The good news for Japanese manufacturer Mitsubishi is that the tsunami of 2011 had little, if any, effect on its manufacturing facilities.
"We were one of the lucky ones," said Don Ulmer, Mitsubishi Canada senior manager of product planning, at the Oregon launch of the new Outlander. "It was not a factor for our company."
Just as well; Mitsubishi is still a small player in Canada, with fewer model offerings than everyone else. Established here in 2002, it's the youngest mainstream auto manufacturer in the country and will focus on "sustainable growth" in the markets it's already in, as opposed to breaking new ground and expanding its model lineup.
One of the mainstays in that lineup is the Outlander, which debuted in Canada in 2003 and, for 2014, gets a host of refinements and upgrades. It may look similar to its predecessor, but this is a brand-new version, with few shared components, other than the platform and one engine. New exterior and front-end treatment, new drivetrain engineering and new interior.
Engine choices are a 2.4-litre four-cylinder and a 3.0 V-6. While the latter is carried over from the previous generation, the former, despite having the same displacement, is an all-new powerplant, featuring a single overhead camshaft, and Mitsubishi's variable valve system. The previous four-banger was a dual-cam arrangement, and the new unit will deliver better fuel economy, says Ulmer.
Power output is set at 166 hp for the four cylinder, while the V-6 delivers 227. The V-6 is available with a conventional six-speed automatic transmission, but you're stuck with the CVT with the four-cylinder.
After a few hours of tootling around the back country of central Oregon, it became obvious that available power is still an issue with the four-cylinder version. Take-off snap and reserve passing power is in short supply, mainly because the transmission, a third-generation CVT, simply robs this engine of its vitality. Fuel economy is decent: 7.8 litres/100 combined rating, but if you want performance, the V-6 is the only choice.
Which sets the Outlander apart. Now that Toyota has dropped its V-6 from the RAV4 lineup, that limits the number of choices buyers have if they want something other than a four-banger in this market. With the ever-increasing cost of fuel, compact SUVs with V-6 engines may become an endangered species. The Outlander does has an available "Eco" mode, with a real-time consumption meter on the instrumentation cluster. This lets you know exactly how much gas you're consuming and is "driver activated," so that you can switch it on or off yourself.
Like the previous version, the new Outlander has either front- or all-wheel-drive, depending on the model. The base SE is propelled by the front wheels only, but can also be ordered with Mitsubishi's latest AWD system, known as All Wheel Control (AWC). In a nutshell, the base version of this setup has an Eco mode that will activate the rear driving wheels when things start to deteriorate, road-wise. It's meant for around-town usage – in snowy weather, for example. You don't get the full power transfer here, just enough to get you through the rough patches.
The next level is AWD Auto, which will deliver more power to the back wheels, sooner. This one will take you off-road, as long as you don't get carried away. For the really rough stuff, there is also an all-wheel-drive "Lock" setting that adjusts engine throttle settings, gear ratios and steering angle. Most entries in this market don't take 4WD seriously, offering just enough to get by, but the Outlander will take you through the boonies – to a point. It's no Jeep, but better than many of its contemporaries in this regard. The V-6 version also has a 1,587-kilogram towing capacity.
Mitsubishi has also added some electronic safety features in the form of a collision mitigation system, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning.
The mitigation system will automatically apply the brakes when it senses an impending collision and gives the driver a warning that he/she is headed for trouble. Volvo and Lexus both have similar arrangements and, in this case, the impending crash is sensed by radar. Adaptive cruise control uses the same radar system and maintains a safe distance between you and the car in front – again, common throughout the industry. Lane departure sounds a beeper if you stray off your side of the road, but only at speeds over 65 km/h. These three are all optional.
No prices for the 2014 Outlander have been announced, and it won't hit the market until June at the earliest. But Mitsubishi officials promise that it won't cost substantially more than the current version.
2014 Mitsubishi Outlander
Price: To be announced
Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder and 3.0-litre V-6
Horsepower: 166 hp for four; 227 hp for V-6
Torque: Not available
Transmission: Six-speed automatic/CVT
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.2 city/6.3 highway y (FWD with four-cylinder and CVT); regular gas
Alternatives: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-7, Volkswagen Tiguan, Ford Edge, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, GMC Terrain, Nissan Rogue, Subaru