BEND, Ore. -- Mitsubishi's restyled Outlander crossover is a vast improvement in interior refinement, packaging and technology over the outgoing model.
But the brand's U.S. sales are languishing. The outgoing Outlander was among the worst-selling compact crossovers in the industry. Simply put, Mitsubishi needs a home run. While the updated Outlander is a major improvement, it seems unlikely to be the linchpin in a major turnaround for the brand.
For the 2014 model year, Mitsubishi's largest vehicle gets all-new sheet metal that the company says was designed to improve aerodynamic efficiency. The Outlander's new interior has a smart layout and feels more upscale and better constructed than the outgoing model's appointments.
The basics: The restyling is Mitsubishi's first major update to one of its volume models since the Outlander Sport, the Outlander's little brother, debuted in 2011. The big brother is a bit of a "tweener" vehicle. It has a longer wheelbase and more overall length than compact crossovers such as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape, while being slightly smaller than the mid-sized Hyundai Santa Fe. The extra size allowed Mitsubishi to include a standard cq third row of seats, a feature that competing vehicles from Honda, Toyota and Ford lack.
Despite the extra size and seating capacity, the Outlander is one of the industry's lightest compact crossovers and among the most fuel efficient in city driving.
The Outlander's platform is carried over from the outgoing generation, as are the powertrains, which have been updated to improve fuel economy.
The base ES and midgrade SE trims of the Outlander are powered by a standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission. The four-banger's block is carried over, while the head has been modified to include a new variable valve lift system that Mitsubishi says boosts fuel economy.
Standard on the high-end Outlander GT is a 3.0-liter V-6 engine, producing 224 hp and 214 pounds-feet of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
Notable features: Interior refinement, materials and build quality are vastly superior to the outgoing Outlander and competitive in the segment. A one-piece, soft-touch instrument panel lends an air of sophistication, despite some faux wood-grain trim pieces on high-end models.
Better-equipped Outlanders can be had with advanced safety features not typically offered on vehicles priced around $30,000. A forward collision mitigation system uses forward-facing radar to detect an impending head-on collision and bring the vehicle to a complete stop. Lane-departure warning and adaptive cruise-control systems also are offered as options. All-wheel drive is also available via Mitsubishi's Super All Wheel Control system used on the Lancer Evolution sport sedan.
Mitsubishi's optional V-6 will give it a leg up in power compared with the CR-V and RAV4, which have adopted a single, four-cylinder engine strategy.
What Mitsubishi says: Bryan Arnett, senior manager of product strategy for Mitsubishi Motors North America, says the Outlander will offer more features and content than similarly priced rivals and advanced safety technology that the competition lacks. Pricing wasn't announced, but Arnett said the starting sticker will be close to the 2013 Outlander's $23,520 base price while higher-end models should see a price reduction compared with their 2013 model year counterparts. The 2013 Outlander's price includes shipping.
"We are going to give you so much value for the money compared to the competition. It will be very compelling," Arnett said during a media event last week. Innovation and technology, he said are "really the core of what Mitsubishi does, and we plan to continue to push that envelope."
Compromises and shortcomings: The 2.4-liter base engine is adequate for city runabouts, but commuters will have to step on the throttle early and hard to get the Outlander up to highway speeds. At 166 hp, the Outlander's 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is among the least powerful in the segment. The CR-V's base engine produces 185 hp, for example. The Outlander's continuously variable transmission also suffers from the "rubber band" feeling decried by driving enthusiasts.
The Outlander's aerodynamically designed exterior styling may help fuel economy, but the conservative design won't turn many heads.
Despite the Outlander's somewhat aging underpinnings, the carryover platform is designed to accommodate an optional V-6 engine. The available V-6 should appeal to a segment of buyers looking for some extra power in a segment populated by competitors that have abandoned large engines in the name of fuel efficiency.