After seeing the 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander in person for the first time at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show, we were a bit let down by the deliberately conservative turn in styling Mitsubishi took with the new model. Its predecessor's wedgy, Evo-esque front end was scrapped in favor of a subtle, forgettable chrome grille, and pretty tame styling all the way around. Not ugly, mind you, but also nothing that would make you turn your head and ask, "What's THAT!?"

Having spent some time behind the wheel of the vehicle itself, we find ourselves similarly lukewarm. Again, there's nothing inherently bad or deficient about the 2014 Outlander, but neither is there anything especially remarkable about it that makes it a potential game-changer.

Also unimpressive is the value proposition of our $32,720 fully-loaded Outlander SE AWD. A number of much more fun-to-drive, stylish, small SUV options could be had for a similar or lower sum.

Which brings us to the next point. Whereas most of the other vehicles the Outlander will likely be cross-shopped against are two-row, five-seaters, the Outlander, at least nominally, is a seven-seater. As is often the case in small-to-medium sized SUVs with a third row, it's really only suitable for preteen and younger children. Mitsubishi markets the Outlander as being the lowest-priced seven-passenger SUV, and a 2WD base model without the $6100 SE Touring Package, as our model was equipped, would only total $23,820.

The SE Touring Package, although pricey, is pretty comprehensive. Included in it is a seven-inch touchscreen navigation system with real-time traffic and two free map updates, a 710-watt, nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate sound system with HD and satellite radio, lane departure warning, forward collision mitigation, adaptive cruise control, leather seating surfaces, power driver's seat, automatic headlights, a power rear liftgate, and rain-sensing wipers.

But the massive gizmo dump on the Outlander does little to change its overall character, which still comes across as that of a last-generation, somewhat cheap product. This despite a padded dashboard top and an otherwise pleasant-looking and functional interior.

The 166-hp, 2.4-liter, 16-valve SOHC MIVEC I-4 does its best to haul the Outlander's 3528 pounds, channeling its power through the mandatory CVT (the V-6 gets a conventional six-cog slushbox), but doesn't exactly sing an inspired tune when pushed. The CVT is unfortunately the embodiment of all the negative stereotypes of the breed, and results in droning, monotone acceleration. Tests don't paint a much rosier picture, with a leisurely 9.4-second stroll to 60, and a 17.2-second quarter-mile run at 82.3 mph.

Handling is also average, if not slightly below, for the class at 0.77g. The one upside is the Outlander has a surprisingly compliant, quiet ride for a small SUV. Road noise is hushed, but it makes the coarse groan of the I-4 all the more noticeable. The one upside for the powertrain is an observed 23 mpg in mixed driving, a respectable figure for an SUV.

Lest you think we're damning the 2014 Outlander with faint praise, its combination of seven-passenger capacity, competitive fuel economy, and an abundance of available features could make it a reasonable choice on an SUV buyer's shopping list. The 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty also makes a strong selling point for checklist shoppers, as does its Top Safety Pick + rating from the IIHS, one of only two small SUVs to earn the accolade.

Our suggestion would be to pop for the V-6 GT, which is a full two seconds quicker from 0-60. Other than the $2000 hit to your wallet, you do sacrifice 4 mpg in the city, but just a scant 1 mpg on the highway, which we think is a fair trade for avoiding the I-4 and CVT's uninspired drone, and equally uninspiring acceleration.

2014 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 SE AWD
BASE PRICE $26,620
PRICE AS TESTED $32,720
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.4L/166-hp/162-lb-ft SOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION Continuously-variable automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3528 lb (55/45%)
WHEELBASE 105.1 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 183.3 x 70.9 x 66.1 in
0-60 MPH 9.4 sec
QUARTER MILE 17.2 sec @ 82.3 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 127 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.77 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.4 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 24/29 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 140/116 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.75 lb/mile