Major changes to Mitsubishi Outlander

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      While manufacturers like Toyota, Honda, and Ford seem to dominate the compact-SUV market, Mitsubishi quietly chugs along with its strong-selling Outlander model. It’s never quite at the top of the heap but usually within sight of it.

      Maybe 2016 will see an improvement in this unassuming SUV’s fortunes. The company is claiming this iteration will feature “the most profound series of changes since its launch”.

      “We are taking the Outlander to the next level,” said Mitsubishi Canada’s senior manager of product planning, Don Ulmer, at the Canadian launch in Vancouver, “and this model will feature over 100 various changes and enhancements.” Ulmer says the body style of the new Outlander pays a kind of homage to the company’s earlier heritage—specifically, the no-longer-in-production Montero—with a new front-end treatment and various “embellishments”.

      Still offered with a four-cylinder or a V-6 engine, the 2016 Outlander retains its drivability; this remains a user-friendly vehicle and as easy to drive as ever. The V-6 displaces 3.0 litres and delivers 224 horsepower, while the 2.4-litre four-cylinder is good for 166 horsepower. You can get it with conventional front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. That said, the four-cylinder comes with continuously variable transmission (CVT) only. The V-6, meanwhile, gets a conventional six-speed automatic. And the AWD models can be had with four settings: Normal, for around-town driving; Eco, which reverts to front-drive only for enhanced fuel economy; Snow; and Lock, for maximum traction and off-road conditions.

      All things considered, the four-cylinder is the easiest to live with, not to mention the most affordable. After a couple of hours behind the wheel of both models, I found the V-6 to be a little on the unrefined side—nothing onerous, but definitely not as smooth or drivable as the four-cylinder version. As for the CVT—what are you going to do? Manufacturers have apparently decided this gearless transmission is the way to go, and buyers are going to get it whether they like it or not. Mitsubishi is no exception. I don’t like CVTs—never have. I find them comparatively unresponsive and kind of annoying in stop-and-go traffic. But it is what it is, and if you choose the base ES model, that’s what you get. Interestingly, the V-6 Outlander has, up to this point, represented almost 70 percent of total sales.

      And here’s something noteworthy. According to Mitsubishi’s research, almost half of Outlander buyers purchase this vehicle because of the warranty package, which, at 10 years or 160,000 kilometres for power-train components, is one of the most comprehensive in the industry.

      Elsewhere, Mitsubishi has redesigned the back seat, making it easier to fold down than before. In this market, where loading up the family vehicle on weekends and schlepping loads around is why you buy a vehicle of this type in the first place, this seemingly innocuous function is important. Who wants to fumble around with a recalcitrant back-seat mechanism while trying to stuff a large houseplant or a couple of bags of groceries into the car?

      A few other points of interest. Mitsubishi has apparently spent considerable time and effort making the Outlander as quiet as possible. That bane of carmakers everywhere—noise, vibration, and harshness, or NVH—has been reduced through the use of various bits and pieces, right down to an inner wind barrier within the rear-view mirrors. Various body components have been reinforced, the windscreen has been redesigned and the floor insulated, and assorted dampeners have been built into the drive train. Mitsubishi says the result is a “significant reduction” in low-frequency NVH. I didn’t notice this so much with the V-6, but the four-cylinder model did seem more developed than the last generation.

      As far as fuel economy goes, the front-drive ES is notably thriftier than the V-6. Combined rating for this model is 8.6 litres per 100 kilometres, while the AWD V-6 delivers 10.1 litres per 100 kilometres. These ratings aren’t the best in class, but they’re definitely competitive.

      For 2016, the Outlander will be offered in seven trim levels, and prices range from $25,998 for the base ES to $38,498 for a full-zoot GTS V-6 with AWD and a navi system. It’s available now.

      One more thing. Mitsubishi will be closing its plant in Normal, Illinois, later this year, and all Outlanders will be built in Japan.