white Styrofoam.

      Still, it’s got navigation, hard-drive music server, sunroof, leather, sliding second row and handles well. The steering is nicely weighted, and the paddle shifters are fun to mess around with now and then. Furthermore, hardly anybody has these, so I’m not driving the same Kia, Hyundai or Toyota as everyone else. And we actually got good use out of the 4wd system before we moved away from the mountains.

      The V6 is pretty thirsty, though. Your best bet would be to get a loaded, used SE with the 4-cylinder and CVT transmission (also has paddle shifters), which you can get with nearly the same options as the XLS. I think the only thing you can’t get on it are the leather seats. Don’t know where they’re made now, but mine was made in Japan. Plus they’re popular in other countries as well and Peugeot and Citroen sell rebadged versions of the Outlanders in their markets.

      I’ve had no problems with it so far, save for a leaky oil pan gasket and problematic FAST key fob, both replaced under warranty. This CUV can be a real bargain.

  • avatar

    “… the Outlander likely deserves more attention than it has been receiving”

    More than it has been receiving from those who have credit issues but demand a new car? Sorry, those seem to be the only ones even considering Mitsubishi these days.

    Which is too bad, since some of their cars are quite decent…

    What is Mitsubishi’s image these days, anyway? Sporty? Economical?

    • 0 avatar

      I think Mitsubishi’s image these days is exactly what you point out…new cars for people who can’t get financed anywhere else.

      • 0 avatar

        Actually, they almost bankrupted the company with their policy of “lend out money to anyone willing to settle for a Mitsubishi, and don’t even ask for any payments for a year!” when the credit market collapsed. So they’re not as eager with the lending now.

        I don’t know why they exist anymore. Evo fans generally don’t have the money to actually buy a new Evo. The Eclipse hasn’t been good for over a decade. Everything else they make is mediocre at best. They don’t really have a whole lot going for them.

  • avatar

    And Hyundai used Mitsubishi engines to great effect, a further irony.

    Did you get a chance to test drive on that Bolivian highway or that frozen lake from the commercials?

  • avatar

    Mr. Karesh must not listen to music at very high volumes.

  • avatar

    “Mitsubishi’s materials and refinement remain at least five years behind the industry norm”

    In other news, the sun rose in the east today.

    Mitsubishi really is a head-scratcher these days. They used to sell a respectable number of vehicles in America. Those cars used to be fairly competitive. Then…it’s like they stopped caring.

    Their next new model won’t a decent high-volume family sedan, or a sporty AWD coupe, or even something to replace their 5-year-old CUV: it’s a tiny, expensive EV that will likely sell in smaller numbers than the Leaf or Volt.

    Curiouser and curiouser…

  • avatar

    “While the tested vehicle’s $33,290 sticker might not seem low, a Kia Sorento SX runs nearly $3,000 higher when similarly outfitted with leather, sunroof, and nav.”

    I’ve just got to ask (not being snarky) — in this economy, who is paying nearly $40k for a Kia? Are these things actually selling? And to whom?

    • 0 avatar

      The Sorento is selling extremely well, much better than I expected. But most of those sold aren’t the upper trim levels.

      • 0 avatar

        I guess the cheaper trims can be seen as an OK ‘value’, but even then… the base one with the 7-seat option is $24k, whereas a base chryco minivan runs $19k (and holds more, is more comfortable/gets same or better mileage, etc…) If you really need 7 seats, you don’t want something as small as the Sorento or the Outlander.

        Buying a CUV in general seems irrational in the face of other available choices; but I suppose buying a new car in general isn’t a wholly rational decision a lot of the time.

  • avatar

    The RAV4, cheap interior and all is the performer in this group. It has such a great platform and drivetrain. Sadly, I thought the Outlander GT was going to stack up well but this and other reviews have not been as enthusiastic.

    At least it looks better than the Toyota.

  • avatar

    Did you drive this car before you reviewed the Focus Titanium a few months back, or is there another Focus review on the way? I’m interested to see your take on a lower-spec Focus like an SE manual.

    The Outlander is probably the most competitive Mitsubishi not counting the Evo, and even then it still has some clear deficiencies. A shame…Mitsubishi really doesn’t seem to be trying hard in this market.

  • avatar

    I’m confused about that third row seating. Are you saying that it’s pretty much a lawnchair with seatbelts, or am I misunderstanding you?

    It looks like a nice enough car on the outside, but being as how I’m single I don’t think I need something even as big as this car. I’ve discovered that I don’t like feeding more car than I need.

  • avatar

    How does the Outlander compare to the Dodge Journey?

  • avatar

    Going back a few years, I used to have more respect for Mitsubishi. When they were selling their cars through Chrysler’s outlets, they were pretty decent value for the money, and had some leading features. 30 years ago, my brother bought a Plymouth Champ (Mitsu Colt) with a twin range 4 speed trans, a nice smooth OHC 4 cylinder motor that gave great mileage.

    But even back then, there were niggling quality issues. Back then, everyone thought Japanese = quality, but in so many cases it wasn’t true. My brother’s Champ was less than reliable at times, and he sold it before it was four years old.

    Back in the mid-80’s I would have liked to have bought a Starion, as I thought they were far out and cool and the same time, but for the same $13K, I got a V8 Mercury Capri that would smoke the Starion. For me, it made no sense.

    When I was selling cars, the original Diamond-Star coupes were new, and I really was enamored with them. But I had an infant at the time and another one on the way. It’s just as well, as we’ve all heard stories about the reliability of the DSM cars.

    My co-worker is looking for a 7 passenger SUV, as his family count has increased by one recently. We brainstormed what would work, this was one of the names that came up. Since we only have one Mitsu dealer in the area, you’re forced to deal with whatever they have on the lot. In this case, not much, and once they did see one of these (I think it may have been the Sport, not sure), they felt that the price wasn’t that much cheaper than a 7 passenger RAV4.

    Why go with the Mitsu when you can get a well regarded RAV4 for a similar amount of money?

    I guess that’s the real question for Mitusbishi. Good thing they have their own bank…

    • 0 avatar

      As mentioned in the review, the RAV4 is quite a bit more expensive if you get similar features on both. Also, the Outlander has been reliable, based on responses to TrueDelta’s car reliability survey.

      • 0 avatar

        @Michael: It’s good to know that the Outlander has been reliable. I’m really not sure about the trim levels that everyone was looking at, but regardless, it seemed my co-worker was not impressed with the Outlander. Too bad, as I think it’s pretty neat.

      • 0 avatar

        People often compare apples and oranges without realizing it. This was a big reason I created the car price comparison tool at TrueDelta.

  • avatar

    Maybe it’s the photos, but I just can’t look directly at that thing without having some sort of seizure; it’s the Mary Hart to my Kramer. And I’m a person that LIKES boxy, wagony, people movers. I’m a fan of the mid-80s Toyota Tercel wagon ( and the Honda Element, to name but a few ugly ducklings. But for some reason, my brain can’t reconcile the front of this Outlander with its middle section OR its back end. It’s like Girl Talk mashed up a number of different cars and I’m still trying to figure out which ones he sampled. I’m out.

  • avatar

    I bought one of these new in 2010, an ES 4cyl with CVT. We drove all of the comparable competition and quickly settled on the Outlander. Maybe too quickly. I was disappointed with the hard plastics in the interior, the road noise, and the engine noise when pulling off the line. Also, it doesn’t handle crosswinds very well. My wife can get the second row seats down (just make sure you are out of the way) but she comes to me to get them back up. We stayed away from the hammock style third row and the boom box subwoofer so that the golf clubs can go in there without collapsing the second row. And I can sit on the tailgate to put on my golf shoes. I love the 4WD system. So the car is working for us very well, and I have a feeling its going to last a long time. That said, all the previous comments are valid. I can’t believe why Mitsubishi wants to self destruct. They are hurting my resale value. They gutted their dealer network when they limited the number of models they could offer. Why did they keep a 90’s dated sports car? My dealer switched to Kia – his customers have now forgiven him and he’s doing very well. Perhaps Mitsubishi is happy enough with just a niche market – like Subaru.

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