The 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander gets a raft of changes – and it’s not just about that new-look front and revised rear-end.
The new ‘dynamic shield’ styling certainly has a big part to play in differentiating this Outlander from the model that came before it, and to our eye it looks a more cohesive and attractive SUV than the its awkwardly styled predecessor which debuted in 2012 and has been updated almost yearly ever since.
Mitsubishi says the exterior styling tweaks are vastly important to buyers in this segment, who clearly want to purvey the notion that they like to venture into the great outdoors and live “active” lifestyles. The importance of appearance, according to the Japanese brand, is a “key driver” of buying decisions when it comes to SUVs.
You can make of the styling update what you will, but if the aim was to give the car more road presence, it seems fair to state that mission has been accomplished.
While the cosmetics have changed, there haven’t been huge changes under the bonnet.
The 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol and the larger 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engines carryover with minor fuel consumption improvements, while the existing 2.2-litre turbo diesel remains an option for upper-spec models, too.
During our drive at the launch of the new model in Sydney we spent time in the mid-range, four-wheel drive XLS seven-seat variants – both the 2.4-litre petrol with its tweaked continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic, and the 2.2-litre diesel with its six-speed auto.
The petrol remains an adequate rather than exceptional operator with 124kW of power and 220Nm of torque, though the revised CVT automatic certainly feels more adept at allowing for smooth progress.
Mitsubishi claims it spent plenty of time finessing the way the car accelerates from a standstill, and the work has paid off, as there’s little of that annoying slurring hesitation as was seen in the previous version.
During a stretch of terrible urban traffic, the drivetrain proved hassle-free, with decent low speed manners. At higher speeds – during overtaking manoeuvres, for example – the engine could do with a little more torque to help push things along.
Torque is the name of the game for the turbo diesel model, which certainly has a bit more shove available (its outputs are 110kW and 360Nm).
That peak pulling power figure is decent, and makes for easy progress at lower speeds – thankfully, it’s available from relatively low in the rev range (1500-2750rpm) so there’s minimal lag.
However, like the petrol it can feel slightly sluggish under sudden hard acceleration.
The six-speed automatic gearbox generally does a good job of keeping the engine in its best operating range, despite some gruff rumbling at urban crawl speeds where the transmission chose higher gears to cruise at lower revs.
Some of the other major enhancements have been focused on the experience of living with the Outlander, according to the brand. Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) has been targeted with vigour, including 39 new elements to make the cabin more hushed, less buzzy and generally more liveable.
It shows, too.
There’s certainly less noise intrusion into the cabin at most speeds, with a notably more muted cockpit on the highway. The improved engine insulation can be picked more easily in the diesel than the petrol – it’s not a silent operator, but it is much better, particularly at open road speed.
The other changes focus on the drive experience, including a more rigid suspension system with extra underbody stiffening, revised rear dampers and retuned electronic power steering calibration.
Mitsubishi claims the work has lead to “improved straight line stability and high levels of ride comfort”, and, once again, there is a notable difference between this and the existing car.
The ride quality has definitely improved, with better bump absorption over smaller inconsistencies, though the front end can still jar over sharp edges. The body control of the Outlander isn’t as taut as some rivals, either, and it can wobble and feel spongy through the bends.
However, it does feel more composed and compliant on the straight stuff, and the steering adjustments that have been built in also make it more enjoyable to drive, as it turns more responsively.
While those big changes are all a considerable step forward for the Outlander, the interior arguably hasn’t changed enough to bring it up near the best in the class.
When you slip inside, you’ll notice the way the door closes has been improved. Mitsubishi says this was an important measure to make it feel more premium – they went as far as designing new door rubbers – and it does, because the existing model’s doors clanged shut clumsily.
New items inside include a redesigned steering wheel, new headlining with sunglasses holder in LS and XLS models, and revised seats that have been worked over to improve comfort, and also with new trims and stitching. All told, it looks nicer than before, but isn’t nearly as plush as Mazda CX-5 or as special feeling as, say, a Jeep Cherokee.
Equipment levels are decent for the Outlander, particularly the XLS we drove. On top of the standard reverse-view camera and sensors, there’s satellite navigation from this spec up, but you need to buy the Exceed for leather trim and keyless entry/push-button start. The XLS has niceties such as auto lights and wipers, dual-zone climate control and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
The big downside is the usability of the media interface. Mitsubishi's media unit now has digital radio reception on XLS grade and above, but that aside it remains a finicky thing - if you read our long-term updates on the PHEV, you’ll know that it was one of the main bugbears of the team after six months.
The menu systems are confusing and the graphics are low quality on the sat-nav maps. At least the USB media connectivity is simple to set up – Bluetooth phone and audio streaming is standard, but it’s painful to link up to.
In terms of the cabin space, the Outlander makes good use of what it’s got. There is enough room for four larger adults (you could fit three adults across the back if you needed to), and the third-row is good for occasional use by kids.
There’s decent storage through the cabin, with large door pockets and cupholders in the front, and reasonably large door caddies in the back, too. The boot is 477 litres – fine, but not exceptionally large – and that dips to 128L with all seven seats in place.
It's commendable that you get the option of a third row, since few rivals do.
Safety remains a strong suit for the Outlander, with the updated version coming with reverse-view camera and rear parking sensors as standard across the range, and all models have seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee). The top-spec Exceed has radar cruise control and collision warning with low-speed autonomous brake intervention, too – but that’s not available, even as an option, on lower models. That said, it's expected to retain its five-star ANCAP crash rating.
Mitsubishi has done away with its five-year, 130,000km warranty – the duration remains the same, but the distance covered is now 100,000km. The brand argues most people won’t do that many k’s, anyway.
Maintenance is required every 12 months or 15,000km, and capped-price servicing rates for the 2016 Outlander vary between models, with coverage offered for four years. The 2WD entry variants cost $355 per visit; the 4WD petrol models cost $375 each time; while the diesel 4WD costs $450 in the first instance, and $550 each for the next three. Those prices are up slightly for all models.
The changes to the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander appear significant from the outside, and thankfully – for the most part – the effort the company has gone to is noticeable from the way it drives.
Now, perhaps a little more time needs to be spent on spicing up the interior and the usability of the in-car tech…