Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mitsubishi Outlander - Another Choice in a Crowded Marketplace

Experts predict around 16 million car sales this year. Many of those will be crossover SUVs; that category includes Mitsubishi's thoroughly redesigned Outlander.

The Outlander follows a pattern in the industry of offering a smaller "sport" model and a larger "regular" model. So the new Outlander follows the Outlander Sport into the world as a new '14 model.

It certainly looks different from the old car. New styling is softer than some of the more sharply angled designs out today. The shoulder line reminded me of older BMWs, and that may be intentional. The front eschews the gaping mouth of earlier Mitsubishi crossovers and now offers a flush non-functional "grille" at the top and a working portal for air below. The goal, besides distinguishing itself in the showroom, is to improve aerodynamics for better fuel economy. The car boasts a 7 percent improvement in its cd (coefficiency of drag) down to a remarkable .33.

The package stands well in traffic and your favorite parking place or driveway. My tester arrived in a handsome shade called Copper that glowed like the conductor metal itself. Interesting to me was the presence of the triple-diamond logo and the word "Mitsubishi" on the tidily styled rear. Is the company worried, after all these years in America, that folks won't recognize its famous logo?

It's true that Mitsubishi has had some hard times. While many savor the performance of the Lancer-based Evolution hot sedan, the latest Galant was a hard sell, and the sporty Eclipse went away. The quirky i-MiEV is not a volume seller. A tiny new Mirage is coming, which may bring some bodies into the showroom, but the real models worth considering today are the Outlander Sport and this new Outlander.

Inside, materials are hugely upgraded. The hard, flat bucket seat, nicely leather-wrapped, sits up high, so you can actually see the top of the hood. The wipers are hidden, so looking out, you see a clean line at the rear hood edge, and closer in, a straightforward black and silver instrument panel and dash that wouldn't look out of place in a Volkswagen. Piano black trim gleams while "woodgrain" upgrades the doors.

All controls are mounted high and are easily accessible. The instrument panel greets you when you push the start button, and says "See You," when you turn the car off. Friendly. I wasn't happy that the visors don't slide along the side to block sun during significant trips south in the morning and north in the late afternoon. The air conditioning is a little too energetic in its work, and the car felt cold a lot, but overall, it's a happy place to be in the driver's seat.

It's very quiet inside the car, thanks to increased insulation throughout. It's easy to enjoy the music system--in the case of my car, an optional 710-watt Rockford-Fosgate system with nine speakers, including a 10-inch subwoofer living in the rear compartment behind the third-row seat.

Speaking of those seats, they all fold flat, but the middle row took some consultation with the owner's manual to figure out how to get then to do it. The control that's visible only folds the seat partly forward and slides it to make room for third-row access. Lift the lower cushion and you'll find a button to allow the seat to fold flat.

There are two engine choices, and they're tied to model level. The base ES and mid-level SE models get a 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder that puts out 166 horsepower and 162 lb.-ft. of torque. It offers the MIVEC system (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve-timing Electric Control). That means it adjusts to run more efficiently, which is what all of these midsize crossovers are trying to do to make themselves desirable devices for increasingly green-minded families. A continuously-variable automatic transmission comes with the four-cylinder.

The Outlander GT, like my tester, employs a larger 3.0-liter V6, which ups the horsepower to 224 horsepower and 215 lb.-ft. of torque. While hardly burning rubber during acceleration, this engine has enough guts to make the Outlander fun to drive anywhere. Fuel economy numbers, officially, are 20 City, 28 Highway and 23 Combined. I averaged 18.9 mpg, and premium fuel is recommended, so this is not the car for the highly environmentally conscious.

The GT offers a six-speed automatic with a new sixth gear for better fuel economy. The EPA gives numbers of 6 for both Smog and Greenhouse gas, so the Outlander is a bit better than average. 

The GT or SE comes with either two-wheel drive or Super All-Wheel Control four-wheel drive system. Mitsubishi claims (rightly, I'd think) that all their experience winning numerous titles in the World Rally Championship, including several outright wins at the Dakar rally, a legendary tough race. The S-AWC system offers four driving modes - the fuel-efficient AWC ECO, the standard NORMAL setting, enhanced tractability in slippery conditions with SNOW and the maximum traction LOCK.

My GT had the GT Touring Package, which added a lot of stuff, including a usable Navigation system with a 7-inch touch screen; a lane departure warning system that helps keep you awake, adaptive cruise control that syncs to the car in front; a power glass sunroof, leather seats, and that super sound system. As the top dog, it starts at $27,795, but ended up at $34,720. The base ES starts at $23,820, including shipping.

Mitsubishi has done their homework and come up with a nice vehicle. Combined with the Outlander Sport, it has a one-two punch. But will people look and love it in large enough quantities to make it a sales success? It's always hard to say for sure, but the two Outlanders seem to be making a good name for themselves. If only people take the time to shop around, some will go for this all-new vehicle.

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