Whittled down to little more than the potent Evo and the quirky i-MiEV, Mitsubishi has neglected mainstream buyers in the United States. Hoping to make up for that is the brand's new Outlander, a five or seven-passenger crossover that slots right into the heart of the new car market.
We haven't had much positive to say about Mitsubishi in the last few years, but the Outlander just might have what it takes to change that.
What is it?
The third Mitsubishi to wear the Outlander badge, this new-for-2014 model slots in above the automaker's five-seat Outlander Sport.
Although ours was of the four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive variety, the Outlander can be ordered with a 3.0-liter V6 engine and Mitsubishi's sophisticated "Super All-Wheel-Control" all-wheel-drive. The 2.4-liter in our tester puts out 166 horsepower and 162 lb-ft. of torque through a continuously variable transmission. Riding on a conventional MacPherson strut front and mutli-link rear suspension, the Outlander controls its front wheels via an electrically-assisted steering rack.
Four Outlander trims are on offer: Price leader ES, as-tested, high-volume SE, SE with AWD, and range-topping GT-S with the V6 and AWD. At just $800 more than the ES, the SE includes 18-inch alloy wheels, a proximity key and Bluetooth, among other goodies.
Our tester was further equipped with the optional Touring Package ($6,100), which moves the Outlander into the thick of things where other major competitors dwell. Included as part of the kit was a navigation system with 7-inch touch screen, a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system with SiriusXM, a power glass sunroof and leather seating.
What's it up against?
If you're after seven seats, you'll want to cross-shop the Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe. Otherwise, we think five-seat rivals like the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5 should also be on your shopping list.
How does it look?
Slightly bland, the Outlander has a certain Swedish quirkiness to its front fascia that could have been inherited from now-defunct Saab. Had the Swedes adopted this design, would they still be in business today? Probably not.
The Outlander's grille appears to be the love spawn of a Saturn Vue and a Transformers toy. Not that it's bad, it's just that we have always wanted to use that love spawn
Conservative looks continue with the use of blackout greenhouse trim that gives a larger appearance, while an elegant character line/crease runs tip to tip from the headlight housing to the brake lamp lenses. Visual mass has been reduced through the clever use of black rocker panels, which create a negative space at the lower edge of the side panels. Otherwise the side view of the Outlander might present a wall-like appearance that reminds us of the Green Monster at Fenway Park.
We will go out on a limb to say that at least with this Outlander, its exterior trim shows a new attention to detail that we hope will extend to every car in the Mitsubishi lineup if they want to stay viable in the North American market. There are hard decisions to be made from a business standpoint and the ball is in their court.
And on the inside?
The interior of our Touring Package-equipped SE was awash with leather everywhere, from the leather-wrapped steering wheel rearward. The accommodations are big and roomy, with a big back seat but an awkwardly placed center headrest.
On the Outlander's dashboard, the controls are nicely canted toward the driver for his or her undivided attention. Simple in its layout, it features a speedo and tachometer along with the various status gauges showing fuel level, water temp and the like. Borrowing an idea seen with others of its ilk, the Outlander features a green leafy pictogram on the instrument panel that suggests how economical you are being with the skinny pedal. A 7-inch monitor offers an at-a-glance view of what's going on inside, but it did present a few challenges when attempting to connect the Bluetooth to our smartphone.
The Outlander comes standard with third-row seating, which disappears into a flat-decked cargo area when not needed. Chances are you will find it not needed as well, as it is really only suitable for small children. Cargo capacity behind the front, second and third row seats dial in at 63.3, 34.2 and 10.3 cubic feet, respectively.
Mitsubishi interior decorators surprised us with the abundance of soft touch material all over the inside of our Outlander, including the windowsills and the door side panels. Once again, we were not expecting this. The only place we found hard plastics inside were in areas that passengers do not regularly come into contact with.
But does it go?
Equipped with Mitsubishi's 2.4-liter MIVEC four-cylinder engine, which is, admittedly, not the most powerful in the world, the Outlander does manage to move along with a surprising amount of pep.
We became accustomed to the constantly climbing high-pitched sound emanating from the transmission tunnel since CVTs do their best to keep the engine running at the most power-efficient RPMs. Much more responsive when placed into sport mode, it made for a higher degree of entertainment from the skinny pedal.
Tossed into a corner, we noticed some light play in the Outlander's electric power steering, but, honestly, we've found more to complain about in so-called "tier one" rivals. Neither overly boosted nor sloppy, it struck us as appropriate for this segment.
The Outlander tips the scales at a dainty 3,300 lbs., which helps explain its light feel over the road. By no means sporty, it is nonetheless pleasant enough to hurtle through the twisties or over a bumpy road. Handling most pavement with aplomb, it even managed to hold its own during a brief off-road excursion for photography.
We found our Outlander drove very quietly with a minimal amount of road noise penetrating the cabin. Credit goes to Mitsubishi engineers and their use of new vibration-isolating technology to smooth out the ride.
In most cases, the engine performed its duty without protest, and it was only when you stand on the accelerator that the transmission lets you know that it is operating in anger. That gearbox does help fuel economy hit an EPA-estimated 25/31 mpg (27 mpg combined). In our testing, we managed an impressive 27.6 mpg.
Leftlane's bottom line
Admittedly, our expectations weren't high for the Outlander - but this pleasant crossover managed to impress us more than we expected.
True, it breaks little ground and it isn't the best value on the market, but the sum of its parts extends much further than the legacy left by Outlanders from years gone by.
2014 Mitsubishi Outlander SE
base price, $22,995. As tested, $30,720.
SE Touring Package, $6,100; Destination, $825.
Photos by Mark Elias.