We've always seen the Mitsubishi Outlander crossover SUV as an unsung hero of sorts, and that was before this year's comprehensive redesign. With the debut of the new 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander, it's time to give this well-rounded truck its due. The reinvented Outlander looks distinctive, gets good fuel economy and even offers a zesty V6 engine. The only real problem is that a lot of shoppers don't even know it exists.

That's a shame, because the Outlander has never been better. Although the engines are essentially carry-overs, just about everything else is fresh for 2014, including the rather classy interior. The formerly optional third-row seat is now standard across the line, providing room for two extra kids in a pinch. Once you've seen all the features Mitsubishi includes in the affordable Outlander SE, we suspect you'll be firmly with us in wondering why this crossover doesn't get more credit.

Our advice? Don't let the Outlander's low profile scare you away. This is a fully competitive crossover with more-than-competitive pricing. Let the test drive be your guide.

What's New for 2014?

The 2014 Outlander is an all-new model.

What We Like

Good 4-cylinder fuel economy; standard 3-row seating; strong optional V6; well-equipped SE is a great value; pleasant interior

What We Don't

Forgettable 4-cylinder acceleration; third row's strictly for kids; Bluetooth isn't standard on base ES

How Much?

$23,820-$28,620

Fuel Economy

The Outlander's base engine is a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that makes 166 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is a continuously variable automatic (CVT). Fuel economy with front-wheel drive is 25 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway, which is pretty impressive for a crossover. Even with optional all-wheel drive, the 4-cylinder Outlander achieves a respectable 24 mpg city/29 mpg hwy.

Standard on Outlander GT is a 3.0-liter V6 that pumps out 224 hp and 215 lb-ft. All-wheel drive is mandatory, as is a 6-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy remains a strong point at 20 mpg city/28 mpg hwy.

Standard Features & Options

The Outlander is offered in three trim levels: ES, SE and GT.

Note that the ES only features front-wheel drive (FWD), while the SE can be had with FWD or all-wheel drive (AWD) and the GT comes only with AWD.

The ES ($23,820) starts with 16-inch steel wheels, heated mirrors, full power accessories, a monochromatic driver information display, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, single-zone automatic climate control and a 6-speaker CD audio system.

The SE ($24,620) steps up in a big way with 18-in alloy wheels, fog lights, color-keyed side-mirror housings with LED turn-signal indicators, keyless entry/ignition, a color driver information display, upgraded gauges, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth, FUSE voice-command functionality, a digital HD radio, a 6.1-in touchscreen interface and a rearview camera. AWD adds $2,000 to the SE's price.

The GT ($28,620) scores the exclusive V6 engine, chrome exterior trim, automatic xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers, wood-grain trim and paddle shifters.

Offered on SE and GT is a pair of impressive options packages. The Premium package adds a 9-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system, satellite radio, leather upholstery, a sunroof, a power tailgate and an 8-way power driver's seat. The Touring package consists of the Premium package plus a navigation system (with a higher-resolution 7-in screen), adaptive cruise control with frontal collision mitigation and a lane-departure warning system.

All Outlanders can be equipped with a rear-seat DVD entertainment system and blue LED interior lighting, among other piecemeal options. Also, Bluetooth can be added to the base ES for a fee.

In terms of cargo capacity, the 2014 Outlander provides about 34 cu ft behind the second-row seat and 63 cu ft with both rear rows folded flat. The first number is just fine by class standards, but the second is a bit below average. Take a look for yourself at the dealership and see if you think it's adequate.

Safety

The 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander is outfitted with 4-wheel anti-lock brakes, stability control, hill-start assist and seven airbags (front, front-side, driver knee, full-length side-curtain).

Available electronic driving aids include a lane-departure warning system and adaptive cruise control with frontal collision mitigation. However, these aids are only obtainable via the pricey Touring package.

In government crash testing, the 2014 Outlander AWD received five stars out of five overall, including four stars for front impacts and five stars for side impacts. In an unusual twist, the Outlander FWD dropped to four stars overall.

In crash testing by the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Outlander came up aces, earning the top Good rating in every category.

Behind the Wheel

In our interior evaluation, we were pleasantly surprised by the Outlander's upgrades relative to its predecessor. Soft-touch materials are in abundant supply, and they're complemented by crisp gauges (especially in SE and GT) and an overall sense of restraint that's rare these days. Remarkably, even the base ES gets standard automatic climate control, although the barely pricier SE has so many desirable extras that we think it's a no-brainer upgrade.

Seat comfort is solid for everyone except the poor kids stuck in the cramped third row, but we're not complaining, because we know a lot of parents will be grateful just to have those two extra seat belts if needed. The second row deserves special mention for its sliding/reclining seats with generous legroom. Overall, this is a well-thought-out and nicely executed cabin that could frankly teach the Honda CR-V a lesson or two about perceived quality.

Under the hood, the base 4-cylinder engine seems rather uninspired when you give it the spurs, though the same could be said for most base engines in this class. More troubling is the CVT's tendency to maintain a high engine speed during acceleration, which can produce an intrusive drone. The V6, by contrast, is a joy, providing eager thrust along with a cool little snarl above 4,000 rpm. Remember, the V6 uses a conventional 6-speed automatic instead of the CVT, and that only helps its cause.

On the road, the Outlander feels somewhat softer and more compliant than it used to, but the handling is still safe and secure during spirited driving. Where the 2014 model really shines, though, is on the highway, where improved noise suppression noticeably boosts the refinement factor.

Other Cars to Consider

Ford Escape -- The sleek Escape provides sharper handling than the Outlander, though in other respects this is a fairly close race.

Mazda CX-5 -- Stylish, sporty and eminently practical, the CX-5 is a media darling for good reason. Like the others, however, it's strictly a 2-row vehicle.

Toyota RAV4 -- The RAV ditched its muscular V6 this time around, and the third-row seat is gone, too. But if you're cool with 4-cylinder power and two rows, the latest RAV4 is a strong contender.

AutoTrader's Advice

Did you see all of the standard features that Mitsubishi throws in with the SE? For an extra 800 bucks, you get features that would typically raise the price by thousands. If you can't spring for the V6-powered GT, the sub-$25,000 SE is a mighty nice consolation prize.

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