Old-school simplicity in this easy ride

BY Peter Bleakney. Oct 21 03:00 am

Now approaching its seventh year of production, the Mitsubishi RVR can count itself as one of the original subcompact crossovers. This segment has grown in leaps and bounds recently, welcoming such varied entrants as the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X, Chevy Trax and Buick Encore.

In an attempt to keep the old girl in the game, Mitsubishi has given the RVR a mid-2016 refresh that includes the automaker’s “Diamond Shield” front-end treatment, a fresh 18-inch wheel design, power folding side mirrors with LED indicators, auto-dimming interior mirror with Homelink, new seat fabrics, a 6.1-inch display and a redesigned steering wheel. This comes on the heels of last year’s mechanical upgrades that bestowed a CVT (continuously variable transmission) and available 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine making 168 horsepower and 167 lb-ft of torque.

Is all this enough to keep up the good fight, or is Mitsubishi’s tough little underdog just too far past its sell-by date? Mitsubishi doesn’t seem to worry about such things. They still peddle the Lancer sedan, which I believe is now eligible for historic vehicle plates.

The 2016 Mitsubishi RVR opens at $19,998 for the ES 2WD, fitted with a 148-hp 2.0-litre and five-speed manual. Here we are testing the $27,498 RVR 2.4 SE 4WD Limited that runs with the CVT and more potent 2.4-litre four.

To these eyes, the Mitsubishi RVR is still a good-looking rig. It cuts a clean profile, being sharply tailored in a timeless, unaffected manner. And while the “Diamond Shield” treatment looks overwrought on the bigger Mitsubishi Outlander, it works here, as do the new 18-inch wheels and this tester’s Quartz Brown Metallic paint. The RVR comes across as chunky, solid and purposeful.

However, step inside and the interior gives the game away. There’s lots of hard plastics and it’s fairly plain. That said, there is a simple functionality to the layout, underscored by a trio of HVAC knobs and clearly lit major gauges in the central cluster. Nestled between the speedometer and tachometer is a colour screen showing trip info, fuel consumption, odometer, drive mode and the like.

The new infotainment unit is easy to navigate, with an array of hard buttons flanking the touchscreen, along with real knobs for volume and tuning. (Are you listening, Honda?)

Quaint touches include non-powered (though heated in the Limited) front seats and a key one actually has to insert into a slot on the steering column and twist. Almost forgot how to do that. There is no auto headlight setting either, although if you leave the headlight switch on all the time they will turn off when the vehicle is shut down.

Other SE 4WD Limited upticks include chrome inside door handles, upgraded seat fabric, auto climate control, a lashing of faux carbon-fibre trim, and, lo and behold, a pair of long column-mounted metal shift paddles that are a shiny shoutout to Mitsubishi’s storied rally history. Here, they let you toggle between six “virtual” gears programmed into the CVT.

The Limited also features 18-inch alloys, roof rails and a rear spoiler.

The RVR’s 60/40 split back seat proves fine for two adults, and behind you’ll find a usefully shaped and easily accessed 569 litres of load space. There’s no hidden compartment under the load floor, but there is a full-size spare tire. The rear seats easily flip down to create an almost flat floor, and cargo room expands to 1,402 litres.

Mitsubishi’s All Wheel Control system has three settings: 2WD (front wheels driven only), 4WD Auto (power sent to the rear wheels as needed) and 4WD Lock (fixed 50:50 split).

Out on the road, the RVR 2.4 SE 4WD Limited is a perky little thing, showing no real bad habits. The 2.4-litre four feels strong, delivering its power in a smooth, linear fashion. And as far as CVTs go, this Mitsubishi unit is quite well behaved, keeping the engine out of the “drone zone” for most driving conditions. It’s only when your right Reebok hits the floorboards that the four-pot spin away at elevated revolutions while the rest of the car plays catch up.

You can actually have a bit of fun with those shift paddles. Response is reasonably quick, and once the tach needle swings past 3,500 r.p.m., this cute-ute shows a decent turn of speed.

The RVR’s suspension — front MacPherson strut and rear multilink — is well tuned to provide a decent ride and commendably flat cornering. The steering feels good except when cruising on the highway where an on-centre dead spot had me making small corrections to stay on the straight and narrow.

After a week I did succumb to this aging Mitsubishi’s charms. The RVR 2.4 SE 4WD Limited goes about its business in a cheerfully competent way, feeling almost old-school in its simplicity and sense of toughness. It’s easy driving, the cabin was free from rattles and overall it feels like it could take a ton of abuse and run to the ends of the Earth — which, with its impressive 10-year powertrain/five-year bumper-to-bumper warranty, suggests Mitsubishi feels the same way.

— Postmedia Network Inc. 2016

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