Put on a brave face
New look may not not be enough to save this mid-size offroader from an onslaught by more modern rivals
NO one wins by a nose in the car game but a facelift for Mitsubishi’s Outlander should give it a bigger stake in the midsized SUV market.
The makeover to the car that launched in 2012 extends from a much-improved front end to better quality interior fabrics and improved sound deadening, while retaining the build quality and reliability that have helped keep the vehicle on shopping lists despite a slew of recent arrivals.
Those new rivals have largely focused on on-road ability, giving the Outlander a point of difference as a car still capable of running in the rough
The drivetrains are essentially unchanged and that isn’t a bad thing. The 2.0-litre petrol is restricted to frontwheel drive applications but is on a par with its key rivals in outputs and undercuts most in terms of fuel use. It is paired with a five-speed manual gearbox in the entry level LS, priced from $28,490 (up from $27,740) but can also be had with a continuously variable transmission in LS spec for another $2000
The 2.4-litre petrol engine powers the all-wheel drive variants and is exclusively mated to a CVT.
Prices start at $33,490 for the LS, step up to $36,490 for the seven-seat XLS and wind out at $43,490 for the Exceed.
The 2.2-litre turbodiesel uses a six-speed auto to transmit power to all wheels and is a match for all but the Mazda CX5’s diesel in performance. Prices begin at $39,490
To put that into context, the Mazda kicks off at $27,190 and goes to $50,610 and the Nissan X-Trail — the only other midsized SUV to have seven seats — costs $27,990-$46,580.
All new Outlanders ride on 18-inch alloys, pick up LED daytime running lights and tail lamps and boast silver roof rails.
The Outlander is undeniably a more attractive vehicle with its new “design shield” front styling and up updated posterior. A chrome strip flowing from the leading edge of the headlamps to the fog lights brings some cohesion to the front, backed by the revised twin-strip grille.
The most obvious change inside is a new steering wheel.
The higher quality interior materials are only skin deep on the door armrests, which feel like they have the flimsiest sliver of foam under the cloth/leatherette trim.
The criticisms of the existing Outlander have been ameliorated rather than addressed in the midlife makeover.
The “play” in the steering wheel (how much it moves before the wheels start to turn) isn’t an issue in a car that will spend a lot of its time doing school runs and therefore requires regular over-the-shoulder glances to keep the kids in line. No one wants to veer into the adjacent lane while doing that, so it makes perfect sense. The steering is still too light for mine but it now loads up more consistently as the wheel is turned.
Likewise the noise from the wheels on coarse road surfaces has been eased, not eliminated. The overall quietness of the Outlander’s more insulated cabin probably makes this a subjective observation and we’ll reserve final judgment until we’ve had the car for a weeklong test drive.
The suspension is better than before but still not up with the best. It continues to be abrupt on small sharp-edged bumps, like Sydney’s concrete edges, yet the car wallows over larger obstacles — speed humps — and feels front heavy, though it is an improvement over its predecessor.
That trade-off may well be down to the fact the Outlander is capable of going off-road, where softer springs help keep the car settled on rutted tracks.
The class-leading Mazda CX-5 makes no such concessions — Mazda obviously doesn’t expect the majority of its mid-sized SUVs to see much beyond a graded gravel track and has sprung it accordingly.
Still, for those who genuinely want a utility vehicle, as distinct from a softroader, the Outlander remains one of the few options. That versatility is enhanced by the optional 7-seat configuration (space limits the third-row to occasional use), giving parents the ability to pick up a small tribe of kids should the occasion demand.
Reinforced suspension mounts and the resultant reduction in body roll means those kids are also now less likely to develop carsickness.
The peoplemover potential, its ability to handle moderate off-road work and its hybrid variant means the Outlander aligns more closely with the Nissan X-Trail than the CX-5.
The revised Outlander is a genuine all-rounder and that should be worth something to those looking for more than purely jacked-up urban transport.