Mitsubishi is a company has struggled in recent years to find its niche in Canada.
However, the brand seems to be making strong in-roads with the Outlander PHEV, which is the most affordable plug-in hybrid SUV on the market. This has kept interest in Mitsubishi’s lineup of CUVs fairly strong, despite fierce competition. The RVR, is not exactly the brand’s brightest star, but it is their bestseller, and for 2020 it has been given a much needed facelift aimed at keeping it competitive. We spent a cold week with a loaded 2020 Mitsubishi RVR GT AWC to see if it’s still in the game.
The third generation RVR was introduced in 2010, and ten years is a long time in the car world. On the exterior, the RVR gets a totally redesigned front end from the fenders forward, along with a revised rear fascia and taillamps, new wheel designs, and colors. Unlike my colleagues, I rather liked the angry bulldog looks of the outgoing RVR, but the redesign brings a welcome change. The front end looks more current and aggressive. Out back the new clear-lens taillamps look dated already, but otherwise it’s fairly agreeable. Our GT tester came finished in Sunshine Orange with 18-inch alloy wheels. Fortunately, it is available in a number of less vibrant colors if you’d rather blend into the backdrop.
The interior of the RVR has benefited from some minor tweaks as well, including a new center console with more storage, and a larger eight-inch infotainment screen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Beyond this, the interior hasn’t changed much, and still leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to materials, fit and finish. That said, it’s a simple space with plenty of storage up front, room for two adults in the back on the split folding bench and a reasonably sized cargo area.
While practical, the interior definitely shows its age and features a number of quirks that feel a lot like a throwback to the mid-2000s. The infotainment screen is low resolution and difficult to read on sunny days, a problem the rest of the industry moved past years ago. The optional Rockford Fosgate stereo sounds decent, but comes with a big old aftermarket-looking subwoofer in the trunk. The automatic climate control is dial-operated and requires too much intervention.
Other little gripes include door panel controls that are not backlit, a panoramic glass sunroof that doesn’t open and is lit with LED strip lighting straight out of an old movie theatre, and a shifter that uses a clunky gate-style system. I could go on, but the message here is that the RVR’s interior needs to be completely redone, not just tweaked.
Being the top trim, our RVR GT AWC came equipped with the 168 horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder, an upgrade over the base 2.0-liter’s 148 horsepower. Either engine comes attached to Mitsubishi’s latest generation of CVT, and under normal conditions, the 2.4’s power is more than adequate. The CVT does a good job at keeping RPMs low for maximum efficiency, while simulating shifts to avoid that awkward no-shift feeling CVTs are known for. Under brisk acceleration though, the CVT tends to lag and the growly, clattering four-cylinder begins to feel rather underpowered.
On paper, 168hp sounds plenty for a small crossover, but with the added weight of the all-wheel-drive system, more power would definitely be appreciated here. That said, both engine options are fairly basic naturally-aspirated four cylinders, so they’re likely to live long and healthy lives, plus they’re backed by Mitsubishi’s leading 10-year 160,000km powertrain warranty.
Given that the RVR’s engine lacks any real refinement and comes in pretty low on the power scale as well, I was hoping that it would redeem itself with some outstanding fuel economy. I was disappointed here too, after returning an average of 9.0L/100km for a week’s worth of rush hour commuting. It’s not dismal for an all-wheel-drive crossover, but it’s a number easily bested by most of its competitors, including models in larger size classifications.
Behind the wheel the situation only gets worse; the steering is loose and offers very little road feel. Somehow the RVR’s 168 horsepower generates a surprising amount of torque steer, especially on corner exit with the drivetrain in FWD mode. The RVR’s stubby dimensions make you want to toss it around a little bit, but too much lean from the suspension and lack of confidence through the steering wheel sucks the fun out. Despite the suspension’s soft nature in the corners, the ride is relatively firm due to the RVR’s short wheel base. Highway cruising isn’t nearly as relaxing as it could be thanks to road, wind and engine noise intrusion bad enough that you’ll find yourself turning the stereo up to drown it out.
The RVR’s chassis does have one redeeming feature and that’s the AWC (all-wheel-control) system. Unlike most competitors which only offer automatic all-wheel-drive, the RVR actually allows the driver to shut off the system and run in front-drive mode when conditions are favorable. This totally decouples the rear driveline, reducing friction and rotating mass, which saves fuel. We had a significant snowfall during our test week, and I came away impressed with the system’s seamless ability to intervene and keep traction even as conditions changed or when pushed harder. The meaty winter tires equipped on our tester likely also played a role, but the RVR has abilities to tackle winter’s worst.
The other redeeming quality of the RVR is that you can get into a well-equipped one under $30,000 and it does come with a great warranty keeping operating costs down. If you’re on a tight budget, the base ES FWD starts at $22,998, and still comes with heated seats and the large touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The ES AWD commands $25,498, but is still an affordable way to get into something with competent all-wheel-drive. The top-trim GT AWD here rings in at $33,998 and includes leather, a fixed panoramic roof, the 710-watt Rockford Fosgate sound system, heated steering wheel and forward collision mitigation.
Generally, the RVR is a tough vehicle to recommend; not because it’s a terrible choice, but because there are some really tough competitors such as the Hyundai Kona (reviewed here), the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3 and Nissan Qashqai. All of these really do outshine the RVR in many of the most important aspects. However, Mitsubishi does sell the RVR in fairly strong numbers, and I suspect that’s due to the fact that they do offer a unique look, capable AWD system and a temping warranty for buyers concerned about longer term operating costs.