The 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander uses a middle-of-the-road formula that worked with the optional V-6 engine in our test car, but I worry what the more affordable four-cylinder might offer in its place.
Mitsubishi's Outlander has always been a competent, if unappealing, crossover, best known for its unique clamshell cargo hatch.
Its redesign is a step more than competent, and it's also more affordable and more efficient. But it also ditches the clamshell.
Direct competitors like the Dodge Journey and Kia Sorento aren't exactly setting the world on fire, but Chevy's Equinox has seen brisk sales with a similar size and pricing scheme; it just doesn't offer a third-row seat. You can compare all four models here.
I drove a 2014 Outlander GT S-AWC with all-wheel drive. You can compare the 2014 and 2013 Outlander here.
Exterior & Styling
The crossover is a canvas that's hard to turn into art; most models elicit little excitement. The redesigned Outlander's anonymity, however, takes that to another level. Besides a few interesting chrome pieces around the grille, the Outlander would be hard to distinguish from anything else in the class, and the styling does little to get people to stop to check out the diamond logo and nameplate.
The smaller Outlander Sport does a better job of that, with an in-your-face front end. Despite the name, it's a completely different model, which explains why this Outlander doesn't even look like it comes from the same automaker.
How It Drives
Going from a four-cylinder to a V-6 in a crossover this large makes a world of difference. Without being able to evaluate the less-powerful engine, all I can relay are my opinions on the V-6. Maybe that was the plan, because with 224 horsepower, the Outlander moved impressively.
On my first commute home I hit an open stretch of highway and started thinking of the Outlander's effortless acceleration, lack of wind noise and overall pleasant ride. Then I looked down at the speedometer. I was going a bit too fast and had no idea.
Throughout the rest of my test I made sure to keep speeds on the closer-to-legal side of the dial, but it always felt like the Outlander was going too slow. This really is a legitimately quick crossover that I would favorably compare to the significantly more powerful Equinox and Sorento at 301 and 290 hp, respectively.
Some of this swiftness is due to a lightweight chassis. The all-wheel-drive V-6 Outlander is more than 500 pounds lighter than the comparable Equinox. That creates better mileage in the V-6 all-wheel-drive and in both four-cylinder variants. Mileage for the AWD V-6 Outlander is EPA-rated at 20/28/23 mpg city/highway/ combined. The Equinox gets an EPA-estimated 16/23/19 mpg city/highway/combined. The comparable Sorento is rated 18/24/20 mpg city/highway/combined.
Most shoppers will likely not notice the difference in horsepower, though. They may also appreciate the large shift paddles behind the steering wheel for manual shifting, which were a hit with some of our editors.
Past Mitsubishis we've tested have had a habit of excessive engine noise filtering into the cabin. Mitsubishi has quelled that in the new Outlander, which is as quiet as most competitors in terms of engine noise. I wonder if the smaller four-cylinder will struggle under serious acceleration like the Outlander Sport does. Shoppers should pay attention when taking a test drive.
Around town I grew quite fond of the crossover's ride, which took jarring shocks out of bumpy roads, but also didn't lean too softly. This is a hard combination to achieve.
The brakes, however, were jarring, as was starting from a stop. The brakes need to be grippier and the accelerator less sensitive. More than one editor noted a lurch from stops.
Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive available on four-cylinder models and standard on the V-6. The all-wheel-drive system has four selectable settings: Normal, Snow, Lock (off-road) and Eco. The Eco mode allows power to go to just the two front wheels during most conditions, which Mitsubishi says boosts fuel economy.
If the Outlander's exterior is a snore, the interior won't shake you awake, either. It's awash in black with cheap-looking faux-wood inserts and controls that aren't worthy of the tester's top-of-the-line price tag of $34,720. But that's typical when base models start significantly lower. The Outlander begins at less than $24,000, including destination.
The front seats were comfortable over long drives, and the second row had plenty of room for my children in their car seats. The second row also slides forward and back to create more room for cargo or the standard, albeit tiny, third row.
The third row can fit two average-sized adults — and if they're willing to sacrifice comfort, second-row passengers will have knee room to spare. I tested this using my own 5-foot-10 frame. Larger families should probably not try that at home.
Overall space seemed cramped compared with crossovers like the Ford Edge or Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. But compared with crossovers with small third rows, like the Dodge Journey and Kia Sorento (both have an optional third row), the Outlander is competitive both on paper and in reality.
Neither third-row seat is equipped for a tether anchor, so child-safety seats that require one can't be placed there. That negates some of the benefits of having a third row for buyers with small children.
Ergonomics & Electronics
All cars these days need an array of standard and optional technical wizardry. Mitsubishi does a good job providing a competitive number of these options, but they're not well-executed.
Our GT test car had a 7-inch navigation system. SE and higher trims get a 6.1-inch touch-screen audio system, while the base ES trim has a standard radio display.
The 7-inch screen was relatively easy to read despite its smaller size, but the physical buttons around the screen and the touch points on the screen itself were too small to easily poke at while trying to keep your eyes on the road.
An optional forward collision alert system tells drivers when there's potential for a crash, but the visual alert sits in the gauge cluster. Many applications feature a row of red lights on top of the dash, where it's much more apparent that danger is imminent.
The optional Rockford Fosgate stereo had plenty of power — 710 watts! — and numerous settings for surround sound, but I couldn't find one that suited a variety of music. That made shuffling between songs on my iPod a labor. When you found the right combination, however, the sound quality rocked.
Cargo & Storage
Any good crossover needs a decent amount of cargo room, but the Outlander's rear is just that — decent. The third row and sliding second row eat into the cargo area's maximum capabilities, but the Outlander is a bit deceptive. Its maximum cargo area of 63.3 cubic feet is just a hair behind the Equinox's 63.7 measurement, but the Mitsubishi is more than 4 inches shorter than the Chevy. It's a bit farther behind the Journey, but it's 9 inches shorter than that car.
In real-world use, I found the amount of practical space with the third-row folded more than acceptable for my family's needs, and even pretty decent with the third row in place. It certainly has a wider expanse than the Equinox for bulky items like strollers and golf bags.
As many new cars score well in crash tests, the tests themselves have become harder. One of the toughest honors to achieve is the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Pick Plus. The Outlander earned that nod, passing all of IIHS' tests with the highest rating of good, including IIHS' new small-overlap front test. As of this writing, the Outlander had not been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Outlander did have issues during our Car Seat Check. Forward-facing seats and Latch access received top scores, but there were significant problems with space for rear-facing seats used for very young children and infants.
Value in Its Class
The Outlander is confounding because in many ways it competes with its class in driving performance and comfort. It also excels in the mileage department, and it costs a lot less (in most forms) than the Equinox and Sorento. It's roughly on par with the Journey in terms of price. Concerns about the four-cylinder engine's performance, however, need to be validated with a future test.
That's the problem with anonymity. You can do a lot right on paper, but if you can't sway someone with your looks, you need to execute everything else flawlessly — even if you may be a better buy.
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