First Drive: 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander mitsubishi first drives
2014 Mitsubishi Outlander. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Lesley Wimbush

Powell Butte, Oregon – Beginning in Paris, France and ending in Senegal, West Africa, the original Dakar Rally was the world’s harshest test of man and machine. It spanned over 5,000 miles of gruelling terrain, but the image that resonates most strongly is of the broiling sun and shifting sands of the Sahara desert.

Mitsubishi Motors made Dakar history by being the only manufacturer with 7 consecutive wins, and 12 championships. Reinforced by that association, Mitsubishi’s image became interwoven with indestructible rally cars flying over blind crests in a dramatic plume of sweeping sand.

But after conquering the world’s toughest endurance race – and scoring four World Rally Championships, Mitsubishi took a severe beating during the economic downturn. Relative newcomers to the Canadian market, Mitsubishi had done quite well here in Canada since its 2002 arrival, but plummeting North American sales after the economic downturn fuelled rumours that it might follow Suzuki in abandoning the U.S. market.

But Mitsubishi insists it’s committed to our market, and has invested money in its U.S. production of the Outlander crossover vehicle.

Not only has the Outlander been completely revamped, but the introduction of a new subcompact vehicle this fall will increase the company’s streamlined portfolio to five. Doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re Canada’s smallest mainstream car manufacturer, that’s a growth increase of 25 percent. Always look on the bright side, right?

Returning this June as a 2014 model, the Outlander has been rebuilt from the inside out. The crossover has sold well for Mitsubishi, moving more than 50,000 vehicles since its 2002 launch. But it was getting left behind in a forward-moving segment that continually sees the bar raised with new levels of sophistication, value and capability.

First Drive: 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander mitsubishi first drives
2014 Mitsubishi Outlander. Click image to enlarge

Outwardly, the Outlander is more subtle than the outgoing model, eschewing the signature “shark-nose” face first made familiar by the potent Lancer Evo in favour of a more refined grille. While the new chrome-strip front-end treatment does give it a more refined rather than sporty appearance, it does lose some character in the process – it’s a bit generic.

There aren’t many curves or bulges in the sheet metal of this Outlander, wheel arches are modest while a single crisp character belt-line saves it from slab-sidedness. From behind, it appears to squat on a set of wide haunches that are nicely accentuated by crisp taillights.

The design is sleeker overall – most of which can be attributed to the design team’s quest for greater aerodynamic efficiency. There’s a seven percent reduction in coefficient of drag over the previous model.

More importantly – the use of high tensile steel helps this model shed more than 100 kg. Mitsubishi is claiming a target highway fuel consumption rating of 6.3 L/100 km – an ambitious goal that would put them at the top of the segment.

But the greatest area of improvement takes place within the Outlander. Although the crossover has been a popular seller for Mitsubishi here in Canada, it has always fallen short in the all-important interior features category – not to mention subpar design and materials.

First Drive: 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander mitsubishi first drives First Drive: 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander mitsubishi first drives
2014 Mitsubishi Outlander. Click image to enlarge

Gone are the cheap, plastic bits reminiscent of yard-sale leftovers. Instead of a dismal, dated cabin, the Outlander presents a stylish, modern dash featuring soft-touch materials, wood or piano black trim and crisp chrome accents. A handsome centre stack features a 6.1-inch touchscreen display. Fit and finish are a quantum leap forward for Mitsubishi, although they’re simply now on par with most of their competitors.

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