Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Outlander
Strong value, good looks, upmarket feel, zero resemblance to the last one
Room for improvement
Much-improved new model makes Mitsubishi Outlander a more Aspire-ational experience
5 Nov 2021
By TONY O'KANE
It’s hard to shake a reputation, and for the Outlander that reputation was one of, well, mediocrity. Whether it was climbing into the back of a ride-share, picking up a rental car or getting zapped by a mobile speed camera, the average person’s interactions with the previous-generation Outlander probably didn’t excite or impress.
The driving experience wasn’t terrible, mind you, but in Australia’s most competitive vehicle segment there was no shortage of better-driving options – being a middle-of-the-pack performer simply isn’t enough.
However, sharp pricing can counter a dull offering to a great extent, and in terms of sales volume the last Outlander was routinely a top-five finisher in VFACTS reports.
Mitsubishi Motors Australia (MMAL) has pledged the all-new Outlander will be a podium performer in this country but this time around the company wants to do things a little differently. At MMAL head office, the brass understands that in order to advance the brand, the Outlander needs to feel a lot less ordinary.
And so the nameplate has upward aspirations, buoyed by box-fresh styling and equally green mechanicals. When Mitsu says ‘all new’, they mean it this time – there’s no carryover here, with the new Outlander one of the first Mitsubishi products to benefit from the company’s corporate links to Nissan.
The platform is Renault-Nissan’s CMF-D architecture and its PR25DD engine is also a Nissan unit, both of which will feature in Nissan’s next-gen X-Trail that’s due here in the second half of 2022.
One must wonder how Nissan feels about its corporate cousin getting almost a year’s head start with its new hardware in the all-important mid-size SUV category. Regardless, divorcing the Outlander name from the underwhelming platform of the last generation can only be a good thing.
Another important change concerns the range structure. While a keenly-priced entry point remains in the form of the Outlander ES 2WD 5-seater at $34,490 before on-road costs (which MMAL admits is intended as fleet fodder), there’s now more choice at the top end of the spec tree. The Aspire grade has returned from hiatus and sits below the Exceed, while an Exceed Tourer flagship joins the family and caps the range off at $49,990 before on-roads.
The Aspire, available in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive form and with seven seats as standard, is expected to be the volume-seller of the range, and with a fat equipment list coupled to a $41,490 starting price ($43,990 for AWD) it’s not hard to understand why.
But does the new generation have the right stuff to attract the private buyers that MMAL is targeting with its new Outlander, and help lift the average transaction price of one of its mainstay SUVs?
Walking up to the Outlander Exceed, that crisp and assertive styling extends a confident visual ‘handshake’. Design matters when you’re selling cars to people with an abundance of other choices, and it’s proven that buyers will shell out a little more for a vehicle that has ‘the look’. Just ask Mazda.
The new Outlander has ‘the look’. Its predecessor was anonymous in a way that made it the perfect runabout for someone in witness protection, but that’s no longer the case. Its squinty upper lamps blend well with Mitsubishi’s X-shaped corporate grille graphic, and its upright front end makes a better first impression than the soft jaw of the outgoing model.
Around the side, the sheetmetal detailing adds some visual weight to a vehicle that’s only a couple of centimetres longer and around five centimetres wider than the car it replaces, with a thick D-pillar and, on the Aspire and Exceed, 20-inch alloys also doing much to provide more bulk to the new Outlander’s profile.
But if you were impressed by the exterior, the inside should blow you away. There’s no correlation to the blandness of the last Outlander, and the execution of the new one’s cabin is commendable.
In the Aspire and Exceed, that means plenty of silver-painted or metallicised trims, knurled barrels on various knobs, nice-feeling switchgear and double-row diamond-quilted upholstery not just on the seat covers, but the door cards as well. Only the Exceed and Exceed Tourer get real hide; the Aspire makes do with faux leather.
The infotainment display is a 9.0-inch touchscreen that’s mounted tombstone-style on the dash, and the Aspire and Exceed flaunt a 12.3-inch electronic instrument panel in place of the ES and LS’s analogue dials.
Not enough? The Aspire and Exceed also receive a 10.8-inch head-up display, which displays speed, navigation and audio info in bright and crisp graphics, and bounces off the windscreen itself rather than a separate reflector.
A wireless charge pad sits at the base of the centre stack along with a USB, USB-C and 12V outlet, but there’s nevertheless room to improve; while an electronic parking brake liberates space on the centre console, there’s a whole lot of wasted real estate next to the transmission selector that just bounces glare into your eyes when the sun is overhead.
That transmission selector also takes some getting used to, with its return-to-centre style of operation being interfered with by a less-than-smooth action.
The centre console box and glovebox could also be upsized given how few storage cubbies and shelves are present, and in their haste to impart a more upmarket feel inside it seems that Mitsubishi’s designers may have forgotten that this is still a family transporter, and family transporters need a certain degree of utility.
Other front-cabin qualms? The infotainment suite might be Nissan’s most up-to-date software, but it’s not as slick or as cutting-edge as what’s found in Volkswagen Group products. At least wireless Apple CarPlay is provided, though Android Auto users will still need to have a wired connection, and a 360-degree parking camera view is a nice-to-have on the Aspire grade and up.
The second row bench is split 60:40 (with the centre armrest splitting the backrest 40:60:40) and each part slides on its own set of rails, with good legroom and minimal tunnel intrusion when the seats are slid all the way back. Face-level vents, USB ports and a temperature control for the rear climate zone are on the back of the centre console, and middle-row passengers also get a nifty set of phone and tablet-holding pouches on the back of the front seats, as well as retractable sunblinds in each rear door. Thoughtful.
The third row is predictably cramped. Though the new Outlander’s wheelbase and overall dimensions are bigger, there’s still only so much space to play with in a mid-sizer, and that shows in the very back.
Acceptable footroom only appears when the middle row is slid so far forward that those passengers start running out of knee room, and headroom is never abundant. These are best occupied by smaller children, and even then only occasionally. They’ll also have a rough time accessing that third row, even with the middle seats slid and tilted forward.
That area is better used for carrying cargo, and with up to 1700 litres of luggage capacity the Outlander can carry a respectable amount. Even with the third row in place there’s enough for a few carry-on sized bags, if not a week’s worth of groceries for a small family.
With the move to a new platform and engine, there’s much scope for the driving experience to improve. However, with just 135kW and 245Nm from its Nissan-sourced 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated petrol inline four, there’s still a shortage of oomph.
The automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) does its best, stepping through eight predefined and simulated ratios under heavy acceleration to mimic a regular auto, but it also feels overtaxed by the task of lugging the Outlander’s 1725kg mass.
In sedate urban cruising, it’s fine. Even the step-off from a standstill is acceptably responsive; it’s only when the need for higher speeds, heavier acceleration or a steep climb arises that the mechanicals start getting overly noisy and feeling under duress – and that was just with a lone driver aboard, a full family load would only exacerbate the issue.
An increase in torque would definitely be a good thing, which is something that should arrive with the Outlander Plug-In Hybrid in the first half of 2022.
Fuel economy is rather good though, with our day’s test returning an average of 7.8L/100km. That undercuts Mitsubishi’s factory claim of 8.1L/100km on the combined cycle, but we will say that we weren’t afforded enough time to take the Outlander on our usual fuel economy loop. For the time being though, it appears that Mitsubishi’s fuel claims are honest numbers.
Ride quality is perhaps the biggest question mark, however. At many times during our test it felt a bit too stiff-legged and unyielding, while on other kinds of lumps and bumps it presented no problems. More familiarity and longer tests may reveal whether the suspension tune might be an issue, but after our first drive it definitely feels to be a little firmer than necessary for a mid-size SUV, and lacks the fluid confidence of a RAV4 or Forester.
In all, though, Mitsubishi appears to be on a good path with the new Outlander. The value proposition appears right, especially with the equipment-rich Aspire (the Exceed’s spec gains are largely cosmetic, though that panoramic sunroof, Bose audio system, rear seat sunshades and tri-zone climate control are definitely nice to have), and it definitely feels like the Aspire should be where most customers should, ahem, aspire to place themselves.
Another reason to shop near the top: some safety aids, principally rear automatic emergency braking (AEB) and rear cross-traffic alert, only become available from the LS grade and up.
Standard safety kit is good, with all models getting frontal AEB, a full suite of airbags, driver fatigue monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, rear camera, adaptive cruise, lane departure warning and blind-spot monitoring, but those rear-facing aids just aren’t available on the base ES, and the 360-degree parking camera is only on the Aspire and Exceed.
It’s also good to see that the Outlander carries over a third row capability as one of its unique selling points, as though it’s functionally dubious on a day-to-day basis, it’s certainly something that could get owners out of a jam when surprise passengers appear. Parents will definitely understand the utility of this feature.
All owners will also appreciate the five-year/100,000km terms of the Outlander’s warranty and capped-price servicing coverage, though that increases to 10 years and 200,000km provided you get all servicing done at a Mitsubishi dealer.
It’s really just the shortfall of power, torque, and powertrain diversity that harms the new Outlander’s showroom appeal, because everything else has improved so, so much.
That problem should hopefully be addressed next year when the PHEV arrives, though the extra cost of that powertrain may nullify the Outlander’s good value. We shall have to wait and see.
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Model release date: 5 November 2021
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