The coldest Manitoba winter in more than a century was no match for an extended test of the 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander ES AWC, even if it did arrive without a block heater.
My blood all but froze on making that discovery amid plunging temperatures as December descended into winter Hell, but for no good reason as things turned out.
The Outlander seemed almost impervious to the abnormal, bitter cold, which frequently registered in the low -30s Celsius and were frequently accompanied by stiff winds.
When the CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) in Winnipeg was reporting 12- to 16-hour waits to jump-start frozen cars and trucks deep into January and February, the Outlander fired to life every time on the first crank or two of the engine, even when left sitting out in the elements for several days without being run.
Early, daily trepidation over whether the vehicle would start – heck, would it even turn over – soon gave way to confidence and a certain, dare I say, smugness.
How was this possible when all around, people with block heaters couldn’t start their vehicles without external assistance?
In part at least, that capability can be attributed to zero-weight semi-synthetic engine oil, with an operating range of -30C to -50 Celsius.
Unlike conventional oils, the semi-synthetic stuff doesn’t thicken to the consistency of molasses when temperatures plunge; it remains thin and pourable, allowing the engine to freely spin, even on very cold mornings.
Add a sturdy high-rev starter, computer-controlled direct electronic ignition and a high-amp, cold-crank battery, et voila!
Taken together, these measures would seem to make the block heater – a feature that has come to be considered essential to winter driving in most parts of Canada – obsolete.
Mitsubishi thinks so, too; block heaters are no longer standard equipment on Mitsubishi cars sold in Canada, and all models come standard with semi-synthetic oil.
That’s not to say that complaints weren’t heard coming from the engine bay on starting in frigid temps. Rubber belts, frozen stiff at the molecular level, squealed like cats on startup, but only for a moment as things soon subsided to settle into a rhythmic idle.
More distressing was the hemorrhoidal chill emanating from the leather-wrapped front seats that remained cold-rock solid until body heat and the two-level (hot and warm) electric seat heaters allowed them to soften and flex some.
Beyond startability that can only be described as exemplary, the Outlander’s 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine, making 166 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 162 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 revs, provided adequate, smoothly-delivered power.
It was distributed to the wheels through a standard continuously variable transmission with six "automatic ratios" to give the familiar stepped-shift feel of traditional geared units.
Only occasionally did it betray its inherent CVT drone, most noticeably on passing manoeuvres with the throttle floored and in certain mid-throttle applications around town.
The engine benefits from a new continuously-variable valve lift, single-overhead-camshaft system, replacing the previous double-overhead-cam design. It lightens the overall package and, having fewer moving parts, is more efficient.
Transport Canada rates the ES all-wheel-drive at 8.6/6.8 L/100 km city/highway, but at -20 and -30 degree temperatures, those numbers would be more than a tad optimistic.
Less cluttered look
There’s more new about the 2014 Outlander than what’s under the hood and floor. It gets a more refined, less cluttered exterior visage with a slimmer front grille and horizontal chrome strips bridge the wide-angle HID headlamps.
A higher beltline, smooth surfaces and contoured fenders give the new model a worthy-of-mention 7% advance in aerodynamic efficiency.
Inside, the driver faces a logically-presented instrument panel with well-placed controls and good outward visibility, especially to the rear where, combined with proper shoulder checks, a reverse gear-activated rear-view camera adds a fairly high-resolution colour view of what’s behind. It’s only drawback is that the six-inch screen tends to wash out in bright overhead sunlight.
The previously mentioned interior leather extends to the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob.
Rear seat passengers gain 170 mm more fore and aft seat-slide range over the previous model, while the rear seatbacks fold in a 60/40 split.
Adjustable plastic inserts create bins and covered storage crannies, and the Outlander switches from a five-passenger people carrier with versatile cargo space to a multiple-bags-of-horse-feed carrying device in just a few seconds.
Our tester was dressed in $3,500-worth of optional equipment that included a power glass sunroof, interior leather, 18-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, fog lamps, dual-zone automatic air conditioning, satellite radio (with six-month prepaid subscription), six-inch touch panel audio display and rear-view camera system, plus a $1,450 destination/handling fee, bringing the manufacturer’s suggested retail price to $32,946 before taxes.
Installing a block heater, which some buyers will want to do if only for added peace of mind, will add approximately $200 to the tab.