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

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

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.

DRIV­ING

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.

VER­DICT

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.

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