Those looking to buy a solid, standard-size sport utility vehicle with seating for seven and a full range of safety features will spend at least $50,000 if they choose a luxury SUV with Japanese or German nameplates.
Consumers who don’t care about the nameplate, however, can purchase a fully equipped 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander with a 4-cylinder engine for just more than $32,000.
The challenge, of course, is that few people even think about the Mitsubishi brand when considering an SUV. Perhaps some of them don’t know that the company has had access to state-of-the-art technology since it entered into a joint development alliance with Nissan and Renault.
The Outlander’s third-row seating takes some flexibility to get into and can hold only one adult, though two children can fit in for a quick run to the soccer field.
Considering that many families in Los Altos will be transporting kids in such a vehicle, let’s start with safety. Due to its advanced structural design and airbag configuration, the Outlander AWD received five out of five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for overall collision safety (the front-wheel-drive version was given four stars due to a slight difference in drivetrain structure).
In terms of active safety systems that help the driver prevent collisions, the Outlander’s recent update included a variety of new systems, and the list is now comparable to any other SUV in the market. Safety features include blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist, as well as ABS with brake-force distribution and brake assist, active stability control and hill start assist.
The vehicle we drove, which came with the $3,000 SEL Touring Package option, added forward-collision mitigation, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control and LED headlights and fog lights with automatic high beam. That package also includes our favorite new device on any car, truck or SUV: a multi-view camera system that combines front, rear and side camera images to produce a bird’s-eye view of the vehicle and the curbs, walls and parking lines surrounding it. Interestingly, a premium audio system and heated steering wheel are included as bonuses with that package.
The Outlander doesn’t have a bargain-basement feeling either; the exterior styling and interior trim fit-and-finish are right up there with the luxury marques.
The exterior design is pleasing without being overstyled, and includes 18-inch two-tone alloy wheels as well as silver roof rails on which to mount your bicycle or ski rack.
On the interior, leather facings, panels and wraps on the steering wheel and handles, and gloss black and chrome trim are attractive and comfortable, even if the vehicle lacks the two-tone baseball glove accent stitching that has become the hallmark of luxury interiors.
Of course, you can’t just sit there and admire the vehicle – you still have to get from here to there. Mitsubishi offers choices for how to do that, depending on where “there” is. If your primary use for the Outlander is busing groups of kids to and from school and around town, and taking weekend trips to the big-box store, you will actually be just fine with the 166-horsepower 4-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission that came with our test vehicle. It may take nine seconds to get up to highway speed, but drag racing isn’t likely to be a primary activity. We would opt for the all-wheel drive on our Outlander, which adds to collision safety, and AWD is always safer on our occasionally wet roads.
On the other hand, if your idea of winter weekends includes trips into the mountains during inclement weather or you want to haul snowmobiles or wave runners to your Tahoe cabin, another $3,000 will buy the 3-liter 6-cylinder engine with 6-speed automatic transmission, 224 horsepower and 215 pound-feet of torque. That power train allows you to take advantage of the available low-ratio gearing and locking differentials to get out of mud, sand or snow drifts and even do a little blue-trail off-roading. It also offers 3,500 pounds of trailer towing capacity.
While you’re getting from here to wherever you’re going, you’ll also enjoy the experience. The ride is comfortable, capable of absorbing the potholes on our California highways, and the cabin is quiet enough to carry on a normal conversation with passengers in the second row (though you still may have to raise your voice when the two occupants of the third row get into a he-did, she-did argument).
And if you’re hauling equipment rather than junior league teams, it’s nice to know that the cabin can hold more than 60 cubic feet of cargo with the second and third rows folded, and 34 cubic-feet of luggage in standard two-row family configuration.
Overall, we’re always pleased when we have the opportunity to drive a vehicle that is as budget-ready as it is roadworthy, instead of having to apologize for the price tag.
If you can get past the fact that your neighbors will ask you “Who makes it?” when they first see your vehicle, we highly recommend that you consider the new Mitsubishi Outlander as your next SUV.
Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.