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Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Outlander - LS 2WD 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Value for money, improved fuel economy of the lighter 2WD variant, general CVT performance, sharp steering, easy ride, family friendly flexible interior and cargo space
Room for improvement
Lack of standard curtain and side airbags, tardy CVT kick-down, slightly dated interior styling

3 Dec 2010

FOR the most part, SUV buyers who tick the box for a two-wheel-drive variant are just being honest with themselves, especially in the compact SUV class where vehicles are not exactly engineered to blitz the Tanami Desert.

These owners just want a flexible and versatile wagon that punches above its weight in cargo-carrying ability, without the stigma of Griswold-style station wagons of yore.

The clincher is that they save money to boot. In the case of the Mitsubishi Outlander LS 2WD, that saving adds up to a not inconsiderable $4250 over the 4WD version – enough to add considerable loads of groceries from Woolies.

The absence of all-wheel drive capability on this new entry-level model is the gift that keeps on giving, as the 65kg weight reduction also helps to slice fuel consumption and, hence, the monthly petrol bill, if only a bit. For hard-pressed families in the real world, it all helps.

The disappointing thing is that those same families do not automatically get the same level of crash protection as their 4WD Outlander peers. Sure, they can stump up $850 for the optional curtain and side airbags that are standard on all other models in the Outlander range, but history shows that few people faced with a choice in the showroom will spend their hard-earned on safety features.

Of course, we know why Mitsubishi equipped the LS 2WD thus – to line up the pricing and specification of its new base Outlander right on top of the rival Toyota RAV4 2WD, at $28,990.

Toyota is not blameless here, either, as its equivalent model also lacks these vital airbags as standard equipment, being consigned to an extra-cost option pack.

Less of an issue is the fact that Outlander 2WD buyers also miss out on climate-control air-conditioning that is standard on the 4WD models – another penny-pinching marketing move, we guess.

Apart from that, the front-drive Outlander LS is pretty much the same as its all-wheel drive counterpart, right down to the exterior dimensions, including the high ride height so loved by urban drivers on the morning school run.

At the back, the two-piece tailgate – split horizontally for easier loading – opens to reveal the same spacious cargo area of the current model that hit Australian showrooms in 2006 before a major facelift in late 2009.

The logistics end of the wagon remains one of the best in the compact class – except when equipped with the optional third row seating, which is super-cramped for the passengers and also results in the spare wheel being scaled back to a space-saver instead of the full-size spare in five-seat models.

Dynamically, the latest Outlander retains the spirited on-road ability of its AWD brethren, with a composed ride and sporty – even sharp – steering that belies the Outlander’s tall-boy design. Just be a bit careful in the wet as sharp turn-in can induce oversteer on, say, an off-camber roundabout.

A slight tug of the steering wheel under heavy acceleration reveals front-drive torque-steer, but this is no different to most other such vehicles, even the 4WD Outlander in 2WD mode.

Acceleration from the 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine is sprightly rather than brisk, with the optional CVT transmission on the test vehicle keeping the revs firmly planted in the sweet spot of the rev band. This is borne out by the better official fuel consumption figures of the CVT over the five-speed manual.

In everyday driving, the CVT works supremely well, and if the Outlander has one major advantage over its major rival, the RAV4 – which has an optional and ageing four-speed auto transmission – this is it.

However, it is not flawless. We would have preferred a more responsive kick-down when great urge is called for. Instead, we learned to reach for the sequential shift mode – which not all vehicles of this ilk can boast – to knock it back a ‘gear’ for more rapid overtaking or brisker climbing up a hill.

Ergonomically, the Outlander retains all the strengths of its pre-tweak predecessor – comfortable and supportive seats, height-adjustable driver’s seat with excellent all-round vision, and clear instruments.

While this base Outlander boasts Mitsubishi’s useful and compact multi-function trip meter between the round dials of the speedo and tacho, the Outlander LS lacks the stylish and even more useful mid-dash multi-communication LCD screen of more up-market Outlander variants, giving the entry model a slightly dated look and feel.

The textured plastic panels on the dash, with a vaguely carbon-fibre-like patina, have severely square joins to test the fit and finish capabilities of the production line workers, lest any slip be exacerbated.

A leather-bound steering wheel adds a little touch of class in an otherwise unremarkable cockpit that nevertheless – like all aspects of Outlander LS 2WD – functions well.

For $28,990 for the manual and $31,490 for the CVT auto, the Outlander LS 2WD is a prudent choice for drivers seeking a family wagon rather than a rock-hopping SUV.

They even get a five-year 130,000km warranty.

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