It’s no secret that Mitsubishi sales have been slow over the last couple years. My sense is that somewhere along the way Mitsubishi has lost its identity. An identity earned by building cars that stood out from the mainstream and appealed to the younger crowd. I recall a good friend bringing home a brand new Lancer Ralliart back in 2006 and at the time I thought it was quite the car. It wasn’t particularly good as a car, but it portrayed a unique and fresh image. From this point it seems that Mitsubishi has lost sight of who they are and started investing more in details like fuel economy and cost savings than continuing to build on this image. Now with rumors concerning Mitsubishi’s future here in North America circulating, there are a lot of eyes watching the performance of the new 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander. Does the new Outlander have what it takes to turn it around for Mitsubishi? Revive some of the excitement the brand once carried and start driving some sales in a high volume category? I had a week with one to find out.
The first thing I noticed when I met the rather basic Outlander ES AWC tester I’d be spending my week with was just how great of a departure the styling is from what I expected from Mitsubishi. The RVR we tested in January had the sharp aggressive style I’ve come to expect, but the Outlander seems to have gone in a completely different direction. The Outlander uses smooth curves and a much more subtle front fascia. Perched atop 16” wheels I found my white tester to look rather awkward. My only reasoning for why Mitsubishi might have chosen to go this route with the styling is to gain more mainstream appeal from older more conservative buyers who tend be the volume consumers in the mid-size SUV market. Time will only tell whether or not this strategy has any weight to it.
More important than the styling, if the Outlander is going to break-out into the very competitive mainstream SUV market, it’s going to have to prove its value. With an MSRP sitting just under $28,000, my ES AWC is the most basic trim level available with the AWC (All Wheel Control) system. As I’ve expressed before, I really don’t see much of a benefit to an SUV without AWD over that of a typical hatchback or wagon, so I am glad that the Mitsubishi offers their AWC system in a basic trim level. Aside from the AWC, the ES really doesn’t come with much in the way of options; no auto-headlights, no satellite radio, power seats or sunroof. That said, the Outlander ES AWC is one of the most competitively priced mid-size SUVs in the market and over $4000 cheaper than the cheapest AWD Hyundai Santa Fe, which makes the economics of the Outlander a little more compelling.
In addition to the comparatively modest pricing, there is another economic benefit to the Outlander and that is the stellar fuel economy. My tester came equipped with the new 2.4L 4-cylinder and CVT transmission. While I am not at all a fan of the 4-cylinder CVT combination, I cannot argue much with the results as I enjoyed an average economy of 7.9L/100km in rush hour commuting. In my mind this is a pretty impressive real-world figure for a decent size AWD SUV and another enticing economic reason why the underdog may just be a worthy competitor.
Where it excels in economic terms, the 4-cylinder CVT combination really does put a damper on the driving experience. Putting out 166hp, the 2.4L really struggles to move the SUV around. Merging and passing on the highway requires careful planning and any aggressive maneuvers are completely out of the question. Despite its buzziness under load, while cruising along the engine is surprisingly refined and quiet. This powertrain combination really is all about economy, so if you can resolve yourself to driving conservatively and avoiding the need for any rapid acceleration, the fuel savings and refinement shall be your reward. Otherwise, spring for the V6 version.
While the engine’s lack of power may be the weakest point in the Outlander ES, I found the rest of the driving dynamics to be surprisingly well-rounded and enjoyable. The electric assist steering is well weighted and responsive, and while the Outlander doesn’t exactly beg to be thrown into the twisties, it can hold its own and scoots around corners with very minimal body-roll. While the ride is not what I would consider luxurious, it is relatively smooth and handled even the roughest city streets without any drama at all. On the highway, even at high speeds the Outlander remains composed, solid and quiet, with the exception of some very minimal tire noise.
I did find the interior to be a little underwhelming, even taking into consideration that the ES is a base model and doesn’t come with too many toys; the interior comes across fairly plain and dated. With the exception of a nicely leather wrapped shift knob and steering wheel, the interior materials are far from high quality, the gauge cluster doesn’t look like it’s been updated in at least a decade and rather hard seats leave a lot of room for improvement. A $3,500 premium package addresses many of these concerns, but that would be putting the price of the Outlander right up with some of the dominant leaders in this segment.
It’s apparent that Mitsubishi still has some work to do before I would expect to see some real volume from the Outlander in a segment as competitive as this one. However, its brilliant fuel economy, pleasant handling, excellent 10-year 160,000km powertrain warranty and competitive starting price do make it a compelling offering for those budget minded consumers. It’s these same traits that have helped make SUVs like the Dodge Journey a top choice for corporate fleet buyers, and for these types of customers the Outlander may prove very appealing.
2014 Mitsubishi Outlander ES Gallery