Model: Mitsubishi Outlander
Exterior color: Labrador Black
Interior color: black
Engine: 3.0-liter V-6
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.
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.
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 email@example.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.