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’13 Mitsubishi Outlander: It’s in the details

I . wish Mitsubishi would pay more attention to its motor vehicles, or, at least, as much attention to its cars and trucks as it does to everything else it makes and sells.

Mitsubishi is a huge Japan-based conglomerate, a manufacturer and distributor of practically everything important to daily life – paper products, industrial and office printers, numerous electronic devices, chemicals and, among other things, beer. Care for a Kirin, anyone?

But all too often, the company’s Mitsubishi Motors group has treated its vehicles as commodities – conceived and designed by men, marketed by men, meant for male automotive enthusiasts. That means passenger vehicles with great engines and really sporty handling but bereft of most things that would give them general appeal in a market where women are directly responsible for 45 percent of new-vehicle purchases and where they influence an estimated 85 percent of those decisions.

“Influence” translates to this: If the woman of the house does not want the car or truck under consideration, it doesn’t get bought. That largely explains Mitsubishi’s woeful performance in the U.S. auto market, where it holds a puny 0.3 percent share of all new cars sold and 0.4 percent of all new light trucks (vans, crossovers, SUVs), according to the Automotive News Data center.

That’s a shame. Mitsubishi’s cars and trucks are much better than their sales. But they suffer from what might be called Self-Destructive Male Myopia (SDMM), which translates to great engineering, lots of muscle, no sex and a miserable lack of interior beauty.

Today’s subject vehicle, the 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander GT crossover-utility vehicle with all-wheel drive, what the company’s engineers call “Super-AWC” (all-wheel control), is a case in point.

It has an oh-so-masculine, sharply angled exterior that appeals even to boys in middle and high school – a first for anything in my possession resembling a wagon or minivan. But the women from whom I invited comment, 17 in all, hated it. Their dismissal of the Outlander’s exterior styling could be summed up as: Why does it look so aggressive, so mean? It looks as if I’m going to war, or to a racetrack, instead of a school parking lot or shopping mall.

Criticism of the interior was worse. Interior materials were generally dismissed as “cheap.” Interior design was put down as “unimaginative,” in no way close to the appeal of cabins from rivals such as the new Ford Escape, the Honda CR-V, the Hyundai Santa Fe or the GMC Terrain. For many women, that amounts to a “no sale” for the Outlander.

That is too bad, because the Outlander, also available with front-wheel drive, is a superbly engineered vehicle. The all-wheel-drive GT version driven for this column comes with Mitsubishi’s 3-liter V-6 engine (230 horsepower, 215 foot-pounds of torque) mated to six-speed automatic transmission that also offers manual control via paddle shifters, which is another case of SDMM.

Why put steering-wheel-mounted, race-type paddle shifters in a vehicle meant primarily for family and household transport? Is the idea to make Daddy feel less like a daddy when he is obliged to handle carpool duties?

Personally, I loved driving this one. That Mitsubishi V-6 is one of the smoothest and most responsive V-6 engines ever. I didn’t care that it had a Spartan interior – variously described by female cohorts as “dated” and “boring” or “cheap” and “unimaginative.” I loved the way the all-wheel-drive Outlander GT, shod with 18-inch-diameter wheels, handled on wet, slippery roads. Heck, I loved the Outlander GT.

But, as currently presented, it has no chance of gaining an owned-vehicle spot in our driveway. My wife, Mary Anne, considers it ugly, cheap. She won’t even consider visiting a Mitsubishi dealership to buy one.

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