Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2015 Mitsubishi RVR

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

Tiny utes are taking over the world. Not long ago, there were almost none. Today, Buick, Subaru, Jeep, Chevrolet, Nissan, Honda, Fiat and Mitsubishi all have tiny ute models on offer, and more are in the pipeline. Shoppers after all-wheel-drive confidence, small-car maneuverability, sport-ute flexibility and space (okay, not so much space), and an elevated driving position gravitate towards these machines, primarily for flexibility without the bloat, all-weather confidence with good mileage, and driving characteristics like a small car.

The just-right sizing that lies at the core of the little ute’s appeal is alive and well in the RVR.

Tiny utes are big business, and the Mitsubishi RVR sets itself apart in this scene in a few key ways.

First, with adventurous and tidy styling, an athletic stance, and a look that’s cohesive, focused and sharp. Probably, this is the best-looking little ute in its segment. Recent interior updates see more premium materials and upscale trim applied as well, adding a further up-level feel to the cabin.

Second is a list of warm, fuzzy and sensible attributes that many value-minded shoppers love. The RVR is top-rated in terms of crash test scores, and offers the auto industry’s lengthiest powertrain warranty, with 160,000 kilometres of coverage. And, after a check in several online owners’ forums, the RVR is looking like a reliable machine as it starts to age. If you’re a shopper who puts value on safety and peace of mind, this stuff adds appeal.

The third is the four-wheel-drive system. Running Mitsubishi’s All-Wheel Control (AWC) technology to power all fours, RVR gives drivers button-tap control over the four-wheel-drive system. Tap once for front-wheel drive if you don’t need extra traction, and tap once again for automatic four-wheel drive, which acts like an AWD system by enhancing traction on an as-needed basis. One more tap locks the front and rear axles together, preemptively engaging full grip ahead of tackling off-road situations or a two-foot snowbank at the end of your driveway.

Most competitors offer a one-mode AWD system that’s fully autonomous, and many drivers, especially those in northern climates, and those occasionally engaging in off-road activities, will appreciate the added degree of control available in the RVR’s system. There’s value in this level of four-wheel drive control for many folks, and front-wheel-drive models are available, too.

The just-right sizing that lies at the core of the little ute’s appeal is alive and well in the RVR. The driving position is elevated but remains car-like, entry and exit are handled without a step up or down and more of a sideways butt-shift into the seat, and there’s room aboard for four adults to sit with relative comfort. Storage facilities for smaller, at-hand items are generous, too.

In back, the cargo hold lands at the thighs for those of average height, making loading and unloading a cinch, and there’s plenty of room for a four-person weekend road trip, or for two people’s worth of weekend camping gear. At one point, your writer had the rear of the RVR stuffed with a pair of 200-litre rain barrels, my gym bag, and a week’s worth of groceries with no issues. Seats fold down easily when more room is needed for jobs like this, and a full-grown, full-sized canine should be able to jump in and out with ease.

Motivation for the 2.4 GT tester came from a newly available 2.4-litre engine and CVT transmission combination, similar to the setup you’ll find in the RVR’s big brother, the Mitsubishi Outlander.

The programming of the gear-less, shift-less transmission is expertly matched to the character and power curve of the engine. For instance, the transmission works to maintain low revs at light throttle, capitalizing on the engine’s low-end torque and boosting mileage and refinement in the process. During light and moderate acceleration, it’s a quiet and smooth experience, with engine revs staying virtually fixed, and power delivered on a seamless, shift-free wave.

The feeling of clumsiness, droning, surging and slippage characteristic of old-school CVT transmissions isn’t present here. The latest components and programming have created a transmission that feels polished, refined and calibrated, much of the time.

At heavy to full throttle, the CVT simulates a downshift via a slight lurch, and sees revs climb towards redline and stay steady—locking the engine into its peak power range. The lack of gear shifting in this situation will feel strange to some, but performance delivered is adequate, and for the way most drivers will drive the RVR most of the time, it simply feels like a very smooth automatic. The lack of gear shifting also does away with plenty of the relatively wasteful revving up and down characteristic of stepped transmissions, helping the not-yet-broken-in tester achieve measured-by-hand mileage of under 10 L/100 km on my watch.

Ride quality is nicely dialed in. The RVR keeps its body sprung with a hint of sporty tautness over the wheels, and rough-road ride quality sees things get a little bouncy-jouncy, but without any unwelcomed sounds or sensations from the suspension. It feels solid and robust and premium most of the time, even on lightly uneven surfaces and poorly maintained pavement. Only the roughest roads and trails coax any harshness out of the RVR’s suspension, and even then, it’s kept in check. Highway cruising sees noise levels that are about average for the segment, and the turning circle is a touch bigger than expected, though still relatively small.

The xenon lighting system is highly recommended. The aim and saturation from the projectors is bang-on, matching many premium luxury vehicles for output. A clever leveling switch allows drivers to tilt the projectors slightly to compensate if the RVR is sitting lower in the rear, perhaps on account of towing a trailer or hauling a heavy load of cargo. In any case, a flood of crisp white light reaches far and wide after dark, with notably good peripheral light penetrating into the tree-line beside two-lane highways. Great halogen high-beams, too.

Complaints include a central command screen and interface that’s far from the market’s best, looks dated, and darkens significantly if you’re wearing polarized driving glasses. Relatively small on-screen buttons and the lack of any hard buttons mean the touchscreen is the only way to navigate the system, and the entire area around the screen is flush and flat, so there’s no surface upon which to rest and stabilize your hand for more precise selections on rougher roads. Further, though the giant fixed glass roof segment lets in plenty of rays and adds a touch of uniqueness to the cabin, you’ll wish it opened, or even vented, every time you look at it.

As a cross-shopping exercise, be sure to check out the RVR alongside the Subaru XV Crosstrek. Though it lacks any control of its AWD system, Subaru Symmetrical AWD almost always makes good decisions, and drivers can opt for a manual transmission on some model grades, all of which are standard with AWD. Though RVR offers a manual transmission, it’s only available on front-drive units. Ditto with the new Honda HR-V, which at the time of writing, was the most recent addition to the Canadian market’s tiny-ute scene.

In all, the Mitsubishi RVR is a compelling package with many strengths and few weaknesses. If styling, overall value and confidence through safety, warranty coverage and one of the only controllable AWD systems in the segment are priorities, be sure to include it on your list of test-drives.

5 years/100,000 km; 10 years/160,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 5 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance

Buick Encore
Fiat 500x
Honda HR-V
Jeep Renegade
Mazda CX-3
Mini Countryman
Nissan Juke
Subaru XV Crosstrek

Model Tested 2015 Mitsubishi RVR 2.4L GT AWC
Base Price $29,398
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,700
Price as Tested $31,198
Optional Equipment