Mitsubishi is uncommonly good at improving products as they progress through the life cycle. The current-generation Outlander premiered back in 2012, but remains a big-seller. Indeed, 2019 was its record year with more than 17,000 sales locally.
Keen real-world pricing and a reputation for bulletproof reliability help, as do the constant updates trotted out in lieu of generational model changes. Actually, all three of these things are inextricably linked.
Most sales are of the cheaper ES and LS grades, but it's the range-topping Exceed variant we're revisiting here, because the lion's share of the latest round of upgrades feature on it, and it alone.
At the time of writing, Mitsubishi had the car advertised at $46,190 drive-away, a deal sweetened by an extended seven-year warranty and two years of free servicing. That puts in into the mix with the Nissan X-Trail Ti, Honda CR-V VTi-L, and a bewilderingly long list of others.
And while it's not the cut-price hero its less-well-equipped stablemates are, its specification sheet is long and the value equation remains solid.
Features exclusive to the Exceed grade over its $5000 cheaper LS stablemate include blind-spot monitoring, lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and Ultrasonic Misacceleration Mitigation which stops the car from lurching forwards from a parking bay if one accidentally has the car in Drive instead of Reverse gear.
It also has (exclusively) a 360-degree overhead camera, front parking sensors, USB-updatable TomTom satellite-navigation with a model-first digital speed readout, a 'premium' eight-speaker sound system, an electric sunroof and tailgate, LED headlights and fog lights, and leather trim on its seven seats, the front pair heated.
That's in addition to features in cheaper Outlanders such as seven airbags, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, active cruise control and speed limiter, dusk-sensing headlights, rain-sensing wipers, and 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital radio, climate control with two zones, a proximity key fob, and privacy glass.
Your Mitsubishi dealer would also be delighted to sell you a range of accessories including a cargo-bay crash barrier, a hard cargo-area liner, a Thule rooftop luggage pod or bike/ski carrier on the roof racks, or a nudge bar with LEDs.
While it has all the right safety features, its ANCAP five-star crash test score dates to 2014 given the car's age profile. The most recent set of criteria require cyclist and pedestrian detection to achieve a five star rating, the Outlander features only the latter.
While the interior looks pretty basic and has some unrefined detailing - the plethora of plastic 'blanks' where buttons ought to be, lack of conventional digital speedo, the cheap-feeling climate control knobs, the shiny black plastic on the steering wheel - it's all ergonomically sound and typically well screwed-together.
Soft-touch contact points and some sort of faux carbon-fibre plastic and 'silver pinstripe' door trims add a little pizzazz, but you couldn't call it particularly stylish or modern, even though the new infotainment system's screen works really well. The navigation is nicely detailed and the phone mirroring system was glitch-free.
While the sunroof renders the sunglasses bin deleted, you still get big door bins, four cupholders, six bottle-holders, and a decent console.
The second seating row is more practical than the big-selling Mazda CX-5's, for context, and has ample legroom, shoulder-room, and knee-room for two adults or three kids/teenagers. I'm 194cm (6ft 4) and fit comfortably behind my own driving position, while the extended outer-seat bases give you decent support.
The middle seating row can slide on rails, and the backs recline and fold 60:40.
Amenities include a flip-down centre armrest, behind-seat map pockets, dedicated air vents, and two USB points. There are also two ISOFIX anchors and three top-tether points. It would be nice if the small sunroof was a panoramic setup so kids could see up.
At 4.7 metres, the Outlander is longer than most competitors in the class, and while much of that is in the overhangs, the cabin is sufficiently large to offer a third seating row in a segment dominated by five-seaters.
Now, if you regularly carry six or seven occupants I can't recommend the Outlander, and would instead suggest something the next size up, like a Toyota Kluger. However, for occasional use such as taking a few of your kids' friends to footy training, they're a handy addition.
This row offers up to 908mm headroom, 715mm legroom, and 1306mm shoulder room, which for context means you get 10mm more headroom, 103mm less legroom, and 77mm more shoulder room, than the third row in a Honda CR-V.
It's also similar to what you get in a Hyundai Santa Fe (917mm/746mm/1344mm) which nominally competes in a different class.
With the third row seats folded nice and flat into the loading floor, you get a 1.05m long loading area with litre-age to the top of the second-row seat back of 477L, expanding to a 1.8m long loading area with 1608L storage when the second row seats are folded flat too.
Unfortunately, the Exceed misses out on a full-size spare wheel unlike lower grades, making do with a space-saver unit instead. Even Mitsubishi Australia doesn't have a clear reason for why this might be, it's simply the way they come from the Japan factory.
While you can get a diesel engine or, more interestingly, a highly efficient electrified plug-in-hybrid (PHEV) if you want to spend more money, most buyers opt for the engine used in our test car: a 2.4-litre naturally aspirated petrol.
Its figures are nothing to write home about. It makes 124kW at 6000rpm and 220Nm at 4200rpm, which are lower power and torque outputs than many competitors. Claimed combined-cycle fuel consumption is 7.2L/100km, using cheap 91 RON petrol, and the tank is 60 litres. I averaged mid-8s.
Performance is adequate if you're just driving the kids around, though from among its top-selling competitor set only the X-Trail has a similarly low power-to-weight ratio (80.8kW per tonne).
Because it is a naturally aspirated engine, you only unlock its highest outputs at high engine speeds, which can knock the edge off refinement. To it credit though, the CVT automatic is fairly refined and unobtrusive as far as these transmissions go, making a passable approximation of stepped ratios (it has six) and keeping the engine speeds low at constant throttle.
Provided you have a proper towbar fitted, the car is rated to tow up to 1600kg (braked).
Dynamically speaking, the Outlander offers neither the cosseting comfort of the new Toyota RAV4, handling of the Mazda CX-5, or refinement of the Volkswagen Tiguan, but it neatly sits bang-on 'average' in these areas.
It does have a propensity to be a little harsh over sharp hits like bridge joins or larger potholes, transmitting some of this into the cabin, but there's little egregious about its ride. The electric motor-assisted steering is numb, but not ponderous, and against lateral cornering loads it's never wallow-y.
The MY20 has no new suspension features, though the MY2019 update quickened the steering, and fitted bigger front struts and rear shocks, plus extra body adhesive to improve rigidity over bumps.
One new addition is the Super All Wheel Control (S-AWC) system added to the Exceed, trickled down in part from the PHEV. Like most systems (Forester aside) in this class, it's an electronically actuated on-demand system that generally drives the front wheels only, until sensors detect slip and apportion some engine output to the rear tyres.
While parallels to Mitsubishi's glorious world rally days are a touch spurious, S-AWC is a clever system. It doesn't just send torque rearward haphazardly, but rather to each wheel depending on need and on load. It also works with a yaw control system that brakes each rear wheel when needed to improve handling and stability.
Thus, if you brake or accelerate too hard around a slippery turn, you shouldn't need to compensate with extra steering inputs, since the car's 'brain' has already done it for you. Snow and Gravel modes also modulate the throttle mapping to curb wheel spin, which could otherwise erroneously activate the stability control and stifle momentum.
In terms of your expected running costs, the Outlander's relatively simple and proven mechanicals make it cheap to service when newish. Intervals are annual or 15,000km and the first three visits are capped at $199 a pop.
To sum up the Outlander Exceed. It's the definition of a 'decent' vehicle, really. Aside from its trick S-AWC system and uncommon third seating row, there's little about it that truly stands above the crowd.
Whether you should look at one depends on the calibre of the deal you get, I'm thinking. It's unlikely to let you down, but equally unlikely to excite. If you can't get a quoted price that's lower than a RAV4 Cruiser or Forester 2.5i-S, think twice.