Mitsubishi RVR joins the gang

The RVR, a five-passenger compact crossover arriving now in dealers’ showrooms, expands Mitsubishi’s core lineup, joining the Lancer sedan and the larger Outlander crossover.

As part of this threesome, the RVR is “very important” to the future of the brand in Canada, says Mitsubishi marketing and sales vice-president Tomoki Yanagawa.

The RVR is built on the same platform as the Outlander, although it’s a slightly smaller package. This new model is intended to take on such segment competitors as Nissan’s funky new Juke and the newly redesigned pair of Korean compact CUVs — the Hyundai Tucson and its corporate cousin the Kia Sportage. The edge Mitsubishi hopes will swing consumers in its direction is fuel economy — it says the RVR’s combined city/highway consumption rating (7.6 litres/100 km) is the best in its class. Annual estimated fuel costs are pegged at $1,515.

Mitsubishi has also mixed in a healthy dose of technologies plus plenty of the functionality buyers expect in a crossover. To help meet their fuel consumption targets, Mitsubishi engineers have trimmed excess weight from every nook and cranny of the RVR. For example, the front fenders are weight-saving recycled plastic. The 16-valve four-cylinder engine is all aluminum with resin-coated pistons and camshafts. Special attention has also been given to ensuring the RVR’s aerodynamics are slick to also reduce its fuel consumption.

Most RVRs will come equipped with a CVT (continuously variable transmission) as an additional fuel conservation tool, although a five-speed manual is standard with the base front-wheel-drive SE model. On the premium-grade, all-wheel-drive GT model, magnesium paddle shifters for the Sportronic CVT are standard, creating the feeling of a six-speed automatic. I confess I’m not a fan of CVTs — some Nissan models excepted — and the RVR doesn’t do anything to change that opinion, even with the sporty paddle shifters.

The sole engine available in the RVR is a 2.0-litre MIVEC four-banger that produces 148 horsepower at a high-revving 6,000 rpm and 145 pound-feet of torque at 4,200 rpm, also well up on the engine speed scale. The CVT seems to stifle the engine’s spirit, with throttle response somewhat sluggish and acceleration similarly lacking much zip. Overall, the four’s output is adequate, especially around town or when cruising on flat highway stretches. But try to outhustle a semi as you accelerate off an access ramp or tackle a long, steep grade and you’d best be content to enjoy the scenery. It’s not the type of performance one would expect from a brand with such a rich history in world rallying. A true six-speed automatic would help the RVR pick up the pace when necessary — tacking a turbo on the four would add some pep, too — but then there would be a price to be paid at the pump.

There’s another nit I’d like to pick with this tranny. While sailing along at 110 km/h on a four-lane highway heading for Halifax, I encountered a series of steep grades. The Sportronic was still in manual mode (after some earlier “fun” time on the beautiful south coast Lighthouse route here) and the cruise control was active. As the grade increased, the speed dropped and after dipping below 100 km/h, the engine speed dropped as well — almost to idle. It seems that once you’ve selected a “gear” — in this case sixth — and cruise is on, the CVT stays in that setting until the engine can no longer handle the drop in revs. Then it essentially reverts to idle. I don’t know if this was a software issue with my particular RVR or if Mitsubishi needs to tweak the CVT’s mapping, but it can put a driver in a stressful situation until he realizes manual remedial action is required.

I had no issues with the RVR’s dynamics, however. The ride was comfortable, its handling was decent, the electric power steering worked well and the power-assisted disc brakes front and rear hauled the RVR down without a fuss. There is no shortage of high-tech features that are standard on the RVR, including stability and traction control, hill start assist, a tire pressure monitoring system, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and a brake override system that ignores throttle input when both the brake and accelerator are accidentally applied at the same time in a panic situation.

The RVR also comes with seven air bags, including a driver’s knee air bag and side curtains for rollover protection. In addition, the GT model features super-wide HID (high-intensity-discharge) headlamps that improve nighttime illumination 35% — a segment exclusive. The exterior styling is attractive, while the roomy interior is laid out nicely. The tilt and telescopic steering column is a welcome feature, while the 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system with Sirius satellite radio (standard in the GT) will keep the tunes rolling. The GT also gets a panoramic sunroof — a first for Mitsubishi — with cool LED mood lighting around the edge. A Bluetooth 2.0 hands-free cellphone interface with audio streaming and USB audio input with voice control is standard across the lineup. The dual-setting heated front seats are comfortable and supportive, while the 60/40-split rear seatbacks fold, creating a flat floor in the cargo area. Those seatbacks also have two upright settings — a 23-degree incline for comfort and a more upright 17-degree position that allows a bit more usable cargo space.

Pricing starts at $21,998 for the base SE and peaks at $28,498 for the fully loaded GT.

Photograph by: Barry Carson, For National Post