Mitsubishi Outlander, a crossover in search of identity: Motoramic Drives
Times have been tough for Mitsubishi Motors. In spite of a growing industry, the company's sales fell 27 percent last year to 57,790 units. That's only a couple thousand more than how many F-150s Ford moves — in a single month. And since the once-respected Galant and Eclipse badges have faded into obscurity, the only bright spots for the three-diamond brand is the pocket-rocket Lancer Evolution and the crossover styled after it, the Outlander Sport. But can the company succeed beyond the Evo? Mitsubishi hopes so with the 2014 Outlander.
In person, the new Outlander's profile is awkward; with its bulbous front overhang and pudgy body hanging over the diminutive wheels and tires, it has all the sex appeal of a muffin-topped plumber. Granted, enthusiasts have never cooed over the crossover sheet metal of a Toyota RAV4, but this looks outdated before it hits dealers' lots. The interior fares better with soft-touch dash and piano-black accents, though the faux-wood (optional for SE trims and standard on GT) is as convincing as what you'd find in a Chevy Aveo.
Aside from the material gripes, the Outlander has an easy to use, no-nonsense cabin, an increasingly rare trait these days with automakers adopting gimmicky, button-less center consoles. Although similar in wheelbase and length to the Outlander Sport, it feels more spacious — and you can even cram two kids in the two third-row seats, a feature absent from the Ford Escape, RAV4 or Honda CR-V.
Mitsubishi also hopes to differentiate itself from the competition with a suite of high-tech features, including a Volvo-esque collision detection system that's a boon for parents buying a car for their texting teens. Unlike Honda's overly sensitive collision avoidance system, which annoyingly beeps when even going quick into the corners, the Outlander intervenes by braking at the last possible moment, ensuring it won't ever get in the way with normal driving. (It also didn't fail the test even once during the press trip, unlike Volvo's fiasco). Plus, it can be overridden with a quick steering input or when flooring it, so there's still have the option of evading trouble altogether.
One touted feature that doesn't impress, however, is the Outlander's adoption of the all-wheel-drive system (S-AWC) from the Lancer Evolution. It has none of the manic character of the Evo, and feels less athletic than a Mazda CX-5. Not to mention, it also lacks the chassis and suspension refinement of the CR-V over high-frequency bumps. That said, the AWD is surprisingly capable of off-roading through dusty, rut-filled hills, with the main downside being the relatively low ground clearance up front. It works well with the steering, which is neither too quick nor slow but lacks feedback on the open road.