2023 Mitsubishi Outlander Review: A Flexible but Focused SUV With Outstanding AWD

Mitsubishi is, by its own admission, not a “destination” brand. It’s where you end up when Honda dealers won’t budge on markups, and the Kia dealer won’t relent on 84-month financing. But does that mean the 2023 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL S-AWC is a sad last resort for compact SUV buyers? Not on your life.

The Mitsubishi Outlander is an unconventional crossover, but it’s one that’ll satisfy you if you’re looking for more capability than most compact crossovers offer. It has the most hauling capability, superb all-wheel drive, and a class-exclusive third row. That flexibility will cost you, though, because the Outlander is pricey and gets poor gas mileage. It has styling only a mother could love, I had problems connecting my phone to its infotainment, and that third row is only useful on occasion.

For better or worse, the Mitsubishi Outlander is an SUV that makes you ask whether it’s right for you, rather than pretending to be everything to everyone. In a market of increasingly unfocused SUVs, I say that’s a good thing.

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL S-AWC in the forests of Oregon.
2023 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL S-AWC in the forests of Oregon. James Gilboy

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL S-AWC Specs

  • Base price (SEL as tested): $30,740 ($39,865)
  • Powertrain: 2.5-liter four-cylinder | continuously variable automatic transmission | all-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 181 @ 6,000 rpm
  • Torque: 181 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm
  • Seating capacity: 5 to 7
  • Curb weight: 3,803 pounds
  • Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds
  • Cargo volume: 33.5 cubic feet behind second row | 78.3 cubic feet behind first row
  • EPA fuel economy: 24 mpg city | 30 highway | 26 combined (27 observed)
  • Quick take: The Outlander is tough to beat if you need outstanding AWD and more space and seating than compact SUVs typically offer.
  • Score: 8/10
2023 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL S-AWC by the highway
2023 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL S-AWC by the highway. James Gilboy

The Basics

It may only be a compact crossover, but the Outlander is the biggest, most expensive model in Mitsubishi’s lineup. It’s the only one in its class you could call a 2.5-row, with a folding third row that lets it seat up to seven. The Outlander is based on the same platform as the Nissan Rogue and shares its wheelbase and some interior parts, but it’s still its own, distinct vehicle with a completely distinct powertrain.

Under the hood is a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder from the Nissan Altima, which sends its power through a continuously variable automatic transmission. Power is split across all wheels by Mitsubishi’s crown jewel S-AWC, the performance all-wheel drive system repurposed from the acclaimed Lancer Evolution X. There’s also a plug-in hybrid version, but we’re focusing on the gas-only version for now—even if they share many of the same strengths and weaknesses.

One of those faults is its design. The front end is pinched up too high: the proportions aren’t satisfying. Its overhangs are a bit too long, though the subtler rear end gets off easier, even though it has some BMW iX to it.

Inside, again; there are too many textures for the design to come together. It’s cheapened by a combination of metal and shiny-coated plastics that evoke the 2000s, and not in a way we’ll be nostalgic for in five years. Build quality and materials, on the other hand, don’t have the same problem; this SEL had tons of semi-aniline leather, some of it quilted, which I loved running my hand over.

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL S-AWC cockpit view
2023 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL S-AWC cockpit view. James Gilboy

Driving the Mitsubishi Outlander

Like the pricier PHEV, the regular Outlander has confidence-inspiring driving dynamics and road manners. Its steering is agile but has a rewarding weight, the suspension doesn’t roll excessively, and the S-AWC AWD once again proved its mettle in bad conditions. The Outlander charged past less intrepid drivers in a heavy storm on a mountain pass en route to a beach, where it remained poised as I swerved back and forth trying to upset it. It had the right driving mode for each situation, and they made appreciable differences—not something you can say about every SUV.

The driving assistance tech proved competent and reduced the burden of the long highway cruise to the coast and back. I favored it due to finding the on-center steering sensitive, while the throttle was also touchier than I normally like. While the Outlander makes enough power to pass slower drivers, it’s still sluggish owing to its weak engine and high weight. Visibility was also average for a modern car, which is to say not great.

From the passenger’s perspective, the seats are alright and ride quality untaxing. Road and wind noise are average, while interior space is strong in the first and second rows, but not so much in the third. I grew up with this exact style of seat in my family’s Mitsubishi Expo; they’re identical in that they’re really only for kids. The roof was too low for me to be comfortable back there, and my feet pushed the second row up so far that it wouldn’t be suitable for adults either. I repeat: Kids only.

The Highs and Lows

The Mitsubishi Outlander is a stand-out case of good driving dynamics in a class of vehicle that typically embodies the opposite. Its AWD system performs commendably in all conditions, while its driving assists worked as intended.

Sound quality from its Bose stereo is solid, though getting audio to play was sometimes an issue. I had repeated phone connectivity problems, both over Bluetooth and USB, and sometimes had to unplug and then reconnect my phone to make it work. What’s more, gas mileage isn’t great—more on that later. And as mentioned, the utility of its third row is situational.

Mitsubishi Outlander Features, Options, and Competition

The basic Outlander, the ES trim, is a bit light on features. It has some basic ADAS, LED headlights and automatic high-beams, and dual-zone climate, but important weather-ready features like headlight washers and wiper de-icers are locked to the S-AWC models. The SEL I drove boasts real leather on the seating surfaces, shift knob, and steering wheel, plus quilted faux leather elsewhere. The front seats are heated and power-adjustable, there’s three-zone climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a multi-view camera for its 9.0-inch touchscreen. There’s also improved ADAS, and an available Touring Package with semi-aniline leather, a power panoramic sunroof, a 10-speaker Bose sound system, and a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster.

The compact, AWD crossover segment the Outlander competes in may be crowded, but its position is clear. Mitsubishi boasts the best-in-class payload rating, highest max cargo space, and is the only option with both a five-star NHTSA crash test rating and IIHS Top Safety Pick+ endorsement. On top of that, it drives particularly well for a crossover and is tied for the best warranty with Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage, while getting better fuel economy to boot.

That said, its mpg is still one of the poorest in its class. It’s also the second-most expensive to get with AWD, and owing to its high weight and low power, it’s kinda slow. I also don’t see it winning any awards for styling, and its paint options are lacking.

If it were my money, I’d spec an SE with S-AWC because I’m easy to please—though colder climates would justify vaulting up to the SEL Touring. Get it in red; not just because you’re compromising resale value if you don’t, but because I’ll judge you. I’d also tick some of the cosmetic options, like the carbon appearance package and rear spoiler, but to each their own.

Fuel Economy

For all the good I have to say about the Mitsubishi Outlander, its fuel efficiency is one of the worst in its class. It’s matched by the Chevy Equinox, and only underperformed by the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage—all three of which are cheaper. I beat the advertised figure by 1 mpg, but I usually do. YMMV, as they say.

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL S-AWC fuel economy compared to its competition
2023 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL S-AWC fuel economy compared to its competition. EPA

The best points of comparison are with the stand-out vehicles in its class: the well-received Honda CR-V, stylish Hyundai Tucson, and sharp but tight Mazda CX-50. You can do better than the Mitsubishi if your priority is sheer mpg, but also a lot worse if it’s not.

Value and Verdict

The 2023 Mitsubishi Outlander S-AWC makes its case as one of the most capable and flexible AWD compact SUVs. I’d absolutely trust it if I need an overperforming do-it-all daily where road conditions get extreme—like in Minnesota, where the Outlander is a bestseller. If you need AWD, it should be in your consideration; if not, you can overlook it due to poor gas mileage.

That’s probably the defining factor in deciding whether the Outlander is right for you. It’s spacious and drives well, but doesn’t get great mileage and has tech that can frustrate. At the same time, there are too many SUVs out there that try to be everything to everyone, only to not mean little to anyone. The Outlander isn’t that: It has strengths and weaknesses, and whether they fit you is for you to work out. They might not, but they also might in a way that’ll leave you more satisfied than you would be in any other SUV.

Got a tip or question for the author? You can reach them here: james@thedrive.com

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL S-AWC wheel on the beach
2023 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL S-AWC crunches through beach sand. James Gilboy
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