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by David Zatz
The Jeep Compass and Patriot were built on a modified Mitsubishi Galant platform, and some claimed at the time that Chrysler and Mitsubishi engineers were working together on crossovers, too. It was still surprising, though, how much the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander felt like a nicer version of the Jeep Compass. It has the same basic engine design, the same CVT, and similar dimensions, but it feels far better.
The 2.4 liter engine generated just 168 horsepower and 167 lb-ft of torque, but it felt like more, with an aggressive tip-in and fast shifting. The Outlander Sport GT was surprisingly quick in daily driving, responding quickly to the throttle, aided by a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that dropped the gear ratio quickly and smoothy.
The abrupt throttle tuning required a gentle touch for normal launches. Fortunately, automatic full-time all wheel drive put power to the ground as needed — and it did help; we used front wheel drive mode for a while to see the difference. Once moving, it’s easy to drive gently or, um, sportily. The car does slow rather quickly when coasting, and has a very slow crawl when idling in Drive, due to the low gearing. It’s nearly always in the right ratio, and if it isn’t, the paddle shifters (or, if you prefer, console shifter) make it very easy to almost-instantly change to a different “gear” (it can pretend to be a six-speed sequential automatic, if you prefer).
If you don’t like the CVT, you can get a manual transmission
The CVT felt ordinary enough unless we pushed the pedal to the metal, and then the engine buzzed like a sewing machine — just like the Jeep Compass CVT. That same noise, despite a completely different set of heads, injectors, manifolds, and computers. Sigh. On the lighter side, if you really, really pushed the pedal down to the floor, rather than 80% of the way, it sounded more like a cloud of angry bees. The further you push the pedal, the higher the rpm; and it stays at, say, 6000 rpm, rather than rising and falling, so it can accelerate faster.
The price for pep was gasoline; the Outlander Sport GT was rated 22 city, 27 highway, and the city number may be optimistic. Our city mileage was about the same as our full size, 292 horsepower Chrysler, while the highway mileage was as good as rated. The 2017s come with just one engine, the more-economical 148 hp 2.0 liter, with just 20 hp less than in our 2.4. It’s probably a bit less fun, but still quite capable.
Handling felt far more confident than in the first generation (2007-17) Jeep Compass, though they have similar suspension designs; the Mitsubishi’s ride was also smoother, handling bumps and rough surfaces, including concrete roads, with no problem, emitting surprisingly little noise. While there was some jiggliness on concrete, by no means was it a busy ride, which helped the Outlander to feel more expensive than it is.
The sporty feel was absolutely ahead of the 2016 Compass, despite the smoother ride; the Outlander Sport could be easily whipped around turns, except when there was a broken surface, which would immediately tear the rear tires loose, causing understeer. It feels very capable, and it is pretty capable, but you can get into trouble if you don’t watch out. Still, it was hard to believe this was the same basic chassis and suspension architecture as the compact Jeep.
What doesn’t feel better is steering: the all-electric power assist is great for avoiding power steering fluid, hoses, and a pump, but it results in an oddly unreal feel, unlike some other electric-steering cars.
The Outlander and Compass are similar in size, price, and basic layout, right down to the pleasant three-ring climate controls (which appear to be identical to the ones Chrysler/Jeep used). The seats are more comfortable, particularly the headrests; the interior looks and feels better, as well, for the most part. You can see where they put money in, and where they left it out, pretty clearly.
The gauges are nicely done, clear and attractive, in deep pods with chrome rings that didn’t cause us any glare; the Sport GT’s speedometer goes up to an absurd 150 mph, and the tachometer goes 1,500 rpm over redline, both pointless wastes of gauge space. The trip computer shows gas mileage and distance for two trips, with outside temperature, service needs, and range to empty.
The driver can set a few preferences, awkwardly, using a single button.
Unlike most cars sold in America, (and for good reason), drivers can set the tilt of their HID headlights, so they can lower the beam in cities to avoid blinding oncoming traffic, and tilt them further up as they go faster. It’s a nice feature, for those who care — maybe 2% of owners? — and it makes a large difference, both inside the car and out.
Our Outlander Sport had a CVT — a continuously variably transmission, with no discrete gears — yet, like the Compass, it also has a manual override which lets you downshift or upshift, using the console shifter. Unlike the Compass (and an improvement), it also lets you do this using paddles mounted to the steering column, that don’t move with the steering wheel. This is a definite improvement, though they don’t react with lightning speed.
The automatic continuous all wheel drive (AWD) system was good for maintaining traction, and can be locked for particularly bad roads (or off-road use) or shut off entirely for better gas mileage, leaving the Outlander with front wheel drive.
The automatic climate controls were eminently sensible and we haven’t seen a better, easier design. Heated seats used mechanical switches with two settings, unusual and a nice touch. The parking brake was a bit far to the right for comfort (Japan is a right-hand-drive country).
Like the Compass, the Outlander had a two-level center console; the USB port for the stereo was in there. The stereo controls were nice in some ways and odd in others, using the old-style mechanicals that Chrysler used to share (buying from Mitsubishi itself, among others), but without the cheap-feeling/looking USB port integrated into the unit, and with a shiny, glare-inducing black surface. Our stereo had an equalizer with five settings, of which “normal” worked best, surround and sound-field controls which were a nice addition (usually lacking on Chrysler cars), and speed controlled volume.
The system had no problem recognizing our 64 GB USB thumb drive, but was abysmally slow in reading it. Each time the car was restarted, the system ran through the entire drive again, taking nearly two minutes to provide playlist control and another two or three minutes for a folder list — then taking quite a while to respond to each press. The interface was actually pleasant with smaller drives, just abysmally slow and impractical for use with a big drive (voice control did not bypass the problem).
Sound from the absurdly high-wattage system was quite good once we got it dialed in for the music, and I definitely appreciated control over “punch” (low-end bass).
The interior of the car was pleasantly light. Seats were done in a nice perforated leather with contrasting stitching, and the gimmicky LEDs lining the huge sunroof could be shut off or dimmed; the sunroof itself can’t actually be opened to the air, but it lets a lot of light in, stretching from the front visors to the rear seats.
Visibility was good, with a large rear window, usable openings in the massive rear pillars, a good backup camera (which could use more light sensitivity at night, or better backup lights), large mirrors, powerful HID headlamps, and large side windows. The sun visors don’t slide into the middle, so Mitsubishi simply blacked out part of the windshield to compensate.
Speaking of which, the cargo bay is conveniently sized and well finished, with a full size spare tire and nicely package jack underneath.
Jeep vs Mitsubishi. What does the Jeep Compass have that the Outlander Sport does not? It’s made in the USA, with an American made engine and transfer cases. If you get the sole Trail Rated Compass, it can tackle some surprisingly tough trails with aplomb, which makes one think the body is tougher, if that matters. The Compass has superior controls, and the interior can be optioned out to look quite nice; the Outlander Sport tops out presentable but not upscale. You can also get the Compass with a traditional automatic, though the Mitsubishi’s well-tuned CVT is easy to live with. (The “generation two” 2017 Jeep Compass is totally different.)
Our test car was the GT, which comes with, well, everything — paddle shifters, HID headlamps with tilt control, rain-sensing wipers, rear mirrors that automatically folded back against the car whenever it was locked. That’s a pretty good setup.
The nicer standard features included a massive panoramic glass roof, LED tail-lights, turn signals in the heated mirrors, locking AWD, rear heat ducts, aluminum pedals (with plastic dead pedal), and a nine-speaker, 710-watt stereo. The more normal items were fog lights, rear wiper/washer, basic trip computer, leather, power front seats, filtered automatic climate control, tilt/telescope steering wheel, locking gas cap, USB stereo input, rear camera, ignition button (with a radio key), cruise, power locks and mirrors, garage door opener, and side airbags. All this comes at a cost: $28,245, which is $10,000 more than the base Outlander Sport. It would be hard to find all that equipment for the price, but it’s still a lot of equipment on a fairly inexpensive base car.
The Outlander Sport comes with a fine ten-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty with a generous five year, 60,000 mile bumper to bumper warranty; it’s 97% Japanese made, with no US or Canadian parts. The safety ratings are four stars for everything but side crashes, which are five stars.
The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport (not to be confused with the “just plain Outlander,” which is considerably larger) is an interesting crossover. It’s fun to drive, despite having a 168 horsepower four-cylinder moving 3,285 pounds; and it seems to have a “lost at birth” twin in the Jeep Compass, which nonetheless has a very different character. It’s an interesting pick, pleasant and fairly sporty, not too costly, and definitely different from its siblings.
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