Can a new 'model year 17' update put the Outlander at the front of the medium SUV pack?
The 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander is somewhat of a unicorn in the booming medium SUV segment.
Starting at just $30,500 for the front-wheel driven LS seven-seat variant, the Outlander is also one of the cheapest three-row models on sale in Australia.
However, the variant we have on test is the top-spec petrol Exceed, which kicks off at $44,000 plus on-road costs.
What the Outlander lacks in size compared to these larger rivals, however, it makes up for in standard equipment.
Included on the flagship Exceed are leather-trimmed seats, heated front seats, power tailgate, LED headlights with integrated LED daytime-running lights, LED front fog lights, keyless entry and push-button start, power driver's seat, electric park brake, electric sunroof, a new 7.0-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (but no satellite navigation), DAB digital radio, dual-zone climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels, privacy glass and the list goes on.
As part of a 2017 model-year update, the Exceed sees the addition of blind spot monitoring, lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, 360-degree camera system and a mis-acceleration mitigation system.
These new safety features are on top of the autonomous emergency braking (AEB), front and rear parking sensors and adaptive cruise control that were already standard on the Exceed.
So, it's got a lot of kit, but does the Outlander have a trump card other than its seven seats to stand out against segment favourites like the new Volkswagen Tiguan, soon-to-be replaced Mazda CX-5, Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson?
Let's start with the looks. The third-generation Outlander was far from what you'd call a 'looker' when it debuted in 2012. A 2015 facelift greatly improved things, though it's still pretty generic in its design.
Mitsubishi's 'Dynamic Shield' face suits the Outlander much better than the recently-facelifted ASX, while the 18-inch alloy wheels look classy and the lashings of chrome help to give the exterior a little extra bling – however, you'd struggle to tell the difference between the base LS and flagship Exceed from the outside.
But it's what's on the inside that counts, or so they say, though again the Outlander is very generic and somewhat uninspiring when you hop in the driver's seat.
The black-on-black-on-black colour scheme and the very basic layout is hardly exciting, though the cabin does feel spacious and well screwed together. However, the mix of soft-touch plastics up high and hard plastics do little to give the Mitsubishi a 'premium' feel, especially when rivals like the Volkswagen Tiguan challenge the luxury marques for cabin quality.
Another quality niggle was the driver's seat, which in this tester felt like it wasn't attached properly – when moving around in the seat or under acceleration it would rock back and forth.
Rear seat passengers also aren't treated to air vents, which seems ridiculous for a vehicle that is designed to cart up to seven people, though there are plenty of storage nooks and crannies for passengers to leave their phones, iPads and books.
Speaking of the rear seats, the second row offers plenty of head and legroom for taller passengers, though the centre pew's buckle placement can make the ride a little uncomfortable for those with above average-sized behinds.
The third row is best reserved for kids with very limited room for limbs and heads along with little support from the flat seat base, making the Outlander more of a 5+2 seater as opposed to a proper seven-seater.
With the third row in place you also have fairly limited cargo space at 128L, expanding to 477L with the third row folded, and up to 1608L with both the second and third rows down.
Out on the road, the Outlander does the job, but isn't without its drawbacks.
The overly soft suspension tune makes the Outlander feel quite clumsy, and at times almost feels like a boat over rough seas – not great for motion sickness-prone kiddies in the back.
While the suspension tune is quite soft, it still crashes over larger bumps, and transmits loud thuds through the cabin.
Despite this, the big Mitsi is pretty quiet on the move, with little tyre and wind noise entering the cabin – though a little wind whistle comes off the large side mirrors.
Under the bonnet is a 2.4-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine, which develops 124kW of power at 6000rpm, and 220Nm at 4200rpm.
The petrol unit is equipped with a continuously-variable transmission (CVT), which is at times frustrating.
Normally, CVTs keep you in the power band under acceleration and then drop the revs once you let off the throttle, but the Outlander 'gears down' almost as soon as you reach 30-40km/h, which is just plain annoying when trying to keep up with faster traffic or going up hills, forcing you to mash the pedal against the floor to get anywhere quickly.
With four passengers on board, the four-pot petrol has to work pretty hard, and can get a little vocal at higher revs. This would just be exacerbated with all seven seats occupied and some luggage.
Despite the frustrating transmission and lack of oomph, the Outlander is pretty frugal considering it's one of the largest vehicles in its class. With predominantly city driving, the trip computer was indicating between 10-12L/100km, dropping to 8-9L/100km on the highway. Mitsubishi's claim is 7.2L/100km on the combined cycle.
However, for an SUV of this size and especially with its seven-seat capacity, the Outlander would be far better serviced by the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel, which develops 110kW of power and a far more substantial 350Nm of torque from just 1500 to 2750 rpm, mated to a conventional six-speed automatic – you'll need to stretch another $3500 though. You'd use less fuel with the oiler as well, which claims 6.2L/100km.
In terms of handling, the Outlander is far from a sports car. The light steering makes it easy to negotiate tight car parks and driveways but lacks the feel and feedback of something like a CX-5 or Tiguan. Speaking of car parks, the 360-degree camera system is a welcome addition and makes parking a breeze.
Additionally, the aforementioned soft suspension tune means there is a decent amount of body roll in the corners, though, to be fair, this was never meant to be a country backroad weapon.
Meanwhile, the part-time all-wheel drive system ensures there is enough grip when you need it, driving the front wheels in normal conditions and engaging the rear axle when needed. It's not going to be climbing every mountain or fjording every stream, but for the day-to-day commute it's fine and will tackle unsealed roads and grass fields with ease.
The brakes feel solid and progressive even with a full load on board – much better than the Nissan X-Trail we tested a couple of months ago.
Like all Mitsubishi models, the Outlander comes with the company's five-year, 100,000km warranty, and is covered by four-year/60,000km capped-price servicing schedule.
Maintenance is required every 15,000km or 12 months, with each of the first four visits costing $200, $280, $280 and $470 respectively.
Over the first three years of ownership, the Outlander will set you back just $760 in maintenance costs, while the life of its capped-price servicing scheme totals $1230.
The Outlander isn't a bad car by any means, but considering the high standards being set by rivals from Kia, Mazda and Volkswagen, the Mitsubishi is starting to feel a little behind the times.
Like the Nissan X-Trail, the Mitsubishi Outlander is outclassed in most areas by just about all of its rivals. However, the option of seven seats offered by these two models give them a unique selling point in the medium SUV class.
Despite this, in Exceed trim, the Outlander is even nudging far better offerings from the class above, which are more powerful, more spacious and feature higher-quality cabins.
Grab a base-spec seven-seater though, and you can have the same car – with a more basic interior and minus some active safety systems – for over $10,000 less.
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