The Mitsubishi Outlander has long held a reputation of Japanese reliability and build quality since the launch of the second-generation in 2006. In the last six years the Outlander has remained a strong contender in the hotly contested compact SUV segment.
The 2012-model Mitsubishi Outlander is a case of much of the same, with minor safety, exterior and interior improvements for the base models and enhanced multimedia capabilities.
Mitsubishi gave us the top-of-the-range seven-seat Mitsubishi Outlander VRX over the recent Christmas holiday period and we decided to take it on board as the main family vehicle. This meant packing it full of all the Christmas presents, baby seats and even our two dogs as we headed southwest from Brisbane to Warwick.
From the outside the Outlander has remained largely unchanged since its launch in 2006. It remains as one of the more aggressive-looking SUVs on the market today, thanks in large to its big, wide, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution-inspired chrome grille and accentuated bonnet lines.
It may be classed in the compact SUV segment but in reality it’s a relatively large vehicle, with more than enough room to comfortably fit five adults. The additional two seats in the third row also make it a viable choice for big families that have young ones.
Outlander VR and VRX variants are powered by a 3.0-litre V6 engine that manages a healthy 169kW and 291Nm of torque, a very different offering from the 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine (125kW 226Nm) in the LS/XLS.
Behind the wheel the V6 tends to make its fair share of noise when pushed but it does deliver good acceleration feel and makes highway overtaking a breeze. V6 variants are only available with a six-speed automatic transmission (as opposed to manual or CVT for the 2.4L) and sip 10 litres of fuel per 100km, just 0.7L/100km more than their smaller-engined 4WD siblings.
Mitsubishi advertises the Outlander as a practical family SUV with a sporty nature. This is perhaps most obvious when you appreciate the 18-inch alloys, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and chrome highlights all around. However when push comes to shove, the Outlander is, well, just a decent-sized SUV.
Around twisty roads, we felt Mitsubishi’s Super All Wheel Control (S-AWC) system aiding the vehicle in and out corners but still presenting a noticeable amount of torque steer on the odd occasion.
You probably wouldn’t notice it, but S-AWC incorporates the active front differential, yaw rate feedback control, active stability control and ABS to work out the best way to deliver power to all four wheels. It also allows swift changing between Tarmac (paved roads), Snow (slippery roads) and Lock (dirt/off-road) to better handle the terrain, making the Outlander one of the better compact SUVs if the outdoors are your thing.
During our two-week review period our red Outlander sipped 10.3L of fuel per 100km, which is more than reasonable given the weight it was carrying. The Mitsubishi Outlander could certainly do with a diesel engine (available in Europe) for better fuel economy and extra torque but that’s unlikely until the next generation arrives here next year.
Perhaps the biggest criticism of the Outlander is reserved for its interior, as even the top of the range VRX variants suffer from a Spartan plastic-orientated cabin. The comfortable leather seats for both the front and second row plus leather inserts around the cabin and on the doors (VRX) do little to compensate for the overall feel of the ageing cabin. Additionally, the three air-conditioning dials are a little flimsy and could certainly do with a digital display.
The VRX’s party piece, the Mitusbishi Multi Communication System (MMCS), which includes satellite navigation via its 7-inch touch screen, is by far one of the most counter-intuitive systems we’ve experienced.
Its inclusion deletes USB input and Bluetooth 2.0 wireless data transfer, while the supplied iPod connecting cable also fails to charge an iPhone/iPod. In essence you can’t charge your iPod/iPhone and play music at the same time, which is simply illogical and left us with a dead iPhone on more than one occasion.
The problem with this wouldn’t be so pronounced if the base model Outlander didn’t get a better system. The variants without MMCS miss out on the screen and satellite navigation but get Bluetooth audio streaming and USB support. This allows simple wireless music streaming whilst your iPhone charges, or you can just plug it in via USB. It also means Android phone users are able to connect their device via USB.
As for the satellite navigation itself, the system suffers from poorly designed software and could do with a more user-friendly interface, as it requires far too many steps to perform simple tasks. It does, however, incorporate the reverse-view camera system, which is a must for a car as big as the Outlander. The non-MMCS models have their reversing camera incorporated into the rear-view mirror (which, ironically, makes more sense as you’re likely to be looking at the mirror than at the centre instrument cluster).
Saving the worst till last, though, is the VRX’s Bluetooth phone system. In our test car it was barely usable. The audio comes out via a speaker mounted on the driver’s side (instead of the stereo system) and we found the volume to be so low (and we couldn’t find any way of turning it up - update: we've been told it can be turned up, whilst in a call, using the audio controls on the steering wheel) that we could hardly hear the other party.
The Rockford Fosgate 710-watt nine-speaker and 10-inch subwoofer audio system is an absolute delight, however. The kids will also love the rear seat entertainment with wireless headphones.
Our advice is to go for an Outlander VR or lower spec model, which doesn’t have the MMCS, as it’s by no means an advantage. If you don’t need 4WD capability, the front-wheel-drive models are also ideal for city commuting (not available in the V6). At the end of our two-week test drive, we came to appreciate the Outlander as a practical, easy to drive and good-looking SUV.
It offers more than enough room for large families and the boot can accommodate nearly anything Ikea sells. It’s also an ideal vehicle if you have big dogs. The V6 is our pick of the bunch for the extra power and better acceleration, with marginal increase in fuel economy.
The 60-litre fuel tank means you’re unlikely to get more than 550km out of a tank so you may be a frequent visitor to your local petrol station. Overall, it’s unfortunate that what is otherwise a decent compact SUV is tarnished by its multimedia system.
All Mitsubishi Outlanders are fitted with driver and front passenger airbags as well as side and curtain airbags, which results in the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating.
The Outlander VRX certainly offers plenty, as it should considering it's at the pricier end of the compact SUV spectrum, though there are also a number of nagging issues that keeps it behind the leading pack of models in the segment.