Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Outlander - VRX five-door wagon
Spacious interior, VRX luxury pack offerings, balanced on-road behaviour
Room for improvement
Space-saver spare, one-way steering wheel adjustment, toy-like third-row seat
16 Mar 2007
By CHRIS HARRIS
MITSUBISHI’S Outlander came to Australia in February 2003 and has consistently sold in much lower numbers than its direct competitors from Toyota (RAV4), Nissan (X-Trail) and Honda (CR-V).
That’s no reflection on the abilities of the compact SUV as such, more a result of Mitsubishi’s role in the Australian scheme of things and the fact that until Outlander the company never really had a proper contender in the category.
The previous Outlander was in fact something of a surprise package that tended to run rings around the rest when it came to road behaviour – particularly gravel roads – and wasn’t too bad in the bush either.
Much of this came from the Outlander’s car-like orientation, and its rally Lancer derived full-time all-wheel drive system.
No low range, but a centre differential that sent power constantly to front and back wheels helped give the little SUV a good turn of speed off the beaten track.
The styling, with its extra-bold grille, was perhaps a little challenging for some people, although the rest of the Outlander was really pretty conservative to look at, with a lower-slung look than the RAV4s, X-Trails and CR-Vs.
Enter the latest iteration of the Outlander, and the DNA of the last model beats a hasty retreat into history as the low-slung look goes, the US-market grille is all-but forgotten and full-time AWD is shelved in favour of the increasingly common on-demand concept.
The Outlander has grown physically too, but has gained no kilos largely because of the cheaper and lighter AWD system, but also because the roof is now aluminium to save weight and lower the centre of gravity.
The Mitsubishi now stands up there with the best of them, taller than a RAV4 or Honda and standing just a little shorter than an X-Trail or Mazda Tribute.
The new Outlander may have gone mainstream but it still has presence.
The front end is very much new-age Mitsubishi, and there’s a bulky, high-riding presence suggesting it’s far from being the smallest SUV of its ilk. That’s not far wrong because it has the longest wheelbase, the widest body and stands among the tallest in class. The Outlander’s physical size is further confirmed by the fact it’s the only one to offer the option of a third-row seat.
Another big shift is that the Outlander now comes with a choice of two all-new, all-alloy engines: A 2.4-litre four as before (LS and XLS), and a 3.0-litre V6 that comes in the top of the line VR and VRX models.
And although it’s possible to step into a new Outlander for a little less than before, it’s also possible to spend quite a lot more too, with the Luxury Pack seven-seat VRX topping out at $47,990.
Equipment levels are such that it’s clear Mitsubishi sees its new SUV as a cut above the rest. In the luxury pack version of the VRX things like Xenon headlights, a sunroof, rear parking sensors and an optional roof-mounted DVD player hint at upper-level customers, even if the top model is only expected to account for something like 14 percent of the anticipated 6600 sales next year (more than 2000 above 2006).
The test car was in fact a fully kitted-out VRX, giving us the chance to see just how good the new Mitsubishi can get.
Obviously the first thing to be noted is that the new car appears to have as lot more substance. Like the new RAV4, it almost moves into a new size category, except here the styling is more resolved, more confidently aggressive and masculine.
Inside, there’s clearly more space, with plenty of legroom in the back regardless of who’s travelling up front, and also plenty of all-round shoulder room. The seats are generous in size and appear to be good for the long haul, while the provision of storage spaces fits SUV expectations. The two-level glove box with the chiller vents in the upper section is handy and there’s a pretty good centre storage bin as well. Not Mazda-size though.
The dash itself offers a pleasing scenario with two large dials flanking a digital readout covering trip computer functions, while the (one-way adjustable only) steering wheel offers paddle shifters for the sequential auto as well as buttons on the spokes for the audio and cruise control.
Our test car was unrelentingly grey inside, which, along with the cheap-looking door trim, gave the Outlander a disappointingly drab look – even though it was the most luxurious version.
And the third-row seats probably take the prize for being the teeniest yet, folding down in a somewhat primitive way that leaves a lot of the structure revealed. It lacks the usual tidiness of a Japanese design.
With the rearmost seats folded, the Outlander claims a pretty decent 1119 litres of load capacity, but this is if you’ve loaded it to the roof. Filled to the window line, it looks doubtful that it would match the (bigger) Mazda CX-7’s 400 litres.
But the tailgate is split to allow some versatility when loading and the opening is quite big too, with a handy low floor height making it easier to heft heavy items on board.
On the road, the new V6 Outlander is instantly likable, with a cosy driving position not too hampered by the one-way wheel adjustment and very well weighted steering that gives an instant feeling of control.
The V6 has a nice burble on start-up, and revs smoothly, happy to explore beyond 6000rpm without sounding too thrashy.
The single cam per bank, 24-valve engine is not the most prodigious of powerhouses with 162kW and 276Nm, but at least the torque comes in pretty early with 90 per cent of the maximum already on hand from 2000rpm. This is clearly encouraged by Mitsubishi’s MIVEC system that controls valve timing as well as valve lift.
The V6 has been geared high to help with economy, so the six-speed transmission tends to hunt around between top and fifth gears even when cruising on a slightly undulating road, which can get a bit tiresome. Best to select manual control, where the box will still change down when it wants, but less frenetically than in auto mode.
The high gearing helps with economy for sure, with the V6 returning an average around 11.0L/100km on test, which is very close to the manufacturer’s claim. Around-town running would present a different story though, adding probably two litres per 100km above that.
The Outlander rides and handles nicely too, more dynamic in its responses than, say, a RAV, or Honda’s new CR-V, but probably losing some of the shine of the previous model.
Because the option to run in more economical front-drive mode is available, most drivers will probably select it, which means a little scrabbling for traction even in relatively un-challenging driving situations.
The auto 4WD mode, which allows the rear wheels to come into play when needed, demonstrates however that on-demand systems are generally a lot better today than in earlier incarnations. The transmission of torque to the back wheels via spinning metal plates electronically controlled to sense when rear-wheel traction is needed, is usually invisible to the driver. In 4WD lock mode, even more torque is sent to the rear axles.
With MacPherson strut front suspension and a coil-sprung multi-link layout at the rear, the Outlander rides comfortably yet steers quite accurately without indulging in undue body lean. And, on VR and VRX models, electronic stability control is a nice reassuring thing to have.
It’s all quiet too, befitting its positioning as a slightly upmarket compact SUV. Engine, transmission and wind noise are hushed, although some road noise does creep through.
And it seems we are being forced to accept inevitable changes in the business of carrying spare wheels, as the Outlander only carries a compact space-saver spare.
Once again, the real application of modern SUVs is more likely to be on the road than off it.
We liked the new Outlander though. Even though it’s a different animal entirely to the original – for which we still have a soft spot – it is a pleasingly dynamic compact SUV that offers a lot. Generous interior space, seven seats if you must, a smooth V6 option, electronic stability control, six airbags, Xenon lights and DVD entertainment make it commendably luxurious as well as safe and enjoyable to drive.
It sits high on the list of desirable compact SUVs.
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