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The all-new compact crossover SUV is a huge leap forward for the underdog automaker.

COURTESY PHOTO: MITSUBISHI - The all-new 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander is more substantial and better riding that its predecessors, and will be available as a plug-in hybrid next year.The 2022 Outlander is the vehicle that Mitsubishi has needed for years — a thoroughly modern affordable compact crossover SUV that competes against those from better known manufacturers without qualifications.

Like Subaru until recently, Mitsubishi has long been underfunded and struggled to bring out new vehicles. As a result, their cars and SUVs have never seemed as contemporary and refined as those by companies like Honda, Mazda, Nissan and Toyota.

But, like Subaru, Mitsubishi has always been scrappy and attracted a following by innovating. It was among the first to use turbochargers to increase power and mileage, pioneered a sophisticated optional all-wheel-drive system called Super All Wheel Control, produced a surprisingly sporty but low priced V6-powered Outlander GT, and introduced the first affordable plug-in hybrid SUV in 2017, the Outlander PHEV that could go up to 24 miles on electricity alone before switching over to a conventional, fuel-saving hybrid mode. But Mitsubishi mostly stayed alive by undercutting the competition on pricing, making it a value leader.

COURTESY PHOTO: MITSUBISHI - The 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander is the only comact crossover SUV that comes standard with three rows of seats.

And now, like Subaru a few years ago, Mitsubishi is substantially improving the quality of its vehicles. It took the unprecedented step of suspending production of two newer vehicles, the micro Mirage car and smallish Eclipse Cross SUV, to fix design and build issues flagged by reviewers. The 2022 Outlander is something else again, though — a giant step forward in engineering, styling, construction and sophistication that makes it a legitimate contender, regardless of price.

For starters, the last generation of the Outlander has always been a little quirky. An early version had a rounded front end that generated comparison to the Planters Mr. Peanut Mobile. Even the newest interior design and infotainment system seemed outdated, even though it was comfortable and drove well enough, especially when equipped with S-AWD.

COURTESY PHOTO: MITSUBISHI - The interior of the all-new 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander features a modern, clean design and a large display mounted high on the dash.

But the all-new Outlander is as up-to-date as anything in its class. It looks thoroughly modern, with a hood line that evokes a Land Rover, slitty high-mounted running lights and front-mounted bulbous head lights that could be a trend setter.. The dash is clean and simple, with an upright display screen, a horizontal band for the climate control vents, and minimal knobs and buttons, similar to a Mazda. The materials in our test high-end SEL version were all high quality, including the two-tone leather.

More important, Mitsubishi has upgraded the S-AWD system, now offering even more traction settings on the console mounted selector dial and down hill descent control. Although it is only available for now with a normally-aspirated 2.5-liter inline four, the sophisticated Continuously Variable Transmission takes full advantage of every 181 horsepower.

COURTESY PHOTO: MITSUBISHI - The second row of seats in the 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander are surprisingly roomy for a compact SUV.

During a week of test driving, the 2022 Outlander always felt solid and poised. The refinements in the new model were immediately apparent with its smooth and quiet ride. Although the four cylinder engine lacked the punch of the 3.0-liter V6 available in previous models, it had plenty of power for around town driver and only felt a little strained when pressed hard.

Our version was a well-equipped SEL model. The two-tone leather interior gave it a premium feel and the infotainment system was easily the best Mitsubishi has ever offered. Our tester also came the newest version of the S-AWC system that featured no few than six drive modes controlled by a dial on the center console: Eco, Normal, Tarmac, Gravel, Snow and Mud. It also had a downhill descent mode and a manual mode with paddle shifters. And practically every advanced automotive technology is available.

COURTESY PHOTO: MITSUBISHI - There is plenty of cargo space with the rear seats folded down in the 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander.

It is also the only compact SUV that comes standard with three rows of seats, although the last one is best reserved for small children. Still, it can be helpful in a pinch.

The new Outlander will be available with an upgraded plug-in hybrid mode next year. Mitsubishi promises it will have more range than before, but details, including pricing, have yet to be released. But if you can't wait, the company is continuing to produce the last generate Outlander PHEV until the new one is available.

COURTESY PHOTO: MITSUBISHI - The large dial on the center console controls the six drive modes and Hill Descent Control feature of the Super All Wheel Control system in the 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander.

The all-new 2022 Outlander is a big leap forward for Mitsubishi. It looks, drives and feels like the true equal of its competitors and deserves to be considered on its merits, which are considerable.

2022 Mitsubishi Outlander

Base price: $25,795 (ES 2WD)

Price as tested: $37,995 (SEL 2.5 S-AWC)

Type: Compact SUV

Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder (181 hp, 181 lbs-ft)

Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission

EPA estimated mileage: 24/30

Overall length: 185.4 inches

Curb weight: 3,803 pounds

Final assembly: Okazaki, Japan

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