2014 Mitsubishi Outlander first drive: Saving Grace

Mitsu leadSave for cell phones, there is no other industry as competitive as the automotive business. To be successful, you have to make a big commitment to your products, your quality, your customer service and your advertising budget to make an impression with customers. There are over 40 brands now and eleventy thousand different models within those brands. The recent demise of names like Fisker, Coda, Suzuki and more are proof that it takes a lot of hard work. One brand we didn’t expect to see still hanging in is Mitsubishi. It’s pretty much been a non-entity for the past few years, surviving by a thread, with less than 60,000 sales last year, down 27 percent from the previous year. But Mitsubishi not only isn’t giving up, it’s pressing forward, starting with its newest entry, the 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander compact SUV. Will it be able to play against the big boys and help resurrect the brand?

We must admit, we had mixed feelings the last time we drove the Outlander. We liked some features, but realized the small SUV was missing a lot of items that the others had. For 2014, all the missing features are now in place, along with more that the competition doesn’t offer.

outlander exteriorBefore we see how Mitsubishi improved on the previous model, let’s take a glance at the exterior design. Where the previous Outlander was a bit over the top with its jet fighter grille and sharply angled C-pillar, the new model is more conservative but cleanly styled. It purposely doesn’t have an overabundance of character lines and added bulges. Its gently sloping roofline and streamlined front fascia will help it appeal to more mainstream buyers. We prefer the new look to the gimmicky 2013 model. Because of the new, efficient design, the aerodynamics have improved considerably, bringing the coefficient of drag down seven percent, which helps improve fuel economy. Mitsubishi claims that the Outlander is now the most fuel-efficient seven-passenger SUV in the segment, with a rating of 25 city/31 highway mpg for the four-cylinder engine.

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The interior has been upgraded drastically, with the highest quality materials we’ve ever seen in a Mitsu vehicle. The fit and finish is on par with the best in the segment, and ergonomics also are as good as those at the top of this segment. We liked the padded dash top and trim areas, and the nice details, especially the woodgrain trim on the top-line GT model. It looks and feels more expensive than it is, and it’s obvious a lot of thought and effort went into the design and use.

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One of the big critiques about the previous model related to the seating. The 2013 Outlander was only a five passenger, while the 2014 model now seats seven. Although the new model’s platform is a derivative of the previous five-passenger and has the same wheelbase, it’s longer overall, which means an extra 13 inches of cargo capacity. And while there’s more cargo room (including an under-floor storage compartment) and a 50/50 split-fold third-row seat, the legroom is minimal for those passengers. You can put people back there in a pinch, but you’ll hear fewer complaints from pre-teens. The 60/40 split second-row seats also fold flat once you lift up the bottom seat cushions, and there’s good room for second-row occupants.

In addition to the interior roominess, Outlander offers a nice list of standard features on the base ES model, such as automatic climate control, remote keyless entry, tilt/telescoping steering column, and more. Step up to the midgrade SE and add features like pushbutton start, rearview camera, heated front-row seats, HD Radio, and six-inch display screen. The top version is GT, and it’s loaded with just about everything from dual-zone climate control to woodgrain trim.

A handful of packages for each trim provide technology items like navigation, Rockford Fosgate audio system (outstanding sound quality), and an impressive list of tech features like lane departure warning system, active cruise control, forward collision mitigation system, and power liftgate. The only item we miss is a blind spot monitoring system, which Mitsu said is in the works. All these offerings really bring the Mitsubishi Outlander up to date and extremely competitive with other vehicles in the segment.