Just when the pundits, the analysts, and the skeptics were predicting the demise of Mitsubishi Motors in North America, there are still signs of life over at the three-diamond brand.
Though volumes are at its smallest since Mitsubishi established a beach head in the USA, the promise of new product is finally showing up on dealer lots. The first of which is the 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander, the replacement for its mid-sized crossover that has soldiered on since 2006 in this market. The new global crossover is designed to offer more on a lighter frame, while beefing up its capabilities.
Yes, we have heard this formula before, but will it work in the guise of rebooting Mitsubishi as a competitive brand? I was handed over two versions of the new Outlander for a brief session each to find out.
The Outlander will initially come in three flavors: ES and SE, both with a 2.4litre 166 horsepower four-cylinder engine. The third is the GT model with a 3.0litre MIVEC V6 spewing 224HP. The samples I drove were a loaded up SE model with its Super All Wheel Control four-wheel drive system and another loaded GT with the same S-AWC system. Both had the same styling inside and out, which would potentially confuse customers. To denote the GT V6 model, subtle badges appear to inform you for the correct model.
Overall design is handsome, but not without some head scratching. One would forgive its nose with a false grille above the large slot on the bumper. Mitsubishi has this as part of the global model and it stuck for our market. If one studied the design carefully, you will find some criticism on its overall look. For what it is intended, the Outlander was designed not to offend. It took a good middle-of-the-road approach to create a very functional vehicle.
What stuck out on the new Outlander are wide rear doors, along with a power-remote operated tailgate. Instead of the split gate from the previous generation, Mitsubishi went back to basics on providing a full liftgate on the new crossover. With wider rear doors, third row access is significantly improved.
Step inside and you get a very upscale cabin. Both the SE and GT had the same leather interior with woodgrain accents and an uncluttered dashboard. Between the tachometer and speedometer is an enlarged TFT screen that can be switched to show trip and fuel economy readouts, along with a screen showing where power is going within the S-AWC system. The audio faceplate is a touchscreen set with only one knob to the right for power and volume control. There is a redundant set of switches on the steering wheel once the audio screen is set. HD Radio and Bluetooth connectivity is standard in the SE and GT, but a Premium Package on either model will add SiriusXM satellite radio.
The seats are pretty comfortable up front, with enough bolstering and lumbar support to keep the driver locked in. Second row seat room offers plenty of adjustments for legroom and recline. With the second row pushed back, 4-5 adults could enjoy a nice ride. The third row is primarily made for small children, but, in a pinch, you could have adults up to 5'10" back there. It is probably recommended not to have adults sit in the third row when longer trips are considered. Cargo space is expandable with a flat floor all the way through to the front row.
The difference between the two Outlanders lies under the hood. The 2.4litre four is well intended for the 3200-pound crossover, but there was a lack of throttle response under load. It also could not keep up with traffic and felt a bit sluggish at times. One could blame the standard Continuously Variable Transmission connected to the 2.4litre engine. However, the four is well behaved without any feedback from under the hood.
The engine to get is the 3.0litre V6. With better throttle response, the V6 was better in town and on the highway. You will lose fuel economy, but you will gain an effortless engine that is relaxed even under a load. The V6 is had with a 6-speed automatic standard, making shifts swift and sure. Another reason to get the V6 over the four is its towing capacity at 3,500 pounds.
The biggest improvement in the Outlander is its ride quality. In both the SE and GT, the ride is smooth and supple. Handling is fine, but expect some lean and roll in the corners. Steering is weighted right and offer good action from the wheel. Brakes work well in normal stops.
The price tags for each model driven did not come as a surprise. The loaded S-AWC SE came in at under $30,000, while the GT had a price tag of under $32,000. These are good prices for a vehicle with one foot in the small crossover/SUV segment with the other amongst the mid-sized models.
Before you write off this Outlander as Mitsubishi's non-savior, think about this: There is one more piece of the puzzle waiting in the wings. The Plug-In Hybrid version will add what Mitsubishi has learned in the i-MiEV and put it into the new Outlander months down the line. The platform is right for this new variant, however.
You might not think the Outlander will do well in the marketplace, but at least give credit to Mitsubishi for at least trying. Perhaps a drive will do. Once you do, you be the judge whether Mitsubishi made the right move with new Outlander to keep its North American presence in tact.
DISCLAIMER: All vehicles were provided by White Bear Mitsubishi, White Bear Lake, MN