It was easy to have a soft spot for the outgoing Mitsubishi Outlander. That’s because the previous model was, well, nicely soft, not needlessly sporty, and very roomy, with a clever split-fold tailgate the perfect perch for wrenching on ski boots in the Perisher carpark, or watching a game of local footy…
This new, third-generation Mitsubishi Outlander shares only some of those virtues with the second-gen, which launched back in 2006. Its suspension is no longer soft and it no longer gets a split tailgate, for example. However it also posts huge improvements in the areas where the last model lagged sorely behind – by Mitsubishi’s own admission, cabin quality, refinement and space utilisation all needed work.
Gen-three is an overhaul and renewal of the existing Outlander platform, cloaked with fresh sheetmetal, and timed perfectly to fend off the new Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester, both of which launched last month, and the all-new Toyota RAV4, which arrives here in January.
Mitsubishi has followed its competitors (Mazda CX-5, CR-V and Forester) and offered an entry-level 2.0-litre four-cylinder variant for the first time. The $28,990 Mitsubishi Outlander ES front-wheel-drive manual ($31,240 auto) replaces the old 2.4-litre LS as the entry grade, but it’s similarly equipped with 16-inch steel wheels (previously alloys), leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshifter, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, and (newly added) reverse sensors and driver’s knee airbag.
The Lancer-derived engine produces 110kW (at 6000rpm) and 190Nm (at 4200rpm), the claimed slurp 6.6L/100km with the continuously variable transmission, or 0.4L more with the standard five-speed manual.
As a partial offset for the reduction in displacement, Mitsubishi has increased the use of high-tensile steels throughout the new Outlander’s body to achieve a 100kg kerb weight reduction compared with the previous model.
The entry front-driver weighs 1395kg, or 48kg less than a CX-5 Maxx, and 65kg below a CR-V VTi. In the ES CVT we drove, the results appear more promising. Foot-flat acceleration is similarly stubborn, but the CVT is quick to raise revs and disguise the lack of torque. Crucially, compared with the last Outlander and current Lancer, increased noise suppression measures dulls the high-pitched engine scream as the CVT holds high revs under full throttle. It isn’t a Honda-sweet petrol four cylinder, but it is effective.
One grade up, the $34,990 auto-only Mitsubishi Outlander LS front-wheel-drive (above) adds 16-inch alloys, fog lights, privacy glass, cargo blind, 6.1-inch colour LCD display, dual-zone climate control and rear-view camera.
But it’s better to save $1000 and pick the base ES, but optioned with all-wheel-drive, which for $33,990 includes the bigger 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol retained from the old Outlander, with 124kW (at 6000rpm) and 220Nm (at 4200rpm), linked to a standard CVT.
The performance gains are such to be noticeable and welcome, even if the coarse, grainy engine note rings deadly like the 400cc-smaller engine. The fuel consumption lab results claim 7.5L/100km combined, but the bigger-engined Outlander may do better than the smaller engine in the real world because it doesn’t need to be worked as hard.
Like the base front-driver, the all-wheel-drive model weighs a slim (by class standards) 1495kg. The old base all-driver tipped in at 1580kg.
Buyers of the 2.4-litre petrol can get the extra kit in the LS, plus seven seats instead of five, for $38,990. Those with deeper pockets can choose the flagship Aspire for $43,490 (below), which adds 18s, leather seats with front heating, chrome scuff plates, one-touch start, seven-inch colour touchscreen with nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio and sat-nav, plus wood trim off-cuts seemingly from a 1996 KE Mitsubishi Verada.
Neither 2.0- or 2.4-litre petrols are the engine pick, however. That honour is reserved for the brand-new, Mitsubishi-designed 2.2-litre direct-injection turbo diesel.
Producing 110kW (at 3500rpm) and 360Nm (at 1500rpm), and claiming just 5.8L/100km combined, the engine is wonderfully punchy, yet refined, showcasing the improvements to the Outlander’s engine noise suppression measures most noticeably.
Choosing the oiler flicks the CVT in favour of a six-speed automatic, and it’s all the better for it. The drivetrain feels premium and suave the way it flutters the tacho needle around its arc, with barely-noticeable cabin vibration and noise intrusion. At 110km/h, the DDi-D diesel is ticking over at 1800rpm in sixth gear.
Available only in LS and Aspire all-wheel-drive grades, the diesel is an easy choice for just $2000 over the 2.4-litre petrol, at $40,990 and $45,490 respectively.
After experiencing (suffering?) the hard, scratchy cabin plastics in the last Outlander, the new interior design is a revelation. This is the first modern Mitsubishi to discover soft-touch plastic surfacing, and the mould consistently wraps from passenger door over the dashboard to the driver’s.
The fascia gets metallic black panelling with a silver-plastic outline – neat, classy – and in the ES and LS grades the audio system blends in seamlessly. Ironically, the flagship Aspire’s Rockford Fosgate unit looks aftermarket, with a swivel-out screen to insert CDs an early-noughties throwback (LS, then Aspire, below).
The Mitsubishi Outlander continues to have more middle seat leg and headroom than any compact SUV. The bench is positioned higher than the front seats, increasing visibility and aiding under thigh support. Almost criminally, however, there are no air vents for second- or third-row passengers.
Replacing the previous fold-and-tumble seat mechanism, the middle base now flips forward against the front seats and the backrest folds to reveal a completely flat floor.
The middle bench also has a multi-adjustable backrest angle and sliding functionality in all models, while rear tikes relegated to the rearmost seats standard in the all-wheel-drive models can vary legroom between non existant and reasonable. Third-row headroom is definitely from pre-growth-spurt teens.
Gone is the split tailgate, replaced by a regular one-piece door that was required for the inclusion of an auto-lift function on the Aspire. The loading lip is now higher, and luggage room with five seats in place totals 477 litres – a full 112L less than the old Outlander. Mitsubishi argues that the new seat-fold system increases load length by 30mm, but it’s scant compensation.
Although still-roomy, the Outlander is less practical than before, and that’s a shame.
Common to all grades is an electro-mechanical steering set-up that’s extremely vague on centre and light. Turn-in is guesswork, but the steering is reasonably consistent and tactile beyond the first movements.
Mitsubishi’s drive loop around the outskirts of Melbourne took us up a tarmac hillclimb section used for rally events. Perhaps not the Outlander’s natural milieu, granted, but the Aspire does come with a lap timer in its central display…
Surprisingly, the Mitsubishi Outlander remains an enjoyably balanced and reasonably dynamic drive. It now packs a semblance of body control, and roll is contained, where the previous generation lurched during quick changes of movement and heaved over large undulations.
Although the front end can be reasonably leant upon, a lift of the throttle or brush of the brake tames the eventual onset of understeer, maintaining the playful nature of the last Outlander.
The only major difference between the grades is wheel choice. The ES and LS specs roll on 70-aspect 16-inch tyres, while the Aspire utilise 55-aspect 18s. The low-profile bigger tyres introduce noticeable bump-thump compared with the regular cars, although all Outlanders are now firmer, so even the chubby tyres fail to eliminate some restlessness on seemingly smooth surfaces.
Particularly in the Aspire, the ride quality doesn’t match the excellent road noise suppression, nor the newfound cabin class, which along with the high prices, aftermarket audio and awful wood trim, is reason enough to settle for the superior ES and LS grades.
Mitsubishi is, however, using the Aspire as an active-safety technology showcase. A $5500-optional Premium Pack, available on the flagship grade only, includes adaptive cruise control (below) and an auto-braking forward collision mitigation system.
Although underbody aero plates and stop-start engine technology are available overseas, Mitsubishi says a “cost benefit analysis” meant the fuel-saving measures were removed from Australian-spec vehicles.
All models do, however, get an ‘Eco’ mode which dulls throttle response, and a fuel economy ‘game’ that teaches owners to drive more economically. On the all wheel drive models, an ‘Eco 4WD’ mode runs primarily in front wheel drive, while ‘4WD auto’ and ‘4WD lock’ are progressively for more serious off-roading.
It’s worth noting that two test cars – not ours – suffered a CVT overheating fault during the launch drive, and another had a traction control fault backed by a litany of dashboard warning lights. Mitsubishi Australia was unable to provide an explanation.
Impressively refined, with adept dynamics and a particularly strong diesel drivetrain, the latest Mitsubishi Outlander doesn’t feel like the victim of the strangled development budget most models faced in the post-GFC period.
However, the diesel is priced to rival the excellent $43,240 Territory TDCi and gargantuan $44,235 Mazda CX-9, while at the other end the 2.0-litre offers a negligible performance improvement over the old sub-$30K 2.4-litre. And all models lack the boot space and tailgate flexibility of the old car, and miss some of the previous ultra-cushy urban ride.
In most ways, the third generation is a better Mitsubishi Outlander. The diesel is a four-star proposition, but there’s no sub-$40K model, while the petrols are only a bit better than average.
Really, a new model should be better in almost all ways.