If performance is one of your top priorities in a compact SUV, the 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander probably won’t be your top pick. While the previous Outlander GT especially was a taut, athletic vehicle and quite fun to drive, Mitsubishi has softened that and the entire lineup a bit for 2014.
That said, this new model is up to 220 pounds lighter than the previous version, and Mitsubishi has introduced a new-generation, 166-hp version of its 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that’s both more refined and stronger where it counts—in the low and mid revs. Those two factors combined mean that four-cylinder versions are now agreeable and well-suited for the commute.
The SOHC four isn’t turbocharged or direct-injected, but it does include MiVEC (continuously variable valve timing with lift), adjusting the intake valve timing and height in coordination with the throttle. This engine makes 166 hp and 162 pound-feet of torque, and it comes only with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
Only in the Outlander GT, there’s a 3.0-liter V-6. It’s essentially carry-over, but it comes with a new six-speed automatic transmission with a taller final drive ratio than before, plus a new torque-converter strategy. This is an extremely smooth engine—and it sounds great when accelerating quickly—but its rather feeble 224 hp and 215 pound-feet of torque neither stands up to other V-6s in useful power nor to the new EcoBoost turbo (2.0-liter) four in the Escape. Furthermore, premium fuel is recommended.
The V-6 Outlander GT also drives a bit heavier than the four, shifting its weight with a little less finesse than the SE four-cylinder. In either case, there’s a new electric power steering system that’s precise, and rather firm, considering the mission. The suspension layout is pretty typical for a crossover, with MacPherson struts and a new multi-link rear geometry that aims to reduce unsprung weight.
All Outlander ES models have front-wheel drive, but the SE and GT models come with an all-wheel drive system called S-AWC. This AWD system has an electronically controlled center coupling, combined with an open rear differential, but it’s unlike some all-wheel-drive systems in that it has a separate active front differential to help get the right torque split for the conditions, to help power through conditions when one wheel might be on ice, for instance.
As for off-roading, the Outlander can go off pavement and can handle some pretty rutted-and-rough two-tracks; and its 8.5 inches of ground clearance is pretty typical for this class.
The single attribute that may tilt you in favor of the V-6 is that this model is rated much higher for towing—3,500 pounds, versus 1,500—which makes it able to tow (if not all that quickly) a small pleasure boat or camper.