Like many auto critics in North America, I’ve watched Mitsubishi go from a hero in the early 2000s to what I would describe as a deer in headlights midway through the 2010s. Seemingly confused, unsure of what to do, poor decisions were taken which have led the car company to where it is today: Somewhere between only just relevant and somewhat competitive. The 2020 Mitsubishi RVR is the exact representation of this positioning.
At recent dinner-presentations, Mitsubishi invited numerous members of the Canadian automotive media to talk about the present and perhaps more importantly, the car company’s future. On the latter, Mitsubishi representatives had glowing declarations about what the pipeline holds for Canadian consumers. If anything, I got the impression they really wanted to share with us how fantastic, novel, innovative and forward-thinking these vehicles are but, in the end, they could only share with us that the next-generation Outlander will be out-of-this-world and that two other vehicles are on the way in the next 18 months.
The RVR in the present
While I truly believe that Mitsubishi will deliver impressive stuff soon, I am tasked with reviewing the present and, well, it’s stuck in the past. In fact, the RVR is effectively a decade old vehicle and spending any amount of time behind the wheel reveals a number of weaknesses.
The Mitsubishi RVR is a member of one of the busiest and most hotly contested segments in the car business. Small crossovers, or SUVs, are seriously hot-ticket items at the moment as they have, along with midsize SUVs, taken over from the typical car. As such, the RVR competes with heavy hitters like the Honda HR-V and CR-V, Hyundai Kona, Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-3 and CX-5, Nissan Kicks and Qashqai, Ford EcoSport and Escape, among many others.
Thing is, on its own, and this is how I’ve felt since I first I drove the Mitsubishi RVR roughly nine years ago, the RVR delivers. For consumers, after a brief test drive and when compared with their driving experience limited to their 2005 Mazda Tribute, the RVR feels right. Any remaining doubts are typically quashed by the promise held by the standard 10-year powertrain warranty and aggressive financing deals. And off they go in a new RVR
Facelift, and little more
In order to sweeten the deal, Mitsubishi has revised the RVR’s aesthetics both inside and out, increased the value proposition through a reinvigorated pricing structure and updated technologies. Pricing for the base models is unchanged but now contains a standard 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and alloy wheels. As well, Mitsubishi All-Wheel Control (AWC) AWD system is attainable at a lower price point, same goes for the more interesting 2.4-litre 4-cylinder.
All of this however, doesn’t “fix” the RVR’s shortcomings. Of the more important flaws is the SUV’s ageing platform which lacks the rigidity of more modern vehicles. To compensate, the RVR is equipped with a far less compliant suspension tune. Compared to any global platform (VW, Toyota, Subaru, etc.), the RVR is short on refinement and comfort. It does handle quite well when required but cruising about over less than perfect urban areas, ruts and bumps almost seem amplified.
Brief highs, long-term lows
I’ve nearly nothing but praise for the available 168-horsepower 2.4-litre 4-cylinder and associated Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). Power and response are good however the price to pay is poor fuel economy. Mitsubishi’s AWC AWD system is standard as of the $29,798 SEL trim, which was the tested vehicle.
Here is where I take exception to the RVR, as well as most General Motors SUVs. AWC needs to be “activated” manually through a button in the centre console otherwise the rear axle is locked out. Unlike the majority of the competition which offers a fully-automatic AWD setup much like Mitsubishi’s Super-AWC AWD system in the Eclipse Cross, the RVR’s AWC needs to be positioned in 4WD auto. When doing so, the powertrain suddenly becomes heavily burdened. It’s as though the RVR instantly gains 500 lbs, or more! What this does to fuel economy is drastic.
Rated at a combined 9.4L/100km (larger Outlander with the same engine and S-AWC averages 9.1L/100km) according to EPA testing procedures, the RVR is already between 1- and 2 litres thirstier than some AWD competitors. While I’m never an example to follow when it comes to fuel “economy”, I averaged over the 10.3L/100km city rating and this, in FWD 99% of the time! Although the EPA has ways to mimic AWD “load”, real-world fuel consumption averages in winter, in AWD auto mode will be, in a word, terrible.
There are many other fish in the sea
If anything, the 2020 Mitsubishi RVR is original thanks to its newly integrated Dynamic Shield design language but this is too little to make the SUV a wise option in the segment. For the price of the SEL, a 2020 Nissan Qashqai SV is a better alternative. For less than $31,000, a base AWD 2020 Toyota RAV4 LE is by far the top bet despite It not being as well equipped.
At the very least, do yourself a favour and test-drive other vehicles in the segment before signing off on an RVR.