Mitsubishi has taken a big step forward with its second attempt at a sporty, compact SUV. The company has got it pretty much spot on in terms of driving dynamics, space and convenience, but high fuel consumption is worrying
About the only thing the new Outlander has in common with its predecessor (apart from the name, of course) is its looks. While they are completely dissimilar, at the time of their introduction both stood out in the genre thanks to futuristic, avant-garde styling.
The second-generation Outlander is still easily recognisable as a Mitsubishi thanks to the corporate, “shark’s tooth” grille. Flanking the rows of angled “teeth” are two slender headlamp clusters, the angular lines of the polycarbonate covers matching the sheet metal body pressings.
The bumper juts well forward, the expanse of plastic broken by circular fog lamps and the faux skidplate.
Boldly defined wheelarches and tinted side windows give it a low and menacing look and the Outlander “hunkers” more than other lightweight 4x4s. Seriously low-profile 18- inch rubber helps. The rear glass is also heavily tinted while tail light clusters are big on bling – but it is all harmonious, thanks to the ultra-modern design.
Features and equipment
★ ★ ★ ★
Mitsubishi continues its trend of introducing new ranges with a very limited selection of models and this petrol-engined, two-pedal, five-seat version is the only Outlander on offer.
Official nomenclature is 2.4 GLS INVECS, which translates into a high specification level and an all-aluminium transverse four with all the trimmings producing 125 kW and 226 Nm. INVECS is a reference to the constantly variable transmission and stands for Intelligent and Innovative Vehicle Electronic Control System.
Other noteworthy design features include a weight-saving aluminium roof panel – which calls on technology pioneered in the racy Lancer Evo – and a 4×4 system that gives the option of running in 2WD (front), or on-demand 4WD, or 4WD with a locked centre differential.
The spec for this market is somewhat eclectic (heated seats and a high-powered sound system aren’t run of the mill items, yet only the driver’s window has a one-touch down function), but it still represents good
value at R100 shy of R300 000.
★ ★ ★ ★
The 2007 Outlander has grown and its 4,64m overall length is longer than most (a RAV4 measures just 4,49m) but its 1,68m roofline confirms that it is the lowest in class – Forester excluded. Its 1,8m body width is in line with norms while the 212mm of ground clearance (Mitsubishi claim 210) is class leading – but more of that later.
The first impression of the Outlander’s cabin is how uncluttered it is. The instruments comprise speedometer and tachometer, with a small LED-style fuel gauge as part of the info display between them, while a temperature gauge is found by scrolling through the menu of the driving computer.
An attractive steering wheel houses buttons for the CD/tuner and cruise control, master controls for the former neatly integrated in the hang-down centre section. And it is quite some sound system, pumping out 650 Watt if necessary. Supplied by Rockford Fosgate, it comprises nine speakers linked to an MP3-compatible six-CD shuttle. One speaker is a 10-inch subwoofer, built into the left rear corner of the luggage compartment.
The automatic air-conditioning is very user-friendly apart from being mounted too low for some tastes: three chunky dials incorporate all functions and it rapidly spreads warm (or cool) air throughout the cabin.
A lack of space was a criticism of the previous Outlander but there’s no such complaint here. The front compartment is very roomy, but so too is the rear, and there’s the option of shifting the rear seat through a 120mm range, luggage commitments permitting.
The rear seat (both cushion and backrest) is split 60:40 so there’s plenty of versatility. With the backrests folded and tumbled there’s a 1,65m loading length and a total volume of 1691 litres – figures right up there with best.
The boot floor is especially low thanks to a spacesaver spare that is slung underneath, and Mitsubishi has capitalised on this by fitting a horizontally split rear hatch. The bottom section extends deep into the bumper for an exceptionally low sill and it also doubles as a tailgate capable of holding a 200kg load.
★ ★ ★
Constantly Variable Transmissions have improved to the point that they feel just like a conventional automatic, except that the progress up the speed scale is virtually seamless without any sensation of gear changes.
That’s the case with the Outlander, and foot-flat acceleration is accompanied by a smooth and linear rise in speed and a slower rise in revs – until the engine reaches its 6000 r/min power peak. There it stays – sounding like an outsize egg-beater – until the driver’s right foot is lifted. From a standing start the Outlander will reach 120km/h in a very respectable 12 seconds and go on to 191km/h in fifth gear.
Response to the throttle feels languid because there is no sensation of the ‘box gearing down as the pedal is floored, but the actual figures belie this and overtaking ability is highly satisfactory.
Move the lever into the sequential mode and the six ratios can be felt distinctly, with a shift action bordering on the abrupt – almost as if they wanted to make sure drivers could feel each gear being engaged – especially going up the ‘box.
The engine boasts variable valve timing, as well as two-stage valve lift on the inlet camshaft, both of which contribute to excellent torque characteristics.
Unfortunately, this didn’t translate into particularly good fuel consumption and the Outlander drank over 11 litres per 100km cruising at a true 120 km/h. We’d expect it to average about 12 to 13 in mixed driving – which means a real world tank range of only 500km.
Brakes are pleasing to use, with a firm and immediate action. They work well in hard-stopping situations and the driver gets to call on ABS, EBD and BAS when necessary.
Ride and handling
★ ★ ★ ★
The first few kilometres at the wheel of the Outlander confirm that there’s a strong tarmac bias and it exhibits the kind of behaviour normally associated with a conventional car. Responses are precise and direct and it reacts immediately to the steering – and so it should with rubber that measures 225/55/18.
The suspension is firm even for a recreational SUV and there is little body roll. On dry roads handling is largely neutral, with a gradual increase in the amount of understeer as the pace increases. The only time any harshness is apparent in the suspension is when speed bumps are tackled head on.
Firm suspension translates into stable cruising and the vehicle doesn’t move off its line by a millimetre on the freeway. It is also noteworthy for its lack of wind and road noise at speed.
The 4WD Lock function proved useful off road, apportioning torque 50:50 front to rear (as opposed to 4WD mode which only sends torque rearward when needed), with an electronic multiplate clutch at the heart of the distribution network.
But this is another soft-roader where traction on dirt is sacrificed in pursuit of good handling on tarmac. There is so little axle articulation that rough terrain soon has one of the wheels lifting off the ground and even with the other three working hard, forward progress soon comes to a halt unless larger undulations are attacked aggressively.
It is just as well that the Outlander has impressive ground clearance as the long overhangs compromise approach and departure angles. Entering or exiting steep obstacles needs to be done with care, as we discovered after redesigned the front undertray climbing out of a modest river bed….
★ ★ ★
Mitsubishi has taken a big step forward with its second attempt at a sporty, compact SUV. They’ve got it pretty much spot on in terms of driving dynamics, space and convenience.
Despite head-turning looks, it still manages to be a pretty unexciting driving experience. But our real reservation is the fuel consumption, which is definitely on the high side for this class of car.