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 were at its smallest since Mitsubishi established a beach head in the USA, the promise of new product is finally showing up on dealer lots. For 2014, Mitsubishi already introduced their Outlander three-row crossover and the Mirage subcompact.
Yes, we have heard this formula before, but will both work in the guise of rebooting Mitsubishi as a competitive brand?
Having driven a couple of Outlanders on brief stints, a third one came in for a full driving evaluation. It gave me a chance to see whether Mitsubishi got this one right and to compare with my initial drives with this GT model.
This GT with Super-All Wheel Control (S-AWC) came loaded with every box ticked on the order sheet. This dark blue example had the navigation with SiriusXM and Bluetooth connectivity, lane departure warning, leather seating, wood accents – you name it! It is perhaps everything you want in a three-row crossover.
Yet, the Outlander felt very business-like. Mitsubishi is known for vehicles that are fun and engaging. They exude a joie de vivre that wants to show you the boost or provide miles of moments that are subversive and adventurous. The Outlander is quite a serious machine.
Perhaps, Mitsubishi intended to produce their three-row crossover to be so serious and business-like? In this market, you need to balance seriousness with fun. Who buys such vehicles? Families and people with active lifestyles do.
One would point out the paddle shifters on the column of the Outlander GT. You would find those on the Lancer Evolution, but on a three-row crossover. With the 224-horsepower 3.0litre MIVEC V6 under the hood and a six-speed automatic transferring power to the S-AWC system, those paddles could come into use for those looking to make the Outlander into a fun crossover.
Still, the Outlander felt serious. The power was fine to take the 3,500-pound across town and back. It rode just fine, steered quite well, had some roll in the corners, but stopped rather nicely.
You may have glossed over one of the two points about the Outlander. First, notice that it is about 3,500 pounds. What three-row crossover could you name that weighs about that range? There may be a few, but having the Outlander's top model weight in the 3,500-3,600 pound range is remarkable.
Secondly, the Outlander is a bargain amongst three-row crossovers. Outlanders start at $23,820 for an ES model with front-wheel-drive. This fully equipped GT S-AWC with the Touring Package had a sticker of $34,720. There is a plug-in hybrid version looming sometime soon.
While the Outlander takes care of the serious consumer, what will balance out the new offerings by the three-diamond brand?
I did get a chance to briefly drive the Mirage. This one revealed a lot more than just its cute looks and demure personality.
The Mirage is small, but it is quite roomy inside. Adults would find space inside the cabin and you could throw your holiday shopping bounty behind the rear seat nicely. Equipment levels are very good for each model, including a host of safety features you would not expect in this size of a car. You may even like the touch points and the overall feel inside.
The outside is cute. If you wish to measure cuteness, look at its competition. They certainly either bloated up in size or gotten serious in its appearance. The Mirage brings us back to when these care were indeed cute – the Geo/Chevrolet Metro comes to mind. You may be put off by its small wheels and cheeky colors, but understand there is a market for the Mirage – a growing one, at that.
Driving the Mirage will require a few rethinks. Under the hood is a 1.3litre three-cylinder engine with only 74 horsepower. That may seem pretty weak until you realize it only weighs 2,051 pounds. Can you say "power-to-weight ratio"? When you drive it, you will understand what I am on about. This thing is zippy.
Yet, this thing is also noisy. If you appreciate engine noise and that it has a pulse to going along with its cuteness, space and power-to-weight ratio, the Mirage may have charmed you. The ride is compliant, though it does handle and corner softly. Steering is very sharp and makes u-turns a breeze combined with a 148.8-inch length and 96.5-inch wheelbase. Braking is very good, too!
When I examined the Mirage, one car came up in every point made – the Chevrolet Spark. In the same price range, both cars are seen as rivals for the same consumer. Maybe it is because of the engine size and horsepower they both have. To consider the Mirage for a larger subcompact with more than a 100 horsepower is a bit of a stretch, if I am honest.
When equaled with the Korea-built Spark, the Thai-built Mirage came out as the livelier than the two. It appears that Mitsubishi has built the city car with the most fun – that includes the Scion iQ and the smart forTwo.
Consider both Mitsubishis for a moment. Are these enough to turn around the fortunes of its USA branch and continue its 30-year history? They are indeed a start, with many rumors of new and revised product coming our way. Including the revised Illinois-assembled Outlander Sport, Mitsubishi’s fortunes are starting to go upward. What are still needed are awareness and a focus on the brand’s key assets – the Evo, included.
There are signs things are turning around. One dealer in the Twin Cities reported record sales for November. Perhaps all will be revealed come this week when sales figures will be released by all of the manufacturers. Pay attention to Mitsubishi's numbers to see of both the Outlander and the Mirage have made an impact on their fortunes.
If you choose to look closer at Mitsubishi again, look at the Outlander and Mirage first and see where this brand is going. You might be surprised.
DISCLAIMER: The Outlander was provided by Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America and the Mirage was provided by White Bear Mitsubishi, White Bear Lake, MN.