Out to take on seg­ment ri­vals

ROAD TEST/ Mark Smyth looks at whether Mit­subishi has done enough with the lat­est Out­lander to see off its com­peti­tors

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

When launched its Out­lander in 2001 it en­tered a mar­ket with far less com­peti­tors than to­day. Many saw it as an SUV but in re­al­ity it was one of the first crossovers at a time when the term cross­over was rel­a­tively new.

It was un­der no il­lu­sion as to its main ri­vals: the clue was in the name be­cause the word Out­lander was made up from a com­bi­na­tion of Subaru Out­back and Land Rover Free­lander.

To­day the Out­lander is much big­ger than the orig­i­nal, fall­ing more into the SUV cat­e­gory than that first gen­er­a­tion. It has also carved a niche for it­self on the global stage be­cause it might sur­prise you to know that the plug-in hy­brid (PHEV) ver­sion is the sec­ond big­gest-sell­ing PHEV in the world be­hind the Chevro­let Volt. Cur­rent ex­change rates make it im­pos­si­ble for Mit­subishi to bring the PHEV model to SA though, with the com­pany say­ing it would end up cost­ing around a mil­lion bucks.

The only model to come to SA is the 2.4 GLS which, at R549,900, is def­i­nitely more af­ford­able. Re­cently it ben­e­fited from an up­grade in­clud­ing what the com­pany calls its Mit­subishi Dy­namic Shield de­sign. This means more chrome front and rear and a look that is mod­ern and helps the Out­lander to stand out in a world full of SUVs.

Inside, ev­ery­thing comes across as well thought through, with con­trols eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble for the driver and a good bal­ance of black plas­tics, piano black sur­faces and alu­minium de­tail­ing. It all fits the de­scrip­tion of re­fined and man­ages to match that of its ri­vals.

The Out­lander has seat­ing for seven cour­tesy of a third row of seats which fold flat to pro­vide a de­cent amount of boot space at 477l, ex­pand­able to 1,608l with all the rear seats stowed away.

In­fo­tain­ment is also catered for with a touch­screen sys­tem up front. It is rather ba­sic, but it ticks the es­sen­tial boxes. You also get a Rock­ford Fos­gate sound sys­tem with a 710W eight-chan­nel am­pli­fier and a sub­woofer in the boot. All of this can also be op­er­ated by straight­for­ward con­trols on the mul­ti­func­tion steer­ing wheel.

A bonus for those with chil­dren is the in­clu­sion of a DVD sys­tem and screen mounted in the roof for rear seat pas­sen­gers. In­sert a DVD, fold down the screen and rel­ish the peace and quiet as the kids watch a movie us­ing wire­less head­phones.

It is all rather pleas­ant, but then there is the drive. The 2.4 petrol mo­tor pushes out 123kW and 222Nm which is more than ad­e­quate for most peo­ple in town or for the oc­ca­sional week­end away or hol­i­day trip. How­ever, the en­gine is marred Mit­subishi by a se­ri­ously bad CVT (con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion) gear­box. Put foot and it just whines all the way to the red line to the point where you just have to turn that sound sys­tem up to try to drown out the noise.

There are pad­dles on the steer­ing wheel which you can use to limit the noise by us­ing the six vir­tual steps in the gear­box when in sport mode, but these are al­most point­less as they pro­vide lit­tle real re­la­tion to gen­uine gear changes.

The Out­lander is also af­flicted by an­other is­sue com­mon to CVT boxes and that is run­ning out of puff when you want to over­take. At low ur­ban crawl­ing speeds it is not too bad, but over­take at high­way speeds and it is not too en­thu­si­as­tic.

Then there is the steer­ing. It is pos­si­bly one of the worst as­sisted sys­tems in the busi­ness. The wheel fails to re­turn to the cen­tre point and there is ba­si­cally no feed­back what­so­ever, with the feel­ing that you are any­thing but con­nected to the road.

The ride com­fort is good and it boasts all-wheel drive, with an easy to use con­trol but­ton in the cen­tre con­sole to switch be­tween modes that in­clude Eco, Auto and 4WD Lock.

The Out­lander has much go­ing for it. It looks good, has a great spec­i­fi­ca­tion and a com­pet­i­tive price tag, but it is let down by the com­bi­na­tion of a lack­lus­tre en­gine and a ter­ri­ble gear­box. But if it’s a Rock­ford Fos­gate sound sys­tem and a DVD player in the rear for the kids you are af­ter, then you will feel right at home.

The lat­est Mit­subishi Out­lander has stylish looks with the com­pany’s new Dy­namic Shield de­sign.

Thought has gone into the in­te­rior with su­perb er­gonomics and equip­ment, left. Chrome de­tail­ing on that elec­tron­i­cally open­ing tail­gate en­hance the mod­ern look, be­low.

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