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car review

2013 Mitsubishi RVR

Mitsubishi's entry in the free-for-all compact crossover segment is an underdog, often overlooked by buyers who don't venture beyond the more mainstream brands, but is still part of the pack and sporting a new look and additional features for 2013.

The RVR was initially introduced by Mitsubishi in the early 1990s as a compact multi-purpose-vehicle, essentially a tall wagon. Mitsubishi supplied vehicles to Chrysler at the time, and that first RVR appeared here as either a Dodge/Plymouth Colt or Eagle Wagon. The second generation didn't make it to Canada a decade ago, when Mitsubishi set up shop on its own, and relied on its larger Outlander, Montero and Endeavor in the SUV sector.

The current third-generation RVR emerged as a true and thoroughly modern compact crossover vehicle. It arrived in Mitsubishi dealer's showrooms in 2011 as a 2012 model, attractively styled and competitively priced. And aimed at family buyers looking for a fuel-efficient vehicle capable of carrying five or a useful amount of the stuff families occasionally have to haul around.

The RVR is available in four models, starting with the 2WD ES at $19,998, which is followed by the better-equipped SE at $22,298. An SE with AWD is priced at $25,698 and the final step up the grade ladder is the $28,998 GT this review focuses on.

Changes for the 2013 model year are the usual freshening touches, including a new grille, front fascia and bumper, which tidy up the front end, while retaining the pugnacious look that provides a visual link to Mitsubishi's hot Lancer EVO and Ralliart sedan models. Minor mods have also been made at the rear.

The multi-link rear suspension has been tweaked to improve handling and ride, Mitsubishi says, and the continuously variable transmission has been recalibrated to improve performance, an area the RVR has taken some knocks for.

The RVR is set in motion by a 2.0-litre, double-overhead-cam engine that's rated at a not-exactly-overachieving 148 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque (about the same as the new Subaru Crosstrek). This gets to the pavement, through all four wheels in the GT's case employing Mitsubishi's sophisticated All Wheel Control system, developed through its international rally racing program, and that Sportronic CVT. I'd guess the latter's paddle shifters, through which you can select six fixed ratios, are more unlikely to be used by RVR owners than in almost any other CVT-equipped vehicle I can think of.

However, you apply it, the result produced by the engine's output isn't exactly blood-stirring. The last official test numbers showed the RVR requiring 11.5 seconds to get to 100 km/h, which left it sniffing along at the rear of the crossover pack. With no accurate way to measure it, I'd guess, the revised CVT likely knocks a few tenths off that. So it hasn't turned it into a dragster.

But what it has done is raise the overall drive-ability level, the day-to-day stuff of launching through intersections and accelerating in response to traffic conditions. And while you have to keep the pedal pressed hard to accelerate up to highway speed, and think about passing on secondary roads, with 80 km/h to 120 km/h taking about eight seconds, both can be accomplished safely enough.

It might be my imagination, but the drone produced by the engine while working with the CVT might be less annoying. But perhaps I'm just getting used to these transmissions.

The price for this performance "boost" is a slight decrease in the RVR's fuel economy rating, which now stands at 8.5 litres/100 km city versus 8.4. The highway rating remains the same at 6.6 litres/100 km highway. After a week with the RVR, it was indicating an average of 9.9 litres/100 km, and 8.4 litres/100 km on a hilly highway drive that made the engine work hard.

The revisions to the rear suspension were also beyond the capabilities of the ride and handling sensors built into my personal backside to quantify.

The RVR is a more than pleasant enough crossover in handling terms, with a steering weight that doesn't feel unnatural and which elicits – aided by P225/55R18 tires on alloy wheels – predictable responses from the front wheels. The spring rates are firm, to cope with its cargo-hauling capabilities, and dampened well enough to keep body motion under control, putting it at least on a par with competitive models. It deals with bumpy road surfaces well, too, feeling nicely planted, and this also translates into decent ride comfort.

With an overall length of 4,295 mm, the RVR is on the smaller end of the compact crossover scale. A Honda CR-V is 4,530 mm and a Toyota RAV4 4,620 mm. On the inside, this translates into enough room for four, with three definitely being a crowd in the rear seat. Cargo capacity is 614 litres with the rear seatback upright and 1,402 with it folded. About the same as the Crosstrek, but 500 litres or so less than bigger compact crossovers offer.

The RVR's interior is easy enough to live with, a mix of plastic and soft-touch material, arranged in a conventional but attractive fashion. New trim and fabrics can be found in this year's GT (along with new exterior colours). It's quiet at highway speeds, although CVT provoked engine noise can be annoying.

On the GT's equipment list are automatic climate control, heated seats, all the usual power assists, tilt-telescope wheel with audio and cruise controls, fast key entry, a panoramic sunroof and roof rails. The test car added a $3,500 package that included navigation, leather, a power driver's seat and a rear-view camera.

Tech specs

2013 Mitsubishi RVR GT AWD

Type: Compact crossover

Base Price: $28,998; as tested, $34,108

Engine: 2.0-litre, DOHC, inline-four

Horsepower/torque: 148 hp/145 lb-ft

Drive: All-wheel

Transmission: CVT

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.5 city 6.6 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX5, Nissan Rogue

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