Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Outlander - range
NVH improvements make for a quieter cabin, cargo carrying capabilities, new styling direction
Room for improvement
Crashy ride, vague steering, uninspiring performance
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16 Apr 2015
ABOUT 18 months ago, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation announced its plan to concentrate on SUVs and light-commercial vehicles, with a major focus on electric and hybrid powertrains.
This means less attention – and development spend – on passenger models, which in Australia counts in the Lancer and the budget-focussed Mirage.
It also means the money will go towards developing its new versions of its ageing SUV line-up, with a fresh ASX expected next year, the next Challenger not far off and a full change for Pajero in two to three years.
The Outlander, however, is relatively new, having launched here in late 2012.
Mitsubishi has set about addressing some issues buyers had with the car – and the result is the facelifted version which rolls into dealerships this month.
The refresh brings big cosmetic changes, which, at first, seems fussy and a little heavy on the chrome. On the road, Mitsubishi’s so-called Dynamic Shield face looks strong, bold and much more visually appealing than the conservative looking model it replaces, thanks to the large grille and new distinctive headlights.
Mitsubishi said it wanted the base variant – now called LS – to look less like… well, a base variant, so it, along with the other spec levels including mid-range XLS and flagship Exceed, now wear classy-looking 18-inch alloys.
The new tail-light cluster looks a little bit like the Challenger’s, but overall, the design works.
Pricing now ranges from $28,490 to $46,490, plus on-roads, with some prices having risen, some having fallen and others remaining static. Crucially, the entry level version is more expensive than a bunch of its key rivals, such as Mazda’s CX-5, Nissan X-Trail and Honda’s CR-V, which could make encouraging buyers to get into an Outlander more of a challenge than before.
Luckily, the specification levels are solid, with a reversing camera and rear parking sensors, climate-control air-conditioning, 60/40 split-fold rear seats, cruise control, front and rear fog-lights, and leather steering wheel and gear knob all standard from the LS up.
The variant mix is broad, with two petrol and one diesel engine, a six-speed manual on the base versions only, a six-speed auto for the diesel and a CVT for the petrols as well as a choice of five- or seven-seat configuration, depending on the spec level.
In terms of cargo space, the Outlander offers up 477 litres in five–seat guise with the seats up, and 1608 litres with the second row folded flat.
The Outlander has more room in the back than the Mazda CX-5 (403/1560) and Ford Kuga (406/1603), but the Honda CR-V can carry a bit more (566/1648). In seven-seat guise, there is 128 litres to play with when all three rows are in place. Putting those seats in place, and stowing them, is taking care of with a simple pull of a strap on the top of the backrest and the row is light, making it completely fuss free.
It looks like a sizeable space, and there are handy storage compartments under the floor as well. We reckon it would satisfy most buyers in the segment, although we could not find any of those nifty shopping bag hooks back there.
Elsewhere in the cabin, Mitsubishi has introduced new materials everywhere from the dash, to the headliner and even the top of the console storage bin. The Outlander interior was fine, if unremarkable, before, and the new materials on the seats, as well as the addition of the gloss black inserts in the centre stack (for higher grade models) and new leather steering wheel, lift it further.
The front seats have been made more supportive, and they are better for it, but – as with a lot of mid-size SUVs – the second row seats are flat and offer little support.
The first Outlander we sampled was the top-spec all-wheel drive Exceed, powered by the 124kW/220Nm 2.4-litre petrol engine carried over from the outgoing model.
There is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol unit in the base variant, but we did not sample this on the drive day.
The first part of the drive route sees us sitting in Sydney morning traffic trying to edge our way out of town, and in that heavy traffic it is difficult to notice any faults with the Outlander.
Eventually we get past the commuter nightmare to get a better idea of the 39 different changes Mitsubishi has made to noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels, and we can happily report that they have worked. The Outlander is definitely quieter this time around, which improves cabin ambience, although some road noise comes through on harsher road surfaces.
Another big change, according to the brand, is the revised CVT (continuously variable transmission), which has been improved to ensure a better feel from a standing start, and to reduce the dreaded CVT drone when accelerating hard.
While this drone has not been eliminated altogether, it does feel more refined than the outgoing model, although only a back-to-back test would really prove that.
As mentioned, the engine is the same as before, and it offers the same lazy performance from a standing start. While we did not manage to get the car above 80km/h during our test drive, it still feels lacklustre the higher up the rev range you go.
The Japanese car-maker has made a number of tweaks to the MacPherson front and multi-link rear suspension set up to improve the Outlander’s dynamics, but those stiffer settings have made for a crashy ride, particularly over larger potholes.
Mitsubishi engineers have also tried to address the high level of body-roll for the high-riding wagon, and while it is less noticeable than the old model, it has not disappeared entirely. Given the height of the vehicle, however, it is a difficult trait to eliminate altogether.
The steering has also been recalibrated, but we found it seriously vague and lazy, and quite mushy off-centre. Without engaging the four-wheel drive system, there is some understeer evident when pulling into a bend at a moderate speed.
The 110kW/360Nm 2.2-litre diesel engine is the pick of the Outlander bunch – aside from the flagship PHEV which will carry on with its current face until the new one arrives later this year – and while it is still a little slow off the line, it is punchy higher up the rev range and impressively smooth for an oil burner. The six-speed auto is also matched well with this engine.
Regardless of the powertrain, though, the Outlander simply can’t match the sprightly, sporty feel of the best machines in the segment, including the Mazda CX-5, the Ford Kuga and even the Kia Sportage, which all offer a more engaging, entertaining quality of drive.
It does, however, offer loads of space, a flexible cabin with heaps of storage and terrific levels of standard gear if you are looking for a practical, reliable, no-fuss SUV.
Prior to the facelift, the Outlander was a bit of an also-ran against the big hitters in the segment, and despite the changes – which do improve the vehicle in a number of ways – it still falls short of matching the best in the business.
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