Mitsubishi Stays in the Game with New SUV

Photo courtesy of Dave Kunz

2014 Mitsubishi Outlander.

Recent years haven’t been kind to the smaller automotive players from Japan in the United States. While Honda, Toyota, Nissan, and Subaru are going strong, increasing their products lines and expanding manufacturing in the U.S., the “little guys” haven’t had it so easy.

Isuzu folded up passenger vehicle operations in this country in 2008, and that hardly came as a surprise. Their product line had dwindled down to a pickup and an SUV, both rebadged General Motors vehicles.

Then last year, Suzuki announced that it too would pull out of the United States as far as selling cars went. Their motorcycle operations would continue, as automobiles were a separate entity here. (And getting back to Isuzu for a moment, that company still actively sells commercial trucks in the U.S. Their passenger car division here was separate.)

So after Suzuki’s announcement, all eyes in the automotive world then looked toward Mitsubishi. The company’s Cypress-based U.S. operations were in a similar boat as the other two – low sales, dwindling dealer network, and a lack of new, fresh products to sell. But slowly, steadily, Mitsubishi is improving its portfolio.

For 2014, there’s a new version of the Outlander, a crossover SUV that’s larger than a small one but not too large. Three rows of seats come standard, a V6 engine and all wheel drive are optional, and the styling is actually rather clean.

The Outlander supplements the Outlander Sport, which debuted a couple of years ago in the Mitsubishi lineup. The Sport is a little stubbier and only has seating for five, and is styled quite a bit differently. Unlike the Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport over at Hyundai, which look extremely similar from many angles, the Mitsubishi offerings each have a distinct look.

With the Outlander, you’re getting the brand’s largest offering, and the one that has the greatest breadth of packaging and options. The base model is called ES, which does have lots of standard features but is limited to two-wheel-drive and not all option packages. The next rung up the ladder of Outlander trim is SE, which can then be equipped with all-wheel-drive and a slew of safety and convenience options that typically are to be found on more upscale vehicles.

For example, the Premium Package adds a sunroof, leather seats, a power tailgate, and other things. While the Touring Package gets you those upscale-type electronic features: Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Mitigation, and Lane Departure Warning. Those three are the new hot items in most luxury cars these days, and the fact that Mitsubishi is offering them on an affordable family-type car shows their efforts to stand out from the crowd.

Both the ES and SE Outlanders get by with a 2.4 liter four cylinder engine mated to a CVT automatic transmission. There’s only 166 horsepower under the hood, but fuel economy estimates with two wheel drive are 25 mpg city and 31 highway. All wheel drive knocks those numbers down a bit, as it does on pretty much every vehicle in this class.

If you’re planning on making use of all seven seats (the rearmost two are really small – child-size for sure), you might want to really investigate to see if the four cylinder model can move the vehicle along swiftly enough. I wasn’t able to sample that engine in the Outlander, but just doing some quick math tells me it might be a bit of a slowpoke on any kind of a hill.

The top trim level on the Outlander is the GT, which includes not only the S-AWC system (Mitsubishi’s fancy acronym for, essentially, all-wheel-drive), but a more potent 3.0 liter V6 engine. That one’s not necessarily a powerhouse with a rated horsepower of 224, but it moved my test model along smartly and made great growling noises when the accelerator was pushed to the floor.

The downsides to the GT are its sticker price ($4000 more than the SE, which starts at $23,795), recommended fuel grade of premium, and fuel economy numbers of 20 and 28. But even still, my fully-loaded Outlander GT test vehicle still didn’t crack the $35,000 mark, and averaged just over 21 mpg in lots of mixed SoCal driving.

Mitsubishi obviously needs other new products in order to continue staking its claim in the crowded U.S. auto market. But the 2014 Outlander is a pretty good sign that they’ll be sticking around.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave

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