What's New for 2013
The 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander represents the final version of the current generation, as a full redesign is due late next year. For 2013, all Outlander models get heated side mirrors, while SE and GT trims get heated front seats.
The formula for a successful compact crossover is simple: plenty of space for five passengers and their stuff, lots of utility, fuel economy that makes the old Tahoe a distant memory and inoffensive, unremarkable design. The 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander -- the end of the line for the current-generation model -- nails much of those criteria with the exception of the last. With its sharply creased exterior styling, the Outlander was not designed to slip quietly through the school drop-off area.
Assertive styling and handling have made the Outlander a solid outside pick in years past, but we expect the redesigned model due in late 2013 to get in step with today's leading crossovers by offering greater versatility, a nicer cabin and higher fuel economy.
In the meantime, the Outlander remains a good choice for buyers with performance-oriented criteria, including sporty handling and V6 power. The 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander is also among the roomiest cargo haulers in its class, and it offers plenty of standard and optional features, including a rear-seat entertainment system as well as a navigation system and 40GB music server.
The Outlander's fateful flaw, however, is its cabin, which is functional in a sporty sort of way yet doesn't offer the premium aspect of the competitors in this class. The Outlander's puny, rickety third-row seat is another drawback. Although the Outlander is billed as a compact crossover with seating for up to seven passengers, you'd never put friends back there unless you wished to end the friendship. The area is cramped and the seat itself is lightweight and flimsy. Kids won't fare much better, either.
The Outlander doesn't get the attention it deserves, though. It's one of a handful of small crossovers to offer a V6 option, which increases towing capacity to 3,500 pounds. Its tail/liftgate combination is surprisingly useful. And the Outlander handles more like its quick-witted Lancer Evolution relative than comparable cushy crossovers.
At the same time, the Outlander has been outpaced in a segment that evolves quickly. The Honda CR-V and Ford Escape were both recently redesigned, and the Toyota RAV4 should bow later this year with new sheet metal and hardware. The spacious Chevrolet Equinox, the handsome Kia Sorento and new Mazda CX-5 are also all worthy considerations. Overall, we like the Mitsubishi Outlander but we also think the majority of small crossover shoppers will likely be happier with one of the aforementioned rivals.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander is available in three trim levels: ES, SE and GT.
The entry-level ES is equipped with a four-cylinder engine and comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, roof rails, heated side mirrors, LED taillamps, air-conditioning, cruise control, remote keyless entry, full power accessories, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, cloth upholstery, reclining rear seats and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio input jack.
The SE adds 18-inch alloy wheels, foglights, turn signals in the mirrors, keyless ignition/entry, upgraded gauges and upholstery, automatic climate control, heated front seats, sliding second-row seats, third-row seats, steering-column-mounted paddle shifters, a six-disc CD changer and the Fuse hands-free link system that integrates voice controls for iPod and Bluetooth devices.
All Outlander GT models are powered by a 3.0-liter V6 and come with all the above-mentioned features plus automatic xenon headlights, automatic wipers, satellite radio, chrome accents and soft-touch dash and door trim. The AWD GT also includes an active front differential, hill start assist and an advanced AWD mode selector.
SE models are eligible for the Premium package, which adds a sunroof, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a rearview camera, a nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate premium sound system with satellite radio and the soft-touch interior trim. The Touring package is offered on GT models; it features most of the amenities in the Premium package and adds leather upholstery (front- and second-row seats), heated front seats and a power-adjustable driver seat.
A hard-drive-based navigation system with real-time traffic and digital music storage is available as a stand-alone option for all trims, as are rear parking sensors, LED interior lighting, a tow hitch and harness, a rear entertainment system and remote engine start.
Powertrains and Performance
The Mitsubishi Outlander ES and SE are powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 168 horsepower and 167 pound-feet torque. The GT has a 3.0-liter V6 that's good for 230 hp and 215 lb-ft of torque. Four-cylinder Outlanders come standard with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), while the V6-powered GT uses a traditional six-speed automatic. Both have manual-shift capability.
All-wheel drive is offered as an option on the SE and GT, while the ES is front-wheel-drive only. The AWD system offers different driver-selectable modes to optimize traction in varying conditions. The GT's all-wheel-drive system features an improved front differential, plus additional driving modes.
In Edmunds testing, the Outlander GT accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds, which is about average for a V6-equipped crossover SUV in this segment. EPA fuel economy estimates for the 2WD Mitsubishi Outlander are 23 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined with the four-cylinder engine, and 19/26/22 with the V6. The AWD four-cylinder gets 22/27/24 mpg, while the AWD V6 gets 19/25/21 mpg.
All major safety features are standard on the Outlander, including antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Whiplash-reducing front head restraints are also standard.
In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests, the Outlander earned the top rating of "Good." In roof-strength tests, the crossover scored an average rating.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Outlander's cabin feels distinctly austere and masculine, all square lines and clean surfaces devoid of the accents and flourishes seen in rivals striving for a more premium environment. On one hand, the interior's unadorned utility complements the Outlander's more rugged, all-weather credentials. You probably won't cringe if you scuff the door panel with a Leatherman. Outlander GT models step it up a bit with soft-touch upper instrument panel and door trim, with eye-catching double-stitch accents. But folks considering one of the other, more mainstream trims will wonder why the cabin is not as nice as that seen in a Ford or Kia.
The Outlander's steering wheel tilts but doesn't telescope, something taller drivers should consider. The Fuse system allows you to make phone calls and access your iPod via voice commands, and is relatively intuitive to use.
SE and GT models come with a third-row seat that works in a pinch, but is too slight and ineffectual for regular use. Small, cramped and located uncomfortably close to the tailgate glass, this mini jump bench is also remarkably ill-padded. On the plus side, the Outlander offers a unique flip-down tailgate capable of supporting up to 440 pounds. With the second- and third-row seats folded, total cargo space measures nearly 73 cubic feet -- significantly more than the CX-5 and Escape, slightly more than the CR-V and about even with the RAV4.
When it comes to driving dynamics, the 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander is among the most enjoyable picks in its segment. Its handling limits are noticeably higher than the typical crossover's, its steering is pleasantly weighted and its suspension is tuned to deliver athletic handling that doesn't come at the expense of comfort. While the Outlander's V6 isn't as powerful as those in the Kia Sorento or Toyota RAV4, it delivers brisk acceleration. As an added bonus, the all-wheel-drive system ably keeps the car planted on loose road surfaces like sand and snow.