Mitsubishi, with its fiercely competitive international rallying background providing high-test testosterone to fuel the design process, has created some of the most potent and exciting street machines on the planet, but its new-for-2011 RVR isn't one of them.
There's no fear the RVR will generate any street racing backlash as the only dogs it will be running with are in the pack yapping to get buyer attention in the rapidly expanding compact crossover segment.
Some of that Mitsu testosterone may have worked its way into the RVR's makeup - the electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system, for example. But, its belligerent-looking front-end styling aside, this is a vehicle that won't frighten the children or the family dog, or raise dad's or mom's heart rate above a suburban-boulevard-cruise idle.
It's continuously variable transmission, however, will continuously and in an annoyingly disconnected way alter the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine's revs up and down the scale as it strives to make the most of its 148 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque to propel the RVR at a reasonable rate. The sound is not unlike that produced by the drones of a set of deflating-then-puffed-up-to-pressure-again bagpipes.
I may, just possibly, be on record as being not particularly fond of continuously variable transmissions, preferring a manual or conventional multi-speed automatic's more positive responses. And to be fair, the one in the RVR is no worse than others of its ilk, but it does dull further a performance edge that's barely sharp enough to begin with.
According to testing last fall by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, the RVR requires 11.5 seconds to get to 100 km/h, which means its running in the tail-end segment of the compact crossover pack's performance envelope. Once the RVR's mobile though, its around-the-streets drivability is acceptable and its 80 km/h to 120 km/h passing or merging time of 8.2 seconds makes those manoeuvres safe enough propositions.
It should also be noted that in paddle-shift-it-yourself mode, the CVT selects virtual ratios promptly, but who's ever going to use this feature on a regular basis?
Fuel economy ratings are 8.4 litres/100 km city and 6.6 highway - testimony I suppose to the efficiency claimed for CVTs. After a week with the RVR, its on-board readouts were showing an average of about 10.0 litres and at a multi-lane highway keeping-up-with-traffic cruise it showed 8.6.
Rounding out the RVR's driving experience is handling that, while it wouldn't impress a Lancer EVO owner, is typical of the class. Steering weight and feel are okay, and response positive enough if you turn into corners deliberately. Fast transitions aren't its forte, but it doesn't seem to have any bad habits. Ride too is about average for the class and easy to live with.
The RVR is available as a base ES (front-wheel-drive) starting at $19,998 and in better-equipped SE FWD form at $21,998. The SE with all-wheel-drive tested lists at $24,998 and topping the range is the AWD GT at $28,498.
The RVR's styling is both attractive and distinctive but its sheet metal is wrapped around an interior that isn't the roomiest in this category and, although called a five-seater, it will definitely suit four better. Rear doors are narrow, but rear-seat room okay. Cargo volume at 1,402 litres isn't exactly generous, either.
On the plus side, it's quiet at cruising speed - although mild motor drone is always evident - and an improvement on some of Mitsubishi's past efforts in terms of design and with some soft-touch material on the dash and doorcaps. Nice SE touches are a leather-wrapped wheel and gear knob and silver trim pieces that dress things up a bit.
Controls for radio and climate control, power windows, etc., are easy to find and reach from the comfy but somewhat softly bolstered driver's seat (that sets you up nicely behind the wheel), as are the multiple cup holders.
And with the SE you get a more than fair and competitive amount of stuff: a 140-watt CD audio system, tilt/telescope wheel with controls, Bluetooth, a multi-info display, A/C, heated front seats, heated mirrors, alloy wheels, remote keyless entry, electronic stability and traction control, all the usual power assists and a full assortment of airbags.
The RVR, while okay, isn't the kind of vehicle you fall in love with but rather one you could "settle" for, adapting and making compromises to match its capabilities and in return likely enjoying a harmonious and undemanding relationship.
2011 Mitsubishi RVR SE AWD
Type: Compact crossover
Base Price: $24,998; as tested, $26,448
Engine: 2.0-litre, DOHC, inline-four
Horsepower/torque: 148 hp/145 lb-ft.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.6 city/6.6 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Volkswagen Tigaun