Almost everybody loves a story about someone down on his luck who pulls himself together and goes on to achieve something special.
Though the outcome cannot be known now, that could be a plot line for Mitsubishi, which has been faring poorly and was considered by some to be a candidate for extinction in the United States, following the demise here of two other Japanese brands: Isuzu and Suzuki.
But the company has been hanging in there, bolstered by its respected limited-edition Lancer Evolution sports sedan and iMIEV electric car. Now it believes it is solidly on the comeback road with the 2014 Outlander crossover utility vehicle.
Described by the company as among the most fuel-efficient seven-passenger CUVs available, the Outlander is new from bumper to bumper. Though it has seating for seven, it competes in the compact crossover class against such formidable foes as the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Subaru Forester and Mazda CX-5 -- all of which are five-passenger vehicles.
The Outlander starts out as an ES model with front drive and a 166-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine linked to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The base price of $23,820 gets the customer automatic climate control, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, remote power locks, hill start assist, and full safety equipment including traction and stability control.
But the ES is not available with all-wheel drive. To get that, you must move up to the SE S-AWC model, which has a starting price of $26,620. The S-AWC stands for super all-wheel control, Mitsubishi's designation for its all-wheel drive. The company says it is one of the more sophisticated systems available. It uses an active front differential and can apportion traction all around.
Optional packages include state-of-the-art features: adaptive cruise control, forward collision mitigation and lane-departure warning, along with leather upholstery, power tailgate, motorized sunroof and satellite radio. Together, the packages can tack on as much as $6,100. The tested SE S-AWC Outlander was equipped with those and had a $32,720 bottom-line sticker.
The SE trim level can be ordered with the standard front drive and includes a rear-view camera, pushbutton starting and dual-zone climate control, as well as availability of the aforementioned option packages.
At the top of the Outlander line is the GT model, which features a 224-horsepower, 3.0-liter V6 with a six-speed automatic transmission and standard S-AWC. It starts at $28,620 and, with a full options load, checks in at $34,720.
Anyone who carries heavy loads and values a smooth surge of power likely would choose the V6. But the four-cylinder performs adequately, though it won't win many stoplight drag races and is a bit challenged passing on two lane roads. The CVT on the four-banger transmits the engine's power smoothly with no shift points and no sense that the transmission is slipping, as with some CVT units.
With either engine, the electric power steering provides solid straight-line tracking and good control around corners, although the sensory feedback is a bit lacking. The suspension system delivers a decent ride with enough stiffness to prevent heeling over around curves.
Inside, the ambiance is quiet with a near total lack of wind or mechanical noise, abetted by generous applications of sound-deadening materials. Instruments and controls are functional and laid out in a simply designed dash that, on the test car, featured classy faux wood-grain accents. But the sun visors don't slide on their supports so are mostly useless in blocking sunlight from the sides.
Outboard seats in back, which have adjustable backrests, are comfortable with plenty of head and knee room. However, as is usual in most vehicles, the center rear position has an unyielding and uncomfortable cushion.
The second row seats, divided 60/40, can be adjusted fore and aft. That's necessary to provide knee room in the tiny third row, which also is short on head room and should be reserved for nimble pre-teens. The right side seat slides forward to provide access to the third row but it's still a torso-twisting chore to get back there.
There's only slightly more than 10 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row. However, both the third- and second-row seatbacks fold flat to open up space to 34 or 63 cubic feet.
Model: 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander SE-AWC four-door crossover utility vehicle.
Engine: 2.4-liter four-cylinder, 166 horsepower.
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
EPA passenger/cargo volume: 128/10 cubic feet.
Weight: 3,461 pounds.
EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/29/26 mpg.
Base price, including destination charge: $26,620.
Price as tested: $32,720.