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2014 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SE S-AWC Touring: Across-the-board improvements

by: MITSUBISHI MOTORS NORTH AMERICA - The completely redesigned 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander stands out in a crowd.Mitsubishi has a lot riding on its redesigned small crossover, 2014 Outlander. The underfunded Japanese manufacturer can only afford to bring a new vehicle out every few years. But at least it's still in the game, unlike Suzuki, which pulled out of the American market this year.

To its credit, the redesigned Outlander has a number of improvements worth noting. The exterior styling is more contemporary, the interior features better materials, and mileage is up in both the engines, the base 2.4-liter inline four the 3.0-liter V6. The Continuously Variable Transmission in our test Outlander was also much better than earlier version. And the company wisely stuck with its Super All-Wheel Control 4WD System that offers multiple modes from tarmac to snow at the touch of a button.

But the competition hasn't been sleeping and the Outlander must go up against such thoroughly contemporary challengers as the new Mazda CX-5 and the revised Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe. That's a tough field and, truth be told, the Outlander is not as refined as any of them. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth considering, especially if you want something a little different.

Take the front end, which doesn't look like anything else on the road. It is more angular than most competitors, which probably results in a little better aerodynamics. The thin upper grill borders on weird, but the larger lower opening offsets it. The result is less wacky than the goofy grin on recent Mazda's, but not by much.

The dash is refreshingly simple, especially compared to some crossovers (and cars) that favor what can best be described as space fighter interiors. Although there is still too much plastic, it is not as hard as before and, at least in our well-equipped SE Touring model, included some tasteful leather and wood trim. The largely push button controls were relatively straight forward, although the graphics on the navigation system seemed last generation.

The Outlander continues to be one of the smaller crossovers with a third row of seats, which should appeal to families. Families with very small children, that is, because they are the only ones that will fit there. But at least seating for seven is available when needed.

Our test Outlander was equipped with the base four cylinder engine. It offers 166 horsepower, which is not a lot these days, especially considering that the Ford Escape offers two turbocharged four bangers. Acceleration was sluggish in the Eco (fuel saving) mode and adequate in the Normal mode. And it was almost peppy in the Sport mode, which also featured quicker declaration. The 2.4 will never be mistaken for a V6, but considering our test Outlander was equipped with all-wheel-drive, we found it reasonable overall.

Much of the credit for the accepatable performance goes to the improved CVT. Mitsubishi's first attempts at shiftless transmissions were disappointing — loud and sluggish. The new one is much quieter and responsive, especially in Sport mode. It growls a little at low speeds, but nothing like it used to.

Although the overall ride was comfortable, it could get a little choppy over uneven pavement. Nothing too bad, but a reminder that the suspension is not set up for aggressive driving. At least, not in our test model. The more performance-oriented Outland GT with the V6 engine as standard equipment is undoubtedly sportier. We haven't had a chance to test that version yet, but the previous generation Outlander GT was a sleeper that scored consistently well in the annual Mud Fest off-road competitions staged by the Northwest Automotive Press Association.

There isn't much cargo space behind the third row of seats when they are folded up. That's an obvious drawback if you're taking a large family on a road trip. But the space was good when the seats were folded down, which is probably how most owners will configure the Outlander the majority of the time.

Given the competition these days, it's easy to overlook the Outlander when considering a smaller crossover. That would be a mistake, however. It has room for seven and the four-cylinder version gets some of the best mileage of any SUV equipped with all-wheel-drive. And its unique styling will never be mistaken for anything else.

Facts and figures (all models)

• Model tested: 2014 Outlander SE Touring.

• Manufacturer: Mitsubishi.

• Class: Small crossover.

• Layout: Front engine, all-wheel-drive.

• Style: Five-door SUV.

• Engines: 2.4-liter inline 4 (166 hp, 161 ft-lbs); 3.0-liter V6 (224 hp, 215 ft-lbs).

• Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission; 6-speed automatic.

• Fuel Economy: 25/31/27 (2.4/CVT/FWD); 24/29/26 (2.4/CVT/AWD); 20/28/23 (3.0/A/AWD).

• Price: Starting at around $23,000 ($32,720 as tested).