Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Outlander - XLS
Lots of space, seven seats, strong feature list, good ride comfort
Room for improvement
Ho-hum styling, tight third row seat, still some CVT flare
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28 Aug 2015
By NEIL DOWLING
Price and equipment
SUV manufacturers must have all been in the same room when pricing was discussed as often there’s no more than a thousand dollars separating the competitors.
The Outlander XLS is the mid-spec model in the refreshed range, balancing an affordable price with an alluring feature inventory.
Though line-ball with many of its rivals on price, it offers better value.
The XLS label is used for a front-wheel drive petrol model that sells for $33,490 plus on-road costs, an all-wheel drive petrol variant tested here at $36,490 plus costs, and a diesel-engined AWD model for $39,490.
The three share similar equipment levels and the choice comes down to whether the prospective owner needs – or wants – an AWD or sees a bitumen-bound future so could save $3000 by opting for the front-wheel drive.
Country buyers or city-tied long-distance motorists could also opt for the diesel that is only available in AWD but which promises an extra 1.0 litre per 100 kilometres in fuel economy, down to 6.2L/100km and based on the average fuel consumption, extending the range by 135km over the petrol equivalent.
Sitting in the middle of the Outlander pack, perhaps the XLS petrol AWD should be for the buyer who is liable to bouts of procrastination. It is, of course, the model that has balance.
The model was upgraded in April. Tweaked with cabin improvements and some chassis massage, a newly styled tail and a fresh nose section that, under the Dynamic Shield name, will be extended across other Mitsubishi variants.
Though a new model for the 2016 year, not a lot is different. The drivetrains remain intact and unchanged, as does most body parts and the platform. It’s more about refinement.
Buyers get a large SUV – it’s the longest in the mid-size SUV sector at 4700mm – with a greater accent on ride and comfort.
The equipment list has been extended to include a digital radio, touchscreen satellite navigation system, Bluetooth with voice recognition, heated and folding mirrors, and 18-inch alloy wheels.
It carries over a five-star crash rating and ups the safety kit. Refinement work has reduced noise, vibration and harshness with some detail in improving the continuously variable transmission (CVT) to reduce any temptation to over-rev the engine.
In its sub-$60,000 segment, the only other model to offer a seven-seat option is the Nissan X-Trail.
It’s a very good marketing ploy. A mid-size SUV with the ability to, at a stretch, seat seven people. That has to be a winner.
As the longest SUV in its class, the accommodation within should come as no surprise. But it’s not just the vehicle length. Clever design has opened up the interior, pushing the dashboard further away from the occupants to impress with an open, airy cabin feel.
Mitsubishi has also resisted the contemporary styling trend to narrow the side glass. The result is a conservative profile but one that maximises driver visibility and, perhaps even more pertinent in this vehicle, makes it easier for children to view the outside world.
Cabin treatment is neat, ergonomic and a worthy step up on the previous model.
Mitsubishi’s main intent here was to make the vehicle more comfortable and aesthetic and that’s certainly been achieved.
But in comparison to last year’s model, the latest Outlander’s point of difference is relatively small. It’s more about subtle improvements.
The knitted headliner material looks classy, as does more piano (read: gloss) black trim to the centre console, door trim and to brighten then new steering wheel.
Soft plastics have been extended from the dashboard to the lid of the centre console bin and newly-designed, more supportive seats in the XLS now have stitched cloth upholstery.
Above all, there’s a sense that the wagon is better made. The doors close with a reassuringly solid thump rather than a tinny clatter of metal. Even the new seat fabric feels both more durable and substantial.
The XLS gains a sunglass holder in the overhead section of the headliner, and adds an electrochromatic rear-vision mirror.
Personal space is very good, with a centre cubby hole for smaller items, the lidded bin, cupholders and bottle holders.
Cabin room is liberal, with the centre-row capable of seating three adults at a squeeze with excellent head and legroom.
The third seat row lies flat within the cargo floor when not in use. They are designed for children who don’t uses a booster seat and definitely don’t have sufficient room for an adult.
Air-conditioning vents are appreciatively large in the dashboard and backed by smaller vents for rear passengers.
Boot space is unchanged from the previous model. With the three rows in place, there’s a compact 128 litres of space for shopping. Fold the split third row down and there’s 477 litres and with the second row down, 1608 litres.
The box-like shape of the Outlander also makes easy access to the cargo area, while the relatively low floor height eases any strain of loading goods.
Engine and transmission
Mitsubishi’s 2.4-litre engine is likely to be the most popular of the three powerplants on offer.
It might appear that this engine has been powering Outlander since its inception but that’s not the case.
In 2012, Mitsubishi quietly launched a new 2.4-litre, replacing the previous twin-cam design with a single camshaft and reducing output to 124kW/220Nm from 125kW/226Nm. It does, however, retain its variable-valve control and lift system, dubbed MIVEC.
But though output fell, so did fuel economy thanks to the new engine’s lighter weight that came courtesy of less valve components.
The change from a six-speed torque-converter automatic to the CVT also helped economy fall to 7.2 litres per 100 kilometres from 9.0L/100km.
Mitsubishi has stated the CVT has been revised with targets of improved acceleration feel and response. There is also the aim of improving shift quality and, thanks to internal changes to lower friction and create a higher overdrive gear ratio, better fuel economy.
CVTs are – literally – slippery things. Some companies, particularly Subaru and Toyota, get an almost spot-on blend of seamless power delivery and minimal engine revving.
Mitsubishi’s retuning makes it a less elastic transmission than the previous Outlander but there is still room for some improvement.
It certainly has less “flaring” – where the engine revs much higher and harder than much increase in forward momentum – and has better response.
Driven sedately, the engine and CVT combination are smooth and quiet and owners will easily see sub-8.0 litres per 100 kilometres.
It is ideal for city and suburbs, particularly those with relatively flat geography. It’s also an excellent cruiser in the country, with a supple ride, low noise and a relaxed engine note.
But it’s not a fan of the tight, twisting hills where the CVT is prone to flare and make the engine sound busy.
But there is a solution, of sorts. The steering wheel paddle-shifters access seven preset ratios which can help when the driver engages a more enthusiastic motoring mode.
Mitsubishi uses an on-demand all-wheel drive system for the Outlander and its smaller sister, the ASX. It has an electronically-activated clutch attached to the rear differential that apportions torque to the rear when sensors identify front wheel traction loss.
It is an automatic system requiring no input from the driver. Up to 40 per cent of available torque can be directed to the rear wheels, generally when accelerating hard on bitumen. This portion falls to 25 per cent at speeds over 40km/h.
However, to ensure off-road traction, there is a 4WD Lock button between the front seats. The button apportions up to 50 per cent to the rear, giving it equal drive when negotiating soft terrain.
Tested on firm sand tracks close to the coast, the AWD system works well but the Outlander’s off-road capability is restricted more by other factors than the drive system.
The XLS has low-profile 55-profile tyres that don’t offer much of a footprint when deflated. It also has a modest ground clearance of 190mm (though appears less) and a long 2670mm wheelbase which can limit its ability in confined off-road conditions.
Ride and handling
There are no changes to the platform or suspension design of the Outlander but there’s plenty of work done on tuning.
Mitsubishi said it has made 39 changes to the vehicle to improve noise, vibration and harshness (NVH), first tightening the body and then working through the application of sound deadening to refining the damper motion.
The Outlander uses car-like MacPherson front struts and a multi-link arrangement at the rear, with independent axles.
The focus of the tuning is in the action of the dampers and changes to the suspension mounting points and the material used in the bushings.
All models get 18-inch wheels that are also responsible for improvements to the ride, despite their low profile.
Drive the 2016 model back to back with the previous version and the important changes start with the steering. It’s now sharper, more precise through the corners though subjectively is light and carries over the electric-assist dead feel at the straight-ahead position.
The new Outlander is noticeably quieter, the suppression lowering the intrusion of tyre and engine noise.
The wagon now has what Mitsubishi describes as “extensive” sound deadening material added though the additional weight has not been disclosed.
Safety and servicing
A five-star crash rating continues for the Outlander XLS, together with seven airbags and the mandatory electronic brake and chassis aids.
It meets the segment’s demands for a reversing camera and rear park sensors but falls short of front sensors, an ideal addition because of the size of the wagon.
The daytime running lights are LEDs, as are the new tail-lights, with automatic headlights and wipers, heated and folding mirrors, tyre pressure monitor and an emergency brake display standard.
But the XLS misses out on the flagship Exceed variant’s desirable adaptive cruise control and automatic forward collision mitigation. Both are not available even as an option.
Mitsubishi has a five-year, 100,000km warranty and comes with a one-year roadside assistance program.
The Outlander AWD needs annual servicing and the capped-price service program costs $1125 for three years.
Note that the front-wheel drive version is a bit cheaper at $1065 for the same period and, conversely, the diesel variant costs $1530.
Glass’s Guide predicts the Outlander has a resale value after three years of 50 52 per cent.
Fine turning puts the Outlander back onto the shopping list for buyers wanting a reliable, durable and spacious SUV. It is one of only two in its segment with seven seats and these could prove handy, either with the owner or when trading in the vehicle.
The petrol engine is well suited to city and country roles, the CVT takes no effort to operate (as does the AWD system) and there’s a general feeling that this is a no-fuss, docile and obedient family hauler.
Ownership costs, including fuel consumption and servicing, are affordable. It has some worthy rivals but there is merit in this vehicle, particularly for its ability to gobble an awful amount of cargo and for its seven seats.
Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport from $35,790 plus on-road costs
The go-to mid-size SUV is the sector’s runaway success. It’s a solid rival here, based on price and equipment and even ownership costs. This version gets the preferred 138kW/250Nm 2.5-litre petrol engine (better than the 2.0-litre) with a six-speed automatic, on-demand AWD and a claim of 7.4L/100km. The five-seater has a boot that will carry from 403 litres to 1560 litres, and has a tow rating of up to 1800kg, the best here.
Subaru Forester 2.5i-L from $32,990 plus on-road costs
This model has often been Australia’s favourite mid-size SUV but has been relegated to fourth as the CX-5 steamroller rolls over the segment. It has a loyal following and for good reason. It is a very capable, well built go-anywhere machine with stacks of room for the family. It has a 126kW/235Nm 2.5-litre petrol engine and CVT automatic constantly driving all wheels and claims 8.1L/100km. Cargo room is 422-1481 litres and the maximum tow rating is 1500kg.
Toyota RAV4 GXL from $36,990 plus on-road costs
The evergreen Toyota is the most expensive here and like the Mazda, has an attractive balance of features, affordability and style. The 132kW/233Nm 2.5-litre petrol engine drives a six-speed automatic through an on-demand all-wheel drive system. Toyota claims 8.5L/100km. The boot is the smallest here with a capacity from 577-760 litres, though the rear seat has fore/aft adjustment. It can tow up to 1500kg.
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