Mitsubishi remains entrenched in an extreme total makeover worthy of reality television.
While not the largest Pacific Rim automaker, its smaller size could be an advantage as it redefines itself as a high-mileage manufacturer with a stable of compacts and subcompacts.
In the fall of 2013, Mitsubishi dusts off a name from the past for its all-new 2014 five-door, three-cylinder (and highly efficient with highway mileage north of 40 mph) subcompact. Call it the Mirage. Expect more plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles in the near future.
Our tester this week, the 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander
crossover began arriving in dealerships in June of 2013 and features an impressive, extended powertrain warranty of 10 years or 100,000 miles, one of the longest durations in the business. The 2014 edition represents a third-generation makeover weighing in 200 pounds lighter than the 2013 predecessor; Outlander's first model year was back in 2003.
Mitsubishi also has a huge investment nestled within the corn confines of central Illinois. It's one of three ginormous automotive assembly plants the Prairie State calls home (joining Chrysler's Belvidere facility and Ford's Torrence Avenue plant in Chicago).
Mitsubishi's Normal facility, its one and only U.S. automobile assembly hub, began pumping out cars in 1988. In July of 2012, the Outlander Sport, a scaled down two-row exclusive of the slightly larger Outlander was added when production moved from Japan to Illinois. The arrival of the Outlander Sport spelled the end of the production line for four slower-selling models built in Normal which Mitsubishi discontinued from its U.S. product lineup: the Galant mid-size sedan, Eclipse three-door hatchback, Eclipse convertible and Endeavor SUV.
In 2012, assembly numbers at the Mitsubishi Motors North America facility totaled a rather anemic 37,000 units, down significantly from a high in 1995 of 218,507. With Outlander Sport now taking up full-time residence, annual production numbers are projected in the 50,000 neighborhood.
Both Outlander and Outlander Sport (14 inches shorter than Outlander) offer two-wheel (front) drive or Midwest-friendly four-wheel drive. While Outlander offers standard third row seating ( that was optional last year), the compact Sport is satisfied as a five-passenger hauler. Uni-body, car-like underpinnings support on-road adventures; heavy-duty off-roading is not recommended.
While Mitsubishi considers the five-door Outlander a compact, dimensions skew towards mid-size. The small crossover segment remains crowded with ample, worthy rivals. With recent shakeups to the product lineup, Outlander now measures in as Mitsubishi's largest 2014 offering.
Korean counterpart Hyundai uses a similar marketing strategy with its recently redesigned 2013 Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport crossovers. The two-row variant receives the name Santa Fe Sport while the three-row version remains simply Santa Fe. All feature a slightly raised seating position resulting in excellent road visibility and command.
Three Outlander trim levels are offered: ES, SE and GT. Buyers get to choose from a 2.4-liter four cylinder engine cranking out 166 horses and mated to a continuously variable transmission (standard in ES and SE) or a 3.0-liter V-6 pumping out 224 horses working with a six-speed automatic transmission (a GT exclusive). Keep in mind higher-priced premium unleaded is recommended (not required) for optimal V-6 performance.
Only SE and GT trims offer Premium and Touring option packages. Premium includes a power rear lift gate, sunroof (covering the front row), leather upholstery and upgraded stereo. Touring includes all these items and adds adaptive cruise control/lane departure warning (new for 2014 and very sensitive), rain-sensing wipers and voice-operated navigation. Optional in all trims is a second-row DVD screen/player.
Fuel economy improves from Gen Two. Our V-6, all-wheel drive GT averages 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway; one mile city and three highway better from 2013. The top 2014 Outlander fuel leader remains the front-drive four cylinder at 25 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, two better city and three highway than last season.
Besides weight loss and goosed fuel economy, other 2014 Outlander updates include a revamped interior with more plug-in ports for high-tech gadgets and smoothed over exterior design.
Mitsubishi dropped off a V-6, top-line GT edition with the four-wheel drive. Starting price checked in at $27,795 ($800 less than a comparable 2013 GT edition). Options included the Touring package ($6,100) and with $825 destination charge, the bottom line ended at $34,720. The lowest-priced seven-passenger front-drive Outlander starts at $22,995 while the five-passenger Sport starts at $19,470. By comparison, the lowest-priced all-wheel-drive V-6-powered Hyundai Santa Fe seven passenger GLS starts at $30,350.
Outlander's revamped instrument panel tilts towards the smaller spectrum, but with white backlighting and blue and green accents, remains quite functional and easy to interpret. Two circular, analog gauges (right-side speedometer, left-side tachometer) flank digital bar graphs reflecting information concerning fuel consumption and engine temperature. The left-half of the dashboard gently concaves towards the driver. The black, semi-soft-touch materials were contrasted with faux-wood trim extending to the doors. The GT trims include white stitching on seats and doors.
Power windows, mirrors and locks are found on the driver's door at a 90-degree angle along the arm rest projectory. Handles are small and could use a size upgrade.
Dual-zone temperature settings include two circular push dials to raise and lower settings. Fan direction is monitored by a single push button while a toggle-like button controls fan speed. The black fuel-door release pull lever left of the driver's bucket needs better contrast to the dark carpet. The manual tilt-and-telescope steering column (telescoping mechanics were wisely added in 2014) is home to a three-spoke wheel with left-side audio and hands-free-phone push-button controls and right-side cruise control. Push-button start (SE and GT only) resides to the column's right.
The front row provides plenty of head room, which diminishes the farther back one travels inside the Outlander. Between the very supportive, firm and comfortable front buckets are side-by-side beverage holders, hand-operated parking brake and relatively small storage bin-arm rest.
The standard 50/50-split third row manually folds flat when not in use. To call into service, simply pull the back rest straps best accomplished from the lifted hatch area. Second row 60/40 split seats manually slide forward and backrests tilt forward for third-row entry, requiring more than a bit of contorting and best left for pre-teens or tweens because of limited leg, knee and head room. Second row seatbacks, however, do not fold completely flat to accommodate added cargo. With the third-row prone, a usable amount room exists for storage of grocery bags, small overnight luggage or (weekend duffers rejoice) a medium-sized golf bag. Without the sticks in tow, a narrow, shallow, under-floor storage bin with lift cover remains accessible.
In front, a new streamlined front fascia design incorporates the three-diamond logo front and center (Mitsubishi translates from Japanese to 'three diamonds') with two horizontal lines emanating from the logo to narrow front headlight housing. Large side-view mirrors with secondary turn-signal blinker bands, provide drivers with good visual feedback. Head clearance with the hatch up is not as generous as some rivals, so those taller than six feet must tread carefully. A temporary spare stows outside the vehicle under the cargo region.
Outlander's claim to fame to keep in mind: it's one of the lowest-priced vehicles with three rows of seating standard.
2014 Mitsubishi Outlander
Price as Tested: $34,720
Engine: 3.0-liter V-6
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
Length: 183.3 inches
Width: 70.9 inches
Fuel Economy: 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway
Curb weight: 3,571 pounds
Powertrain warranty: 10 years/100,000 miles