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Road Test: Mitsubishi Outlander

Review by Feann Torr - 3/May/2007

Mitsubishi OutlanderThe rate that most compact AWDs are growing these days, the term 'compact' may become a completely outmoded descriptor in another decade. Toyota marketed its RAV4 in Australia as the 'big' alternative, and most compact AWDs that have evolved through redesigns have grown in stature.

But what about Mitsubishi's new AWD? It too has grown in stature, but it's currently one of the youngest compact AWDs on the market and hasn't been as broadly accepted as vehicles like the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester and Nissan X-Trail. But the new Outlander has a few tricks up its sleeve and may well upset the current status quo.

As well as a new look - arguably the most important single factor in selling lifestyle vehicles - the Mitsubishi Outlander is offered in both 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder guises, with a fresh new look that is at once both rugged and contemporary. 

We're testing the volume selling entry-level 4-cylinder model today, priced at $31,990, and if first impressions are anything to go by Mitsubishi could be onto something special with this new model.

Interestingly, there's only automatic gearbox options with all Outlander models: a traditional 6-speeder for the range-topping V6 models and a more modern CVT automatic for the 4-cylinder versions. The CVT or 'continuously variable transmission' has been in use for quite a few years now in the new car marketplace, and I'll be up front: I'm reckon they're great. You wouldn't connect one of these CVTs to a sports car as it would ruin the traditional sensation that a manual offers and isn't always suited to serious tarmac driving, but for use in small cars and AWDs like this one, the application works very very well.

With a bold new look, an advanced new gearbox, a functional new interior, and an expanded seven seat capacity, Mitsubishi has added the AWC (All Wheel Control) system to its new soft-roader as well. This last feature makes switching between the various 4WD modes very simple - you just turn a dial - and it must be said that the Outlander as a whole makes a strong first impression. Let's take a look:

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Engine 
Exterior 
Interior 

Make: Mitsubishi
Model: Outlander LS
Price: $31,990
Transmission: CVT
Engine: 2.4-litre, inline 4-cylinder, petrol
Seats: 5
Safety: 4 airbags (front driver/passenger airbags, front side airbags), ABS, EBD
Car SupplierMitsubishi Motors Australia

Drive: 4/5

Mitsubishi Outlander

Mitsubishi's Outlander looks good in the
driveway, yet is quite at home off the road

Mitsubishi Outlander

With a departure angle of 21° and a ramp-over angle
of 18.7
°, the Mitsubishi Outlander doesn't mind mud

Mitsubishi Outlander

With a claimed 210mm of ground clearance,
the Outlander gives you a good view of the
road ahead and is also useful on bush tracks

The first hour I spent in the new Outlander were quite eye-opening, and first impressions were very positive: it drives well, it looks good, and the interior is a huge improvement on the outgoing model with a more refined look and feel. And what's more the new Outlander from Mitsubishi is in fact better than a lot of the current champs of the compact AWD category.

The new model is being marketed under Mitsu's "4WD Revolution" marketing brand in Australia, and has similar styling cues to the Triton and other 4WDs in the range, giving the car a rugged and angular look that's at the same time rather modern and seems to suit the urban environment. 

It feels modern too, thanks in no small part to the CVT. 

The CVT (continuously variable transmission) is the first inkling that the Outlander is different to its rivals. It's the first compact AWD in Australia to be offered with a CVT, and if you're looking at the 4-cylinder model it is the only gearbox available. There is no manual model.

But don't freak out, because the gearbox is very good. As well as the seamless operation of a CVT, it also makes the most out of the engine and ensures that the 125kW of power from the 2.4-litre engine is efficiently put to the ground. 

Because it's a stepless gearbox, you never feel it 'shifting' between gears and using different ratios. It simply adjusts the rpm (revolutions per minute) of the engine to however much throttle you dial in, and the result is responsive and frugal, able to sip about 5.8L/100km on the highway at 100km/h. The engine ticks over at about 2000rpm at this road speed - which is not too shabby at all.

Instead of revving through gears, the CVT ensures that you only tax the engine as needed, so at slower speeds you won't be using litres of fuel or revving out first and second gears (strictly speaking, a CVT has unlimited gears). It's also good at highway speeds for overtaking, acting much quicker than a normal auto as it never has to 'hunt' for gears. The revs just rise and away she goes.

The 4WD system - or AWC (All Wheel Control) in Mitsu speak - is also quite useful, with three easy to activate modes that use an electronically controlled coupling to switch the car between 2WD and 4WD. 

You just turn the dial to initiate three different modes:

  • 2WD: the most fuel efficient mode and best for driving on sealed roads (will engage 4WD if it detects wheel spin).

  • 4WD Auto: best used when its raining or when driving on unsealed roads.

  • 4WD Lock: this transfers more torque to the rear wheels and is suited for slower speed off-road duties and basic 4WD tracks.

One of the best things about the system is you don't have to stop, or roll forward while it's neutral to initialise any of the modes. Just turn the dial and away you go. The system is clean and simple and it works.

Slotting the AWC into 4WD Auto model on an unsealed gravel road, I stomped the accelerator pedal from standstill and the Outlander didn't lose traction at all, which was impressive. Ground clearance isn't brilliant (claimed at 210mm) and we did snag a few times on uneven and bumpy terrain, but it can climb up some pretty steep hills when pushed thanks to a 21.9º approach angle. 

That said, average ABS and no downhill descent controls can make navigating steep off-road descents quite nerve wracking, and the CVT is more suited to sealed-road driving than boggy 4WD tracks and the like. It feels quite self-assured both on and off road, kind of like a mountain goat. And from the front end it almost look like a big metallic goat as well.

More suited to normal asphalt roads (hence the road-biased 215/70 R16 tyre tread patterns) the Outlander is nevertheless adept enough to hit up some bush trails, and it's perfect for loading up camping gear and canoes or just heading up dirt tracks when the you feel like it. 

As an example, we were cruising along some back country roads in North Eastern Victoria to see how the Outlander performed round corners, and we came across an semi-beaten trail leading away from the bitumen. We gingerly followed it and after a couple of kilometres of bouncing around on some very rocky and uneven roads, we came across an amazing plateau of sorts, affording a stunning view of region. Though it's no LandCruiser, it has a decent capacity to sling mud, and being able to head off road at a whim and reach places that most road cars can't is a cool aspect of this car.

As far as power and acceleration go, there's enough juice here to tow a trailer (rated up to 1500kg) and even with a full load the CVT teams up with the 2.4-litre engine to provide good boot around town and on the highway. In addition to decent power, the steering has a progressive feel: it's fairly light but not too loose that you have no feel of the road beneath you. 

The suspension is quite pliant and provides good levels of ride comfort, but not to the point where it's no good round corners. More impressive than its basic off-road abilities is the Outlanders' cornering prowess. The mid sized Mitsubishi feels poised and quite eager through corners, which is a big (and welcome) surprise. Methinks decades of developing the Lancer Evolution 4WD is finally having an effect on other models.

It drives more like a car than most other compact AWDs, and the more I took the Outlander through corners, the more I enjoyed driving it. This bodes very well for Mitsubishi's new global platform, of which the Outlander is the first vehicle to be based on, and though the suspension isn't overly firm Mitsubishi has managed to keep the car's body roll to low-ish levels, so navigating roundabouts and tight corners doesn't feel as ponderous as in some compact AWDs. 

For something with such a tall body and an inherent high centre of gravity, the Outlander handles quite nicely. And on that point you get a good view over traffic as well, and when you factor in the flexible engine/gearbox and the huge side mirrors (wide and tall) that offer good rearward visibility, the Outlander is quite at home in urban situations as well. The little features add its ease of use too, like the classy steering wheel controls and one-touch indicator stalks -- you just hit them lightly and the indicators will automatically flash three times, a feature found on most European cars.

The brakes aren't brilliant, but do a reliable job for the entry-level model and ABS and EBD are reassuring additions, but ASC (active stability control) is only available on 6-cylinder models which is a bit of a shame.

Overall, I really like the way the Outlander handles. It feels like a car on the road, but has more ground clearance and a switchable AWD mode enabling it to head off road. In terms of standard features, and even gearbox and engine options, it's done a huge job in catching up to its competitors -- and it may have even eclipsed one or two of them along the way. The Nissan Murano was the first 4WD we tested with a CVT, and this is yet again a very good application of newer gearbox technology which is perfect for city use, but good on the open road as well. 

It's not as involving to drive as a traditional auto or manual, but in terms of utility the CVT can't be beaten, and together with the new design the Outlander makes a compelling case for itself.

Engine: 4/5

The first generation Outlander - or Airtrek as it was called in the Nihon - wasn't the greatest of vehicles ever built. It felt a bit slap-dash particularly in the drivetrain department, but this second generation Outlander is something else altogether.

The engine in this entry level model hasn't been dramatically changed - 2.4-litre MIVEC 4-cylinder, 125kW - but the gearbox has, and it makes all the difference. It now gets a CVT which as a general rule represent the most fuel efficient gearbox technology available at the moment, and are quieter and smoother than the traditional automatic transmission fitted with a torque converter.

The 2.4-litre engine was used on the previous model Outlander and felt pretty soggy, but in this application it's far more lively. It's not far off the class leader in terms of power and torque outputs, but its implementation is without peer. Thanks to the CVT, the car becomes more fuel efficient and it accelerates smoothly at all road speeds.

In drive mode under a full throttle the engine will eventually reach 6800rpm and the tacho needle will sit there as long as you keep the accelerator pinned, but there's also a tiptronic mode for drivers who want to experience a more conventional driving style. In this mode the CVT mimics a 6-speed automatic gearbox and you change ratios via the J-gate gear shifter. It's easy to do, and the shifts feel quite smooth but in my opinion it's kind of pointless when you've got the far more responsive and fuel efficient native operating mode.

Engine: Mitsubishi 2.4-litre, Inline 4-cylinder (4B12)

The 2.4-litre (2359cc) L4 engine features an all-aluminium construction (cylinder head and engine block) and dual overhead camshafts (DOHC) with variable valve timing. These actuate a total of 16-valves (4-valves per cylinder). The 4-cylinder has a 10.5:1 compression ratio and will accept 91 RON unleaded petrol when filling the 60 litre fuel tank.

Fuel consumption: 9.5L/100km (combined cycle)

Max Power: 125kW @ 6000rpm
Max Torque: 226Nm @ 4100rpm
0-100km/h: 10.6 seconds

Mitsubishi Outlander

The Outlander compact AWD has an adventurous new look

Mitsubishi Outlander


Mitsubishi has crafted an impressive interior for
the Outlander with heaps of storage spaces, a tidy
centre console and an intuitive 4WD selector dial

The 4-cyldiner engine has a decent amount of punch and rarely feels overstretched. But at the same token it's no hot rod. The 2.4-litre mill permits the Outlander to scramble from 0-100km/h in 10.6 seconds and the all-alloy engine does a reliable job and has a decent amount of torque down low. Some 170 Newtons are on tap from 1000rpm, up to its peak of 226Nm @ 4100rpm. 

If you want more power and torque and don't mind paying a premium there is also a couple of V6 models, beginning at just under $38k, and they deliver a more assertive 162 kilowatts of power and 276Nm from the larger 6-cylinder engine.

Thanks to the CVT, the entry-level Outlander's 2.4-litre engine's average fuel consumption during our test (comprised of both city, country, and off-road driving) was 8.8L/100km, and Mitsubishi claims a combined cycle average of 9.5L/100km. 

Fuel consumption dropped below 6L/100km on the freeway which was just awesome and it proves just how flexible these continuously variable transmissions can be. The CVT didn't feel quite as refined as some units, such as the versions used in the Nissan Maxima and Lexus GS450h, but it did its job without protest and made getting from A to B more seamless than your traditional automatic.

Exterior: 3.5/5

Larger than its predecessor in almost every respect - it's longer, wider and taller - the 2007 Outlander makes a strong visual impression. The exterior design is more more angles than curves and suits the car's driving abilities nicely. Of all the compact 4WDs out there I reckon it comes closest to the Nissan X-Trail, not for any similarities betweent the designs so much as the overall 'rugged' look.

Viewed from the front the Outlander has a similar 'face' to that of the new Triton, with an angular headlight design encompassing the circular main and high beam headlights that lend it a purposeful stare. The new style grille has rugged connotations as do the flared wheel arches, and I found it to be a fair improvement on its predecessor.

From the side the car has a stocky, bullish stance with a high belt line/slim window line, that curves down slightly towards the rear end that gives the car a somewhat sporty appeal. I wouldn't go so far to call it 'coupe-ish' but it does add a dynamic element to the car's profile. 

The roof racks are a practical addition that have been styled to add more substance to the Outlander design, and technical-look LED brake lights follow the lines of the rear windscreen to integrate nicely into the rear.

Being the entry-level model the $31,990 Outlander LS misses out on alloy wheels and fog lights, but it's not a bad looking vehicle whether parked on a bush block or down at the shops. All told, the Outlander's design is different enough from its rivals to be fresh but still every inch a Mitsubishi. 

It blends a few rugged features with a modern, almost edgy overall design that is more urban than off-road. But it seems to work.

Interior: 4/5

Inside too, it's got a fresh feel; everything's back-lit in red giving the car sophisticated ambiance and there's quite a few features packed into this car which are good for an entry-level model. These standard features include cruise control, leather steering wheel with audio controls, air conditioning, electric windows and mirrors, a CD stereo and four airbags.

The interior is both well laid out and peppered with storage solutions, and though there's no sunglasses holder the addition of the double glove box that folds out both in two sections (above and below the dash pad) is a clever idea which opens up more storage space. 

There's also a closable storage area on the top of the dashboard (good for documents, a couple of CDs, and a garage door remote) and it's some of the little touches like this that indicate Mitsubishi has put a fair amount of thought into designing the cabin.

The cloth trim that covers the front and rear seats is alright, with fairly soft cushioning and decent side bolstering for the front seats, which make for a comfortable driving experience. There's a good amount of room for rear seat passengers, and a generously sized boot with 1119 litres of cargo space, and this opens up to a whopping 2056 litres when the easy-to-stow rear seats are folded down. 

The split rear tailgate opens up in two sections as well, but I couldn't really figure out the benefit of this seeing as the bottom half was so slim (meaning the top half is almost the same as a normal boot door). Keeping the miniature dog from leaping out while driving, perhaps?

Like a lot of popular SUVs these days, the Outlander can also be ordered as a 7-seat vehicle, with two very basic seats (with seatbelts) squeezed in behind the middle row. It'll cost you more for the 7-seat model, but it's good to see there's an option to turn the vehicle into a frugal people mover if you want it that way. 

From the drivers seat the Outlander is a roomy vehicle, with an attractive instrument cluster. What Mitsubishi has done with the cockpit is pleasing, and though the dash plastics are not best in class, everything looks rather modern and functional. When you hit the air conditioning button, for instance, you'll get an audible beep and small touches like this make the car feel far more prestigious than its rivals. 

The instrument cluster is back lit in red (which seems to be the colour du jour at the moment) and comprises twin sports dials between which sits a crimson dot matrix LCD display. This little screen is very useful, and has a range of pictographic features, including alerts if any doors are ajar, instant and average fuel usage, distance to empty and so on. 

The CD player and FM/AM stereo is elegantly integrated into the centre console which has a touch of the BMW 'less is more' approach. It's far less busy than some centre consoles, and the trio of HVAC dials underneath the stereo have tactile rubber strips around their diametres which adds to their quality feel. The bog standard stereo system is a 6-speaker unit with two tweeters at the front, while the more expensive models get a 9-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system, and a rear seat entertainment system can also be optioned.

The audio quality of the standard stereo is not bad, but not great either. The bass is shallow and the aerial average - we found radio reception to be scratchy on more than one occasion, though the MP3 compatible CD player mitigates this somewhat.

Safety systems include ABS, EBD, and driver and front passenger side and head airbags, though 4-cylinder models miss out on ASC or active stability control.

Overall: 4.25/5

What is it that sells a compact 4WD? Is it the style and the look of the car? According to Nissan it most certainly is the style - it's second generation X-Trail has been intentionally styled to look like its predecessor due to research that suggested people appreciated the 'rugged' look.

Others will tell you it's standard features that sell a compact 4WD. The Toyota RAV4 claims it's about interior space and the size of the vehicle. So what about Mitsubishi's compact 4WD? It cleverly combines a little of each, and result is an all-rounder that can fulfil a number of roles.

Mitsubishi not only started on the compact 4WD scene late with the Outlander and had to play catchup, but it was up against entrenched competition that wouldn't easily give up their market shares. But with the second generation Outlander, Mitsubishi has put a lot of though into the vehicle and it shows. It's good to drive, has a great interior, and is a dynamic looking vehicle with many of the latest features. So while it's not a class leader in any one discipline (except for fuel usage thanks to the CVT) it does everything reasonably well.

Even Peugeot and Citroën have signed a deal that will see them using the Outlander as the base for their new SUVs, which is a vote of confidence for the Japanese marque.

Underpinned by a new global platform, sporting a new look, new gearbox, and a range of practical standard features, the ZG Outlander also benefits from Mitsubishi's strong 5 year/130,000 kilometre bumper-to-bumper warranty and 5 years Roadside Assistance, all of which evens the Outlander's odds against its rivals and gives it the potential to do very well.

It's not a class leader just yet, but neither is it at the the bottom of the pile any more.

Pros:

Cons:

  • Efficient Gearbox
  • Interior Design
  • Ride & Handling
  • No ASC (aka ESP)
  • Dash Plastics

Comments on the review? The Car? Your Car? Email us.

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