There's a new face at Mitsubishi that should receive more than just a passing glance. The 2014 Outlander wagon has cleaned up its design act both inside and out for 2014, shedding its dated open-mouth look in the process.
In some respects, the largest vehicle in Mitsubishi's thinned-out fleet appears more like the second-gen edition that served the automaker for the 2007-'09 model years. As then, the front end returns to an understated and more aerodynamic appearance, which suits the vehicle better than the previous rally-inspired Lancer Evolution-style nose. Let's face it, a seven-passenger rally-race wagon wasn't fooling anyone. Leave that to the five-passenger Outlander Sport with its similar grille to explain.
Elsewhere, the styling is much more contemporary, making the Outlander appear just as attractive from the rear as from the front.
The 2014 edition still shares the previous Outlander's platform and basic dimensions - length, width and distance between the front and rear wheels - equating to nearly identical space for passengers and cargo as before. However the competition's entries in this bracket (all Outlanders now come with three rows of seats) are somewhat roomier and it's a tight squeeze when accessing the rear-most bench of the Outlander.
Regardless of seat assignment, all passengers will be treated to an improved environment. Mitsubishi has upgraded the seats, door panels and dashboard (the latter with soft-touch material) and added more cabin insulation for a quieter ride. As well, the split-folding second and third rows have been redesigned to fold more easily.
Overall, the Outlander has managed to shed some 200 pounds, which should be a boon to performance. The standard powerplant is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that produces 166 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. That's down slightly from before, but with the weight reduction it won't be noticed.
The four-cylinder is standard with ES and SE trims, while the GT's standard engine is a 3.0-liter V6 that delivers 224 horsepower and 215 pound-feet of torque. That's a drop of 15 horses, but it's dead even in torque. For reference, competing five- and seven-passenger wagons have more output, and in some cases significantly more.
The 2.4 is hitched to a continuously variable transmission that has been adjusted to more closely mimic a traditional multi-speed automatic, especially when accelerating from a full stop. Meanwhile, the V6 has exclusive use of a six-speed automatic that has been updated for improved fuel economy.
On that point, the gains are nothing to sneeze at. The four-cylinder rates 25 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway (up from 23/28). The V6 improves to 20/28 from 19/25. A driver-controlled "Eco" setting cuts some of the engine power and A/C functionality for further gains, however slight they might be.
Mitsubishi's "Super All-Wheel Control" (code for all-wheel drive) can be ordered with four-cylinder Outlanders, but is standard with the GT. By mid-2014, Mitsubishi will introduce the Outlander PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) with full-time all-wheel-drive.
With a starting price, including destination charges, of $23,800, the Outlander arrives with the usual basic kit. The next up SE (front- and all-wheel-drive) models add dual-zone climate control, rearview camera, push-button start and heated front seats. The GT V6 entices with a premium interior, audio package and bright xenon headlamps.
From that point the load factor can be increased with option packages containing heated leather-covered seats, power sunroof and a Rockford Fosgate-brand sound system, to name a few. There's also a host of available accident-avoiding electronic safety systems designed to keep you in your proper lane, alert you to approaching vehicles from adjacent lanes and help you maintain a safe distance from vehicles directly in front.
Other than room for seven, the Outlander's strengths might not be readily apparent until you consider its attractive refresh, content improvements and the appealing price tag. It's then that Mitsubishi's flagship wagon starts to make plenty of sense.
What you should know: 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander
Type: Four-door, front-/all-wheel-drive wagon
Engines (hp): 2.4-liter SOHC I4 (166); 3.0-liter SOHC V6 (224)
Transmissions: Continuously variable; six-speed automatic (V6)
Market position: Where other smaller-sized wagons such as the Toyota RAV4 have eliminated the third row, or never offered it in the first place, the Outlander steadfastly maintains its now-standard seven-passenger capacity.
Points: Redesigned looks a conservative improvement; Standard and optional engines low on power, but good on gas (Eco mode can help out more); Upcoming plug-in hybrid will put Outlander at the front of the pack; 2014 version represents an honest, but low-key attempt at updating an important model in Mitsubishi's lineup.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; front-knee airbag; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 25/31 (2.4);
Base price (incl. destination) $23,800
Hyundai Santa Fe
Base price: $25,550
New-for-2013 wagon comes in five- and seven-passenger sizes.
Base price: $31,700
Large V6-powered rig is pricey, but can handle lots of people and cargo.
Base price: $29,900
Popular car-based hauler also comes in a gas-electric Hybrid version.