AUTO REVIEW: Extreme Makeover, Mitsubishi Outlander Edition

By Henry Payne

2022 Mitsubishi Outlander. (Mitsubishi/TNS)

(The Detroit News/TNS) — The new Mitsubishi Outlander is outlandish.

And that’s a good thing, because the auto industry’s doormat wants you to know that things have changed. Recent Outlander and Outlander Sport models have been uninspired blue light specials, their interiors right out of a rental car catalogue, their tech and styling subpar.

The 2022 Outlander arrived in my driveway like a pinata at a birthday party. Head-turning outside, stuffed with treats inside. The grille was so outrageous I thought it might have been torn off a Chevy Silverado HD. Waterfall grille, mid-facia headlights, high-mounted running lights, more chrome than a Costco birthday cake has icing. The interior? Like no Mitsu I’d ever seen. Big leather accents, big digital screens, big three-row layout.

The Outlander is a compact-class SUV? Yes, but its attitude makes it seem a lot bigger.

Credit the Outlander’s transformation to Mitsubishi’s marriage to Nissan. I’m happy these two confused souls have found each other after some difficult years. Expect more of these unions as regulatory costs soar and governments force automakers to make expensive, small-volume EVs.

Outlander is the union’s first offspring and is loaded with Nissan DNA while retaining Mitsubishi’s more rouge-ish attitude. Speaking of Rogue, the Outlander is based on the same platform as Nissan’s own popular SUV. Just as the new architecture has infused Rogue with some delicious, caramel chocolate flavor, so has it produced the best Outlander yet.

The Outlander’s interior has been transformed with a tablet mounted high on the dash, bold horizontal lines, intuitive knob controls and generous console storage. Step up to my all-wheel-drive SEL Touring model and Cinderella really flaunts her new figure.

Quilted seats, head-up display, all-digital displays, automatic-sliding sunroof, standard three-row seating, seat memory, the works. Look more closely and Nissan Rogue-like touches are everywhere. Cool chiclet shifter. Large infotainment display, steering wheel-mounted controls, control knobs and more.

To set itself apart from its Nissan cousin, Outlander teases you with a combination of rugged attitude and homespun practicality. The latter is most obvious in Outlander’s claim as the only standard three-row SUV in its class.

My chicks have flown the nest, but parents know the value of a flexible interior. Arrive at the school pickup line and inevitably your kids will add more rugrats to the passenger list. The Outlander’s third-row seat room isn’t generous, but the chairs will do in a pinch. And they are easily accessed with a top-seat tab that collapses the second-row seats forward. My tall frame actually managed to fold in back there, so I know two kids will survive just fine. Carry just four passengers and I could easily sit behind myself in the second row.

The Outlander’s rugged attitude comes naturally for this rally-bred brand.

I come from the Pocket Rocket School of Mitsubishi when the company made snarling, all-wheel-drive, 300-horsepower Evo track assault vehicles. These bad boys spent their weekends hunting down Subaru STIs and Honda Civic Type Rs.

But Mitsu’s real claim to fame dates to the 1980s and its rugged, go-anywhere Pajero SUV.

The truck-frame Pajero won global fame for its record 12 wins at the brutal Mideast Dakar Rally (how brutal? One year it was canceled for fear of terrorism). Call it Mitsubishi’s Jeep Wrangler, though the model was curiously canceled in recent years.

In this Age of Ute, they’d be wise to bring it back as a brand halo. In a nod to its off-road history, Mitsu entered an Outlander in California’s Rebelle Rally last year to celebrate the 20th anniversary win of pioneering pilot Jutta Kleinschmidt’s at Dakar — the only woman to win the race. That’s a start.

Pajero’s spirit lives on in the production Outlander. And not just the aggressive exterior that looks like it wants to eat shrubbery for lunch.

All-wheel-drive optioned models like my tester come with unique off-road modes including NORMAL, ECO, TARMAC (Sport), GRAVEL and SNOW. This off-road personality is key to distinguishing Outlander from the crisp, volume-selling Rogue. Particularly when Outlander gets the same driver-assist systems (Rogue’s ProPilot Assist vs. MI-Pilot Assist in Outlander) as well as the same 181-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine.

My loaded SEL Touring model included goodies like all-wheel drive, wireless Apple CarPlay, hands-free power liftgate, adaptive cruise and panoramic sunroof for $38,590 — or, um, about the same price as a comparable Rogue Platinum model and the rockin’, corner-carvin’, best-in-class, 250-horsepower, $38,470, Soul Red Mazda CX-5.

Oh. That’s a tough sell for a value brand trying to get back in the game. But the good news, at least, is that Outlander’s got game.

2022 Mitsubishi Outlander

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- and all-wheel-drive, seven-passenger compact SUV

Price: $27,290, including $1,245 destination fee ($38,590 SEL Touring as tested)

Powerplant: 2.5-liter 4 cylinder

Power: 181 horsepower, 181 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: continuously variable

Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.2 seconds (Car and Driver); Top speed, 120 mph

Weight: 3,864 pounds as tested

Fuel economy: EPA, 24 mpg city/30 highway/26 combined

Report card

Highs: Improved styling and interior; third row

Lows: Polarizing styling; gets pricey

Overall: 3 stars

Photos courtesy of Mitsubishi/TNS

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