published Saturday, July 27th, 2013

Test Drive: Mitsubishi Outlander has inside track on value

The redesigned Mitsubishi Outlander has simpler, more-refined lines than its predecessor.
Staff photo by Mark Kennedy
The redesigned Mitsubishi Outlander has simpler, more-refined lines than its predecessor. Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

FAST FACTS

Model: Mitsubishi Outlander

Exterior color: Labrador Black

Interior color: black

Engine: 3.0-liter V-6

Horsepower: 224

Transmission: six-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 28 mpg highway, 20 mpg city

Dealer: Kelly Mitsubishi, 900 Riverfront Parkway

Price (as tested): $32,060

I once gave a young reporter a pack of paper matches and told her to think of it as her lifetime supply of exclamation points. It was my way of saying that restraint is under-rated.

I thought about that as I was flipping through my notebook full of impressions about the new 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander. My final entry was: Value!

I haven't yet driven an over-$50,000 vehicle that didn't have at least a few superb qualities, nor an under-$20,000 vehicle that didn't have some flaws. What you hope for is to find a $30,000 vehicle with all the inherent goodness of one that costs $40,000 or more. That's the whole point of comparison shopping, the hunt for value.

If ever a small SUV qualifies as a solid value, it's the redesigned 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander. The fact that there are so few of these SUVs on the road here adds to the wow factor.

While driving our $32,062 Outlander test vehicle last week, I could squint and imagine I was driving at BMW X3 or a Volkswagen Touareg, luxurious compact SUVs that cost at least 10 grand more.

STYLING AND FEATURES

Two virtues set our Outlander GT tester apart from other compact SUVs, V-6 power and a third-row seat. Those are features that aren't available at any price on the new Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV-4, the two pace cars in this segment.

Interestingly, both of those vehicles recently were redesigned and remain consumer favorites. But, to me, the new Outlander seems a couple of rungs ahead of the Honda and Toyota in design, build quality and available features.

Our tester, provided by Don Casteel at Kelly Mitsubishi, was a Labrador Black GT model, with a premium-gas sipping V-6 engine rated at 224 horsepower. A 2.4-liter four-cylinder rated at 166 horsepower is the engine in base models.

Visually, the new Outlander is more conservative than the outgoing model, which was a bit of a show-off. The new design is a mix of crisp horizontal lines and softer corners. From rear angles it is almost indistinguishable from the BMW X3. Little flourishes, such as chrome belt-line molding and side-mirror LED lights, give it the presence of a luxury car. In black, the front end has a Darth Vader quality to it.

Inside, the Outlander is equally impressive. Soft-touch surfaces in mat black make the dash look positively Audi-esque. Buttons and dials are intuitively positioned and easy to read.

Other standard features on our all-wheel-drive GT test vehicle include a hill-assist feature, high intensity headlamps and 18-inch alloys. A $2,800 premium package adds a power sunroof, perforated leather seats, a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate premium sound system and power driver's seat and liftgate.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

On our test drive on U.S. Highway 27, the little V-6 settled in at the speed limit and the Outlander delivered a hushed, smooth ride. While the Outlander features electronic steering, it doesn't feel sterile like some drive-by-wire systems. The steering is well-weighted, and the suspension transmits a fair amount of road feel.

Because the Outlander has room for seven, the V-6 seems the smart choice. The bigger engine also boosts towing capacity to 3,500 pounds. It's 1,500 pounds with the four cylinder.

My only nitpicks are somewhat limited rearward visibility (the C-pillars are huge), and the recommendation for premium gas. On the other hand, with a V-6 rated at 28 mpg highway/20 mpg city, you can afford to spend a little more for high-test.

BOTTOM LINE

If you're looking for a value-packed small SUV, and like being a bit outside the mainstream, the Outlander is an excellent choice. Mitsubishi's 10-year or 100,000 mile powertrain warranty is another powerful selling point.

At the moment, Mitsubishi is a bit of a boutique brand that needs a hit to improve its footprint in cities such as Chattanooga. I have a hunch the new Outlander might be just the breakthrough vehicle the brand needs.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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