Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
A complete redesign with many virtues.
The Mitsubishi Outlander has languished since its glory days as an SUV in the '90s. It's important to Mitsubishi that Outlander comes back, and the total redesign for model year 2014 is their best shot. But how much excitement does it take, nowadays? How much excitement do other cars in that field have? Mitsubishi targets the Kia Sorento, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Only the Sorento seats seven people like the Outlander; a third row isn't available with the CR-V, and Toyota dropped the third row for 2013 due to lack of demand. Does Mitsubishi know something Toyota doesn't?
Mitsubishi has done a great job with the 2014 Outlander; it's the same wheelbase, length and track, but has more interior room. If you need a 7-passenger crossover, and you want the best fuel mileage you can find, Outlander is the call. It gets five miles per gallon more than the Sorento, 27 mpg Combined city and highway versus 22 mpg Combined with 2WD, according to EPA estimates. The Sorento has sexier styling, but the Outlander is super smooth even with the base four-cylinder.
The 2014 Outlander has a new engine, new rear suspension, new floor plan, new interior, new glass, and new sheet metal. The skin is totally different, from the previous Outlander. Gone is the striking shark mouth, which was so 2011. Grilles aren't so much in-your-face any more. Mitsubishi isn't the only manufacturer to redefine bold, lately. Nowadays, bold seems to be another mile per gallon. Not that we're knocking the focus. Sometimes you just can't win with critics.
We can't say anything snarky about the Outlander's new styling. We can't find any dynamic words. The lines aren't cluttered or gratuitous. They deliver a good 0.33 coefficient of drag (thanks largely to the loss of the shark mouth). No more standard roof rails, and that helps aero. The headlights are tidy, and the front fascia isn't big and bland. Overall, it looks substantial for families.
Let's say we're not along for the ride, in the Outlander's press kit, when the second word describes the styling as breathtaking. Oops, we just said something snarky. But nobody on the sidewalk is going have their breath stolen by the new Outlander. It's not likely they'll even notice.
The new 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is single overhead-cam, formerly double-overhead cam. For decades, DOHC has meant high performance, but now that efficient performance matters more, SOHC might be the wave of back to the future.
The improved 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, now with smart electronic variable valve timing, might make you forget the need for a V6, depending on the level of your need. It wasn't that long ago when we were saying the same thing about V6s versus V8s. It's all good. On that subjective subject of need, we can say that the 166-horsepower I4 gives you all the power you need for everyday driving, including on the freeway at 80 mph. We ran it there on a short road trip, and it was smooth and effortless. Its CVT kicked down for the long gradual uphills, invisibly, while maintaining the pace without much effort. There were no passengers with us for that run, and performance diminishes with each person you pile in.
The 224-horsepower V6 will get you there faster, for a price, and it will tow another ton (3500 pounds vs. 1500 pounds), if you have a boat to go with your four or five kids. Like the four-cylinder, the efficiency of the V6 has been increased with engine redesigns for 2014. With either engine, the Outlander is classified as a low emissions vehicle, thanks to increased efficiency and cleaner exhaust systems.
The 3.0-liter V6 comes with the all-wheel-drive GT model (but you can get all-wheel drive with the SE four-cylinder, too). The V6 is mated to a sweet 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters.
The four-cylinder uses a CVT, continuously variable transaxle. Mitsubishi has raised the bar, thanks to engineering that can finally make a CVT feel like an automatic transmission, and not weird like there's a giant rubber band connecting your engine to your wheels. Mitsubishi says they've been developing it for seven years, and we say bravo.
While Outlander ES comes standard with front-wheel drive, the available all-wheel-drive system is one of the best, as Mitsubishi has decades of 4WD experience, with many world rally victories to prove it. They call it Super All-Wheel Control, or S-AWC, with Super meaning torque vectoring (shifting the power between the front wheels as needed for grip) to further improve control during cornering. This is the first time S-AWC has been available down to the four-cylinder SE model.
The S-AWC system has been improved for 2014, and made lighter. It has four driving modes: ECO for fuel mileage (2WD), Normal, Snow and Lock, although Lock is a misnomer because it doesn't lock anything. It just provides the maximum percentage of drive to the rear wheels.
The interior is also all new, with greatly improved materials including a soft-touch instrument panel, glossy black center console, and wood trim in the GT model. But mostly, the new Outlander is exceptionally quiet. Big, big improvement. No tricks, just more sound insulation material throughout the vehicle. Mitsubishi says they spent thousands of hours on reducing wind noise.
The seats have been re-shaped, and the operation of the fold-flat 60/40 second row and 50/50 third row has been simplified. It works fast.
Other refinements and standard additions include micron air filtering, tilt/telescopic steering wheel with cruise control and audio controls, remote keyless entry, security system with engine immobilizer, new 6-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system, intermittent rear wiper with washer, and halogen headlights.
The body is more than 200 pounds lighter, thanks to the use of more high-tensile steel, and the handling feels lighter as a result, although still not exactly nimble; after all, it is a seven-passenger vehicle. The switch to electric power steering adds to the light feel. Meanwhile, design changes to the suspension tighten the cornering. These include added subframes and stiffened strut mounts in front.
The multi-link rear suspension uses lighter links to improve the ride, improved bushings to lessen NVH (noise, vibration and harshness), and low-friction seals in the axles to reduce rolling resistance, and improve fuel mileage (a new alternator with less drag is another). Lighter alloy wheels contribute to responsive handling.
The improved four-cylinder engine features an aluminum block and the latest variable valve timing, which Mitsubishi calls MIVEC (the i is for innovative, not intelligent like the others). It makes 166 horsepower and 162 foot-pounds of torque at 4200 rpm. The numbers aren't big, but the power is good.
Mitsubishi calls its shell Reinforced Impact Safety Evolution (RISE). There are energy absorbing sections in key areas of the body and chassis, including under the floor of the passenger compartment. Mitsubishi says the Outlander will receive a Top Pick safety award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander comes in ES, SE and GT models.
Outlander ES ($22,995) comes with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, CVT, and two-wheel drive. It's equipped with power windows and locks, automatic climate control, second row heating, anti-theft alarm and engine immobilizer, halogen headlamps, tilt telescopic steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, remote entry, hill start assist, speed-sensitive wipers, tinted glass, and 6-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system.
Outlander SE ($23,795) adds front dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, a 6.1-inch touch-screen display system, rearview camera, digital HD Radio, passive entry system with push-button ignition switch, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, 140-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system, Mitsubishi FUSE Hands-Free Link System with USB that allows voice command of iPod and cell phone, fog lights, 18-inch alloy wheels. All-wheel drive ($2000) is available.
Outlander GT ($27,795) uses the 24-valve 3.0-liter V6 with 6-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. It adds HID headlights satellite radio, rain-sensing wipers, and wood grain interior trim.
Options include the Premium Package ($2800) that adds a leather interior, power glass sunroof, power driver's seat, power remote tailgate, and 9-speaker 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system with surround sound and Dolby volume. The Touring Package ($3300) adds a 7-inch touch panel navigation system with real-time traffic, Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Forward Collision Mitigation (FCM) system, and Lane Departure Warning (LDW).
Safety features on all Outlanders include seven airbags (including driver's knee airbag), electronic stability control with traction control, anti-lock brakes with brake-force distribution (EBD); hill start assist, and tire pressure monitor.
Mitsubishi says the new styling of the 2014 Outlander is an urbane design that has more mainstream appeal than before. What they mean by that is the shark nose is gone, as in-your-face styling seems is a thing of the recent past. People have pulled back a bit lately, except maybe for television pundits. Besides, losing the nose was an aerodynamic necessity to get a 7 percent improvement that brings fuel mileage. Gone with the shark grille are the roof rails, in that pursuit of better aero and mileage.
The new grille is a thin, wide, horizontal black slot, that's not really a slot, just mostly black plastic with some chrome plastic. It's a clean shape and design, but far from eye-catching. It's nice that there's not a bunch of funky stuff below the front bumper.
The rockers are flat black, with a concave bit running along the bottom of the doors. There's one nice crease above the door handles that carries all the way to the top of the silvery taillights.
There's a horizontal chrome strip under the rear window, like 90 percent of new vehicles on the planet. When Mitsubishi says the Outlander styling is all about less is more, you want to rip off the chrome to support them.
It's really, really quiet inside the 2014 Outlander. It's so quiet that the tires sound loud; on some pavement they sound like they're groaning. We don't think they're any louder than before, just that the background noise is gone. Mitsubishi says they might look at quieter tires next time. We wonder why, when they go to all that trouble to make it quiet, wouldn't they do tire testing.
But since the standard sound system has been upgraded, you can listen to nice music instead of the singing of the tires.
The bolstering in the seats is okay. Could be tighter but it's a subjective thing. But in the Outlander GT you have those paddle shifters that invite play. We drove an Outlander GT and wished for more bolstering in the seatback. The padding is a just a touch on the firm side. We drove an Outlander SE with perforated black leather seats that were sweet.
The rear seats are less than plush; some might call them thin. They fold down easily, to allow access to the third row. It's pushing things to get seven people in the Outlander, as the guy in the middle seat in the second row doesn't get much. There's 37.3 inches of legroom in the second row, and 28.2 inches in the knees-up third row. Compare that to 37.6 and 31.3 in the Sorento; but the RAV4, which doesn't even have a third row, only has 37.2 inches, so the Outlander looks pretty good.
As for cargo space, there's just 10.3 cubic feet behind the third row, smaller than a sedan trunk; 34.2 cubic feet behind the second row, and 63.3 cubic feet behind the front seat. The Sorento, CR-V and RAV4 all blow the Outlander out of the water in cargo space behind the front seat (72.5, 70.9, 73.4 respectively), and we're at a loss to explain why, because the Outlander and Sorento are about the same length, four and five inches longer than the five-seat CR-V and RAV4. However, the Outlander posts its numbers as SAE cargo capacity, and the others might not adhere to the same standards. We wish every manufacturer would measure the same, for the sake of the consumer, but some have not agreed to follow the SAE standard.
Mitsubishi says there's 128.6 cubic feet of passenger room, and 63.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front seat. We wonder where the difference of 65.3 cubic feet is.
The instrumentation is handsome and the gauges clean, but using the touch screen didn't make us happy. Like so many other cars, it's not easy to tune the satellite radio. We won't get into the specifics, as itemized in our notes. We'll just say that we asked a product manager at the launch we attended to perform the simple function we wanted, just to make sure it wasn't us; he said sure, no problem; we stopped counting after 12 touches and he still hadn't gotten there. But we repeat: Mitsubishi's tuning is no worse than many cars we drive.
We couldn't get all the functions we wanted on the display screen at the same time, because we couldn't get things we didn't want off it (not to say it isn't possible). The screen gets very busy, with its history and eco score, bunch of leaves up there to tell you how you're doing; and we wonder who gives a rip. We wanted to watch fuel mileage and range, while listening to the radio and following the navigation, but couldn't pull it off, at least not easily. Finally, with help, we got it.
Speaking of navigation, it sucked. It infuriated us. It is not intuitive, as Mitsubishi boasts. We ask: if you want to go somewhere, wouldn't Route be an intuitive button to press? How about Navigation? We will say that it is programmable. How long did it take for us to intuitively figure it out? Long enough for our coffee to get cold. Voice command, like all of them, is a joke. These systems do not have “smart” ears.
Once navigation is programmed, it doesn't mean it'll get you there. First try, it led us in circles in downtown San Diego. It took 18 minutes to get 2 minutes away from the hotel. Also, the directional arrows don't give you enough warning time. We could go on.
Outlander comes with a choice of engines. We found the new four-cylinder engine mated to the new CVT surprisingly quiet and super smooth; we revved it to 6000 rpm redline, and could barely hear it. It's quick enough, and will keep up with 80-mph traffic, and that's in Eco mode. It works a bit to get there, but not a lot, unless it's in Eco mode. So it's Normal mode for accelerating, Eco mode for maintaining. We got 24.7 mpg at 75 mph in Eco mode.
Around town, the 162 foot-pounds of torque wasn't there below 2000 rpm, so that's the only place the engine isn't strong. The torque hits that peak at 4200 rpm, but around town you're at way less than that.
Both the I4 and V6 engines have new mounting systems, to reduce NVH.
Here's how the S-AWC system works: in Eco mode, up to 20 percent of the drive will go to the rear wheels if needed for traction; in Normal mode up to 50 percent; in Snow it stays off the throttle; and in Locked it's mostly 50/50 but can to go 30/70 front/rear.
Meanwhile, power and braking will shift between the left and front wheels in corners, to better rotate the car. More drive to the outside wheel, less drive (or braking) on the inside, and presto: the car turns quicker and more precisely. Torque vectoring.
Torque vectoring doesn't happen in common corning, only when you push it. You can feel a quick vibration in the wheel, like a split-second of abs. Mitsubishi is very good at all-wheel-drive systems. They've been doing it for more than 30 years.
The CVT uses what Mitsubishi calls ratio management control, to feel like an automatic transmission. You'll never notice it. That's what engineers have been striving for, as soon as it became clear that drivers would not get used to that CVT rpm stretch. Mitsubishi says it took seven years of work to get there. It's the new standard.
Between the quiet engine and smooth CVT, we couldn't feel the ratio changes. We watched the tach, and could see it changing by a few hundred rpm, but could hear or feel nothing.
The V6 in the Outlander GT is a new single-overhead-cam 3.0-liter that makes the same 224 horsepower as the previous V6 but is cleaner and more fuel efficient, thanks to reduced friction between parts, iridium spark plugs and low viscosity oil. Torque is 215 foot-pounds at 3750 rpm.
Fuel mileage is rated at a combined 23 mpg. We averaged 21.3 mpg during a casual 60-mile run.
The 6-speed automatic with the V6 GT is a sweet one, with paddle shifters. Sixth gear is tall, for fuel mileage. The torque converter has been revised for smoother shifts, and they are indeed smooth.
The handling of the Outlander GT is tight and quick, and the ride is steady and solid. We were impressed. The handling of the Outlander SE, with front-wheel-drive and the four-cylinder engine, was lighter and more nimble, but less quick. The suspension delivered more jounce, but still wasn't bad. We drove a 2WD SE for about 10 miles on gravel roads, much of it washboard, and the ride was smooth as can be.
We tested the package with Lane Departure Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control, and Forward Collision Mitigation. We'll end this review with our brief results.
LDW: like all these systems, it's wrong all the time. Annoying was the word unanimously used by automotive journalists at the launch. The default position is On; guaranteed, you will turn it off a lot. Mitsubishi is in good company there, with Volvo, BMW, and others we can't think of right now.
ACC: does not work smoothly, brakes late and hammers the throttle to catch up.
FCM: if you keep the gap closed in traffic jams too quickly, it will shout “We're gonna crash! We're gonna crash!” at you. If you don't respond within two seconds it will stop the car in its tracks, from 30 mph. Faster than that and you're toast. At 15 mph in stop-and-go redlight traffic, it's impossible. It won't let you get within about 30 feet of the car in front of you, without all the alarms and beeps going off.
Ironically, while we were under the spell of this system, Carrie Underwood was on the radio, whose screen let us know that her message was “Jesus Take the Wheel.”.
Mitsubishi Outlander is all-new for 2014. The new 162-horsepower four-cylinder is so smooth and efficient we give it the nod over the 244-horsepower V6, especially since its CVT is invisible. The new styling isn't distinctive, but the three-row interior is right, and the handling and ride pass every test for a midsize family crossover.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses reported from San Diego after his test drive of the Mitsubishi Outlander.
Mitsubishi Outlander ES ($22,995); Outlander SE ($23,795); Outlander GT ($27,795).
Options As Tested
Mitsubishi Outlander SE S-AWC ($25,795).
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