Testing Through Another Minnesota Winter

Years ago, I was questioned by some old friends from places I have been throughout my life as to my rationale for living in Minnesota.

Unlike California, we get four honest-to-God seasons, the economy is performing better, and goods and services are more affordable. Unlike Washington, DC, traffic is more manageable, weather management is better, and this state has the budget to fix the roads. Unlike Madison, Wisconsin, this is a real metropolitan area!

Yes, I have answered this question before on this site. But, some things are worth repeating. They are repeated to make a point…

Another point to be made is the reason that 80 percent of all new vehicle purchases in the state of Minnesota are either trucks and SUVs. This is the highest percentage per capita in the USA. And, it is behind the reason why early March will be a focal point for the industry to convene at the National Truck Summit in Minneapolis.

This story is not about the National Truck Summit or about Minnesota’s climate. They do have something to do with it.

For the past eight winters, I have (as Victory & Reseda and for other outlets I have written for since) put many vehicles to the test in the wintry conditions this state has thrown at us. It may not make sense for anyone living in Florida (unless you’re a snowbird living in that state and want to laugh at your primary state of residence), Texas (oh, c'mon, your freeways freeze up when the temps dip below 35 degrees Fahrenheit and you don’t have anything to cure them), or California (unless you are a skiing enthusiast and must take your tire chains to get up into the elevations).

However, this work reflects our reality. Winter testing is a measurement of a vehicle’s competency. It also fits in my approach to working with vehicles for content – what it is like to live with it in the real world. Part of the real world is weather and climate. We have to commute, shop, date, meet friends, and live our lives in what the universe serves us.

Of course, I was nervous when the weather reports talked about a massive storm smashing through the space between the Twin Cities and Bismarck, North Dakota. It caused "no travel" warnings in the Twin Cities, due to a sheet of ice covering the roadways, as well as the mass of snow dumped in Fargo.

Obviously, I might just have the right vehicle to deal with the wave of snow and ice storms.

Backtrack to the "Day After Christmas" (for anyone in Her Majesty the Queen's realm, this is also known as Boxing Day). My friend, Richard Herod III of White Bear Mitsubishi and I had a prior discussion about having one of their vehicles reviewed for another outlet I write for. I suggested the 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander – the brand's flagship vehicle.

Since I worked with the PHEV a couple of years ago, we discussed which trim level of the non-plug-in model we should work with. Normally, Mitsubishi would send the top trim level – a V6-powered GT with Super All-Wheel-Control (S-AWC). Herod had a better idea: How about an Outlander the average customer would actually purchase or lease?

Herod came up with a 2020 Outlander Limited Edition (LE) with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and S-AWC for the period of time I was working with it. When I picked it up on Boxing Day, it wore a lovely shade of Red Diamond – the launch color on the Eclipse Cross. It was nothing short of absolutely lovely.

Not to mention, the LE's distinctive exterior features, including the black grille, black alloy wheels, and dark chrome finishes. Inside, there is a mix of leather and suede (or a facsimile of either material) with some red stitching for good measure. Most Outlanders look great with plenty of chrome and sumptuous leather upholstery. This LE was so cool – it was ice cold.

Actually, the seats were heated. The heater and defrosters worked quite well. While it was ice cold outside, it was nice and comfy inside. Just the way I wanted a new vehicle to work!

The one part I was more curious about is how the standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine worked in the Outlander. The numbers say that it would be underpowered: 166 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. It was also connected to a continuously variable transmission, which had its hits against it for years. The main attraction to this driveline was the S-AWC system, which I had plenty of success with on Mitsubishi vehicles equipped with this all-wheel-drive system.

With the vehicle in my possession, I tried to plan for some things for the Outlander to do. All of which would require some care with this vehicle. After all, you try to do your best to keep the vehicle in 100% shape.

For starters, the roads were mostly dry on the Thursday and Friday after Christmas. I had some errands to do on Friday that took me practically half of the Twin Cities metro area. I was also planning on reaching out to a couple of folks I know in Eau Claire, Wisconsin to see about a meal. Sadly, those plans panned out on social media, as the place I had in mind would be closed for the holidays.

I was nervously watching the weather app on my phone on Friday night. I did not know what to expect when I woke up the next morning. Was it going to be snow, rain, or something else?

The answer came when I woke up. I did not have to look outside to know what transpired. Overnight, freezing rain left a sheet of ice on anything paved or wooden. A short reach of my phone and a look at social media gave me the full story.

There was a video circulating about a school bus sliding sideways in Eden Prairie. Another video of a dump truck sliding down into an intersection in Western Wisconsin, smashing into a car. And, yet, another video of a gentleman sliding across a freeway onramp with several vehicles crashed into each other. It was visual evidence to stay warm at home.

Then came the notices. First, the public transit agency for the Twin Cities, Metro Transit, announced that bus service was suspended during the morning into noon. The Minnesota Department of Transportation and the State Troopers also announced that they asked no one to travel within, into, or out of Twin Cities that Saturday morning.

So, I waited. The first sign was that Metro Transit announced that the bus service has resumed before 2:00 PM. The air warmed up enough to melt a lot of the ice sheet off the roadways and walks. The walks at the house were still kind of dicey, but I managed to get into the Outlander for a few errands. The roads were indeed better, as the temperatures rose into unseasonably warm levels. By Sunday, we reached 40 degrees Fahrenheit – good enough for getting a few friends together for Joey Nova's in Tonka Bay that evening.

Monday arrived with heavy snows falling upon the Twin Cities. This was a perfect test for the Outlander's S-AWC system and the four-cylinder driveline. The optimal setting for the S-AWC system in these conditions was Snow. It would send traction to all four wheels through the Active Center Differential and the Active Yaw Control. The latter ensures that power is sent to the rear axle to balance out the traction up front.

As the snow was solid, the S-AWC system worked extremely well. It kept the Outlander out of trouble by ensuring both traction and stability right down to its Toyo A24 tires. As day turned into night, the traction control kicked in on a few turns, as well as the S-AWC system. I did not slide, but the tires began to feel the slushiness of the early plow passes.

Tuesday was New Year's Eve. I gave the walks another pass with the shovel. Then, moved the Outlander to the street after the city plowed the street to the curb. The sun was out with the clouds gone. Things looked promising.

The plow passes again, showing how much the municipal and county governments did a so-so job on plowing and salting the roads. The Toyos worked with the electronic systems and the S-AWC to help me make key turns at intersections or into shopping centers. I felt some sliding, but the Outlander got me back on track without any skipping of my heart.

Which brings me to something that had been a topic of discussion for years. Even with all-wheel-drive, would your vehicle be better served with winter tires? If you scan social media for users in Minnesota and the northern climes – the automatic answer is "yes." Then again, those are most likely car people.

Non-car people will give you excuses – it’s too much money to spend for a second set of tires and wheels for the winter and that their all-season tires are just fine for this kind of weather. In the mortal words of "Judge Judy" Scheindlin (or drag superstar Bianco Del Rio playing Judge Judy on RuPaul’s Drag Race season 6): "BALONEY!"

Winter tires would actually optimize traction and grip on many surfaces. They would also compliment the all-wheel-drive system to ensure that all systems work well with the additional traction on the surface. They might even make your SUV into a "snowmobile." Now, that's exactly what I'm talking about!

About the Outlander with the four-cylinder driveline? First off, recent updates to Mitsubishi’s CVT transmission has made life easier driving one. It is smarter and understands speed and revs much better. As for the so-called "underpowered" engine, it actually motivates this 3,351-pound SUV pretty well.

Let’s go back to that weight for a moment. These days, SUVs are coming in heavier – 3,500 pounds or more. Even those in smaller SUV classes have been quite weighty. The Outlander feels light on its feet and that "underpowered" engine fits the vehicle just fine. Probably best to never underestimate what’s under the Outlander's hood next time you look at one at your nearest Mitsubishi dealer.

It is also best to never underestimate what Mitsubishi is doing to retain its place in the North American market. With more new vehicles coming online soon, you could be pleasantly surprised by what the three-diamond company has in store for us.

The Eclipse Cross is only the beginning. The improvements that compact SUV exhibited are showing on other models. Not to mention, the Outlander is a real value to compare to its competitors.

Al you have to do is to try one in the northern climes to see why you should shop Mitsubishi next time.

The 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander LE S-AWC was priced as tested at $31,220. Vehicle supplied by White Bear Mitsubishi, White Bear Lake, MN.

All photos by Randy Stern

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