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by Matt Campbell

Mid-life updates can be minor or substantial – and it’s fair to say that the changes seen on the recently-arrived 2015 Honda CR-V Series II and 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander slot into the latter category.

The revised Honda CR-V went on sale late last year, but this is the first time we’ve had a chance to get one through the garage. Changes for this model include a new-look grille, front bumper and headlights, while the rear also has a new bumper.

The changes on this particular car are exaggerated somewhat by the fact it is fitted with a Modulo sports body kit and optional 19-inch wheels. A standard model wasn’t available to test.

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The updated Mitsubishi Outlander also gets its fair share of cosmetic changes.

There has been a heavy update to the front end (new bumper, headlights, grille, bonnet and guards) as well as a new rear end appearance (new bumper, tailgate and tail-lights). It also looks more beefy courtesy of the black accents on the doors.

While a fresh new look is usually enough to get buyers to take a look at what’s on offer, this test will aim to see which is the better buy out of these two revamped SUVs. For this test, we took the flagship all-wheel drive petrol models.

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Pictured top: Honda CR-V; bottom: Mitsubishi Outlander

Pricing and equipment

In the case of the five-seat Honda CR-V it was the VTi-L grade that we tested, which is priced at $42,290 plus on-road costs.

The Mitsubishi Outlander Exceed comes in slightly dearer, at $43,490 plus on-road costs, but it comes with seven seats as standard.

The CR-V comes well kitted for the cost, with specification highlights including a sunroof, front and rear parking sensors and reverse-view camera, HID headlights and LED cornering lights.

Both it and the Outlander have keyless entry and push-button start, leather trim, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, as well as 18-inch wheel standard (though the CR-V on test had 19s). Both cars also have a sunroof and paddleshifters.

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Pictured top: Honda CR-V; bottom: Mitsubishi Outlander

The CR-V also has a blind-spot monitoring system for merging to the left, which uses a camera to display what is behind the car on the kerbside when the indicator is used. The VTi-L also gets a dipping side mirror to help you keep clear of the kerb, which the Outlander doesn’t have.

The Outlander misses out on the blind-spot camera and doesn’t have front parking sensors, but it does get an autonomous braking system that can assist in avoiding or lessening the impact of collisions.

It’s clear safety is a bit of a key battle for these two. That said, the Honda has six airbags (dual front, front side and full-length curtain), while the Outlander has seven airbags (it adds a driver’s knee airbag). Both cars have a five-star ANCAP crash test rating.

Too close to call on price alone, then…

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Pictured top: Honda CR-V; bottom: Mitsubishi Outlander

Interior

Inside there’s a major difference between these two cars, and it’s behind the second-row seats that could ultimately sway buyers one way or the other. That’s because the Outlander is a seven-seater, while the CR-V has five seats as standard.

Part of the reason the Outlander manages that feat is because it’s a fair deal longer than the CR-V: the Mitsubishi measures 4695 millimetres long, where the Honda is more diminutive at 4585mm.

Still, it’s worth considering that the Outlander has just 128 litres of cargo space if you need all seven seats in use, and while Mitsubishi doesn’t supply a figure for its boot space with five seats in place, the Honda has a generous 556L cargo hold – and the CR-V’s appears to fit more in than the Outlander in five-seat guise.

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Pictured top: Honda CR-V; bottom: Mitsubishi Outlander

There’s very little in it in terms of load space with the back seats folded flat: the Outlander has 1810L; the CR-V has 1820L. The CR-V has a bigger boot aperture, though, which means loading awkward items in is easier as the opening is wider and it’s lower to the ground at the boot-lip, too. The Outlander counters with a standard electric boot opening and closing system, where the Honda’s requires manual heft.

The Outlander’s third-row seats are undoubtedly a bonus in the eyes of many buyers, but it’s worth remembering they are best left for those who are small in stature. Buyers may also wish to note that the airbag coverage doesn’t extend all the way back to the third-row seats.

It’s also worth considering that the CR-V has Honda’s clever Magic Seats system, which allows you to fold the rear seats down to an almost flat load space using trigger handles in the boot: the seat bases flip forward, and the backrests fold down.

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Pictured top: Honda CR-V; bottom: Mitsubishi Outlander

The Outlander doesn’t have quite as clever a set-up, but it does have a 60:40 sliding second-row to allow better third-row space, and the seats fold down relatively easily.

That said, the second-row accommodation is easily better in the Honda. There’s more leg room, more head room and – in a crucial note for families of five – good shoulder room. Crucially, too, the Honda has rear air vents, where the Outlander doesn’t despite the additional seating capacity.

Both cars have plenty of family-friendly nooks and cubbies for kids to stow their stuff. The doors of both cars have decent pockets for stowing bottles or loose items, with the Honda’s receptacles being slightly larger and better positioned – that’s the case for the front and rear.

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Pictured top: Honda CR-V; bottom: Mitsubishi Outlander

Up front, the CR-V is a more sophisticated space. Again it betters the Mitsubishi for comfort and storage, with better-bolstered seats that, although a little firmer on initial sit-down, don’t grow uncomfortable after hours behind the wheel like the Outlander’s which feel a little flat after a few hours. The CR-V also gets dual electric front seat adjustment, with driver’s seat memory settings, where the Outlander has just driver’s seat adjustment via en electric toggle.

Neither car can match the benchmark-setting Mazda CX-5 in terms of their infotainment systems, but the CR-V’s is by far the more amenable.

It takes a bit of learning before you know your way around the menu screens, but after a few minutes you’ll have paired your phone and inputted an address in the navigation system. The graphics are a bit early 2000s, but the system itself is simple enough to use, and it features pinch and swipe gesture controls.

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Pictured top: Honda CR-V; bottom: Mitsubishi Outlander

The Mitsubishi, however, is abysmal in its intuitiveness. We’ve been through our issues with this system in the past when we had our long-term Outlander PHEV, and it’s the same unit used here.

Connecting to the car’s Bluetooth system is almost a game of guesswork, even after six months of using the system. The navigation, too, is difficult to use: you’d think you’d press the Map button or the Navi Menu button, but you need to press the very small flag icon. The screen is terribly slow to fire up, too, meaning you may find it even more frustrating to use if you’re in a hurry.

The Mitsubishi does better the Honda with digital radio reception, but the Honda hits back with twin USB inputs (the Mitsubishi has one) and a HDMI input to allow you to watch movies on the screen when the car is at a standstill.

The interior battle is clearly won by the CR-V… unless you really, really need seven seats – and then you should buy a Hyundai Santa Fe or Kia Sorento.

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Under the bonnet

While we think both of these cars are better buys with their respective diesel drivetrains, the petrol-powered models make up the bulk of sales.

Under the bonnets of both cars are 2.4-litre petrol engines, and both have all-wheel drive in their respective range-topping petrol specifications tested here.

The CR-V has the edge on power – its 2.4-litre engine pumps out 140kW at 7000rpm and 222Nm of torque at 4400rpm. It’s the nature of Honda engines that they like to be worked hard, and the powerplant in the CR-V is no exception.

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Pictured top: Honda CR-V engine bay; bottom: Mitsubishi Outlander engine bay

The engine isn’t quiet in going about its work, particularly when you push the accelerator hard – which you need to do, quite a bit, given where the peak power comes on.

The CR-V’s standard five-speed automatic gearbox will try to keep the engine on the ball, and there’s a bit of chopping and changing that can get a little frustrating – but that’s the nature of the brand’s engines, because they need more revs to get the best out of them, the gearboxes tend to swap cogs a lot rather than rely on the low-rev torque, chiefly because there isn’t much to be found.

Both the CR-V and the Outlander have surging initial throttle response, but as the revs rise there’s a little less grunt accessible.

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Pictured top: Honda CR-V; bottom: Mitsubishi Outlander

The Outlander has less power (124kW at 6000rpm) and a little less torque (220Nm at 4200rpm), but the peak outputs both come a little sooner in the rev range, making for slightly more relaxed progress.

Indeed, the engine of the Outlander is punchier in sport or manual mode, and it responds quite better than the CR-V when you are right up it.

But where it doesn’t perform with such panache is in standard automatic mode.

That’s because the continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic robs the engine of its power, with a strong tendency to hold the revs low to save fuel.

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As such, it needs lots of throttle to get moving after the car’s already started rolling, and while this updated gearbox is better than we recall the CVT being in the past, there’s still some sluggishness and chugging when you’re pushing up hills, for instance.

When it comes to fuel use, the Honda claims 8.7 litres per 100 kilometres, where Mitsubishi claims a much more frugal 7.2L/100km.

On our test – which involved a mixture of urban, highway and some soft off-road driving – there was little in it, with the Honda returning 10.2L/100km and the Mitsubishi 10.1L.

It’s a close call, but we’d prefer to drive the CR-V day to day, even if it’s noisier and needs more revs – it’s more refined and there’s nothing in it for fuel use in real-world driving.

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Pictured top: Honda CR-V; bottom: Mitsubishi Outlander

Ride and handling

With all-wheel drive standard on both of these variants, we took the opportunity to put them through their paces on a soft off-road track in the Blue Mountains.

First, though, it was urban and highway driving, where this contest again proved a close call.

The CR-V, for instance, offers better steering when you’re puttering around town. It’s more direct and offers better feel to the driver’s hands than the Outlander, which has inconsistency to its steering weight both in corners and when you try and park the car. There’s nothing more annoying than the steering getting really heavy when you’re trying to pull a quick reverse-parallel move.

The CR-V also offers better grip, though the caveat are those 245-aspect, 45-profile, 19-inch Bridgestone Turanza tyres which are designed for cars far sportier than this. The Outlander isn’t loose, but its 225/55/18 Goodyear Eagle tyres can’t match the CR-V’s aftermarket rubber. Again, we wish we’d have been able to drive the standard car, which rolls on 225/60/18 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tyres.

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Pictured top: Honda CR-V; bottom: Mitsubishi Outlander

The Outlander claws some points back by being significantly quieter on the road. I mean, it’s like the difference between having your television’s volume set on 10 (Outlander) versus being set on 15 (CR-V), and that has a pretty big effect on cabin ambience, and could be the difference between little Billy and Sarah sleeping soundly on a road trip, or being cranky menaces when you reach your destination.

Mitsubishi did make a big deal about how much sound-deadening material had been added to the MY16 Outlander, and there’s less road roar, notably less engine noise and gearbox whine, and it makes for a more relaxing long-distance tourer as a result, particularly on coarse-chip surfaces. The adaptive cruise control system fitted to the Mitsubishi also has its benefits on longer trips, as it will accelerate and brake with the traffic.

Around town, too, the Outlander has its benefits.

The ride of the Outlander is more settled over small lumps and bumps that are so commonly found on city backstreets, though it isn’t as well judged as the CR-V over sharp-edged potholes or speed-humps.

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Pictured top: Honda CR-V; bottom: Mitsubishi Outlander

Another benefit of the Outlander around town is its aforementioned auto-brake that keeps an eye on the road ahead, even if it is a little inconsistent in its ability to pick up true threats.

The Honda misses out on such technology in VTi-L guise, but the Advanced Driver Assist System (ADAS) option pack adds adaptive cruise, collision prevention assist and lane keeping assistance. That pack also adds $3500 to the price…

Out of the city limits and onto the rough stuff, the CR-V bettered the Outlander with a more composed rough-surface ride, with suspension that kept the body settled and composed. The traction of the Honda was also superior to the Mitsubishi over loose gravel surfaces.

Close, again. For those who use their SUV to do a lot of longer-distance drives, the Outlander’s hushed cabin could be a winner. But if you’re going off-road on the way, the CR-V is a better-balanced thing.

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Ownership

Buyers who are after a long-term ownership experience should note that the Mitsubishi has a five-year, 100,000km warranty that outdoes the Honda on time (three years), but not distance.

Servicing for the Mitsubishi is required every 12 months or 15,000km, with the average annual cost on over the first four years of ownership averaging $375.

Honda, however, requires more regular scheduled maintenance. The intervals for the CR-V are every six months or 10,000km, and they cost more on an annual average basis, too – for comparison’s sake, over the first four years you’re looking at $572 a year. Plus the fact the car may need to be off the road for two days a year, rather than just one…

The Mitsubishi is the winner for that element, then.

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Pictured top: Honda CR-V; bottom: Mitsubishi Outlander

Verdict

This was a close contest between two Japanese mid-sized SUVs, one that will ultimately come down to what’s more important to individual buyers.

If it’s seven seats, a quiet cabin and affordable, convenient ownership you’re after, the Mitsubishi can’t be missed.

But if you can deal with a touch more noise in a five-seat body, the CR-V is probably the better choice. It’s roomier and cleverer inside, and as well as feeling nicer in the second row it has a much more likeable media system.

The CR-V is the winner here, then, but despite being a more rounded SUV offering, it won’t win the battle for some buyers’ money against the seven-seat Outlander.

Click the Photos tab above for more images by Glen Sullivan.



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