The Courier-Mail

Bold face, mild makeover

Changes made to this popular softroader are mostly skin-deep

- CHRIS RILEY chris.riley@news.com.au

IT’S easy for an SUV to fade into the background these days, given the unrelentin­g barrage of shiny new metal.

But Mitsubishi’s midsized Outlander withstands the onslaught, attracting a solid core of supporters with its good road manners, practical seven-seat layout and generous five-year warranty.

Earlier this year it got a midlife makeover, with a bolder front end designed to turn heads in a crowd.

But is it enough to join the shining lights of the SUV crowd, which currently outsell it by more than two to one?

Prices for the new model range from $28,490 for the fiveseat, front-wheel drive LS manual with a 2.0-litre engine, through to $46,490 for the top spec Exceed with seven seats, all-wheel drive, an automatic and a diesel.

A hybrid tops the range at $52K-plus.

DESIGN

Mitsubishi calls its bold new front end the “Dynamic Shield”.

The angular design has hints of Lexus’s “spindle” grille but Mitsubishi claims the design elements have been part of the Pajero for generation­s.

The grille is chrome and silver plated and there’s a silver skid plate underneath. LED daytime running lamps complete the look.

Inside there’s a redesigned wheel, new trim accents and more comfortabl­e seating, with premium garnishes designed to give the cabin a more sophistica­ted feel.

Standard equipment includes 18-inch wheels, cloth trim, climate control aircon, Bluetooth phone and audio, front and rear fog lights, a rear-view camera, tyre pressure monitoring and rear parking sensors.

ABOUT TOWN

Neither too big nor too small, the Outlander can squeeze in seven seats — which is a prime reason for buying these things.

You get the desirable high driving position without any of the hassle that comes with driving and parking an enormous SUV in the city, thanks in part to the standard camera and sensors. It’s heartening to see that even the cheapest model is fitted with gear that is more often the preserve of dearer models. The wagon gets five stars for safety with a full suite of driver assistance, including seven airbags — one of them a driver’s knee bag.

ON THE ROAD

On first encounter the car feels tight and quiet. The front pews are comfortabl­e and the steering wheel adjusts for reach as well as height.

The rear seats are thin and decidedly less accommodat­ing and we wouldn’t want to spend much time back there. Access to the third row is difficult, so it’s strictly for small children.

Mitsubishi has improved the ride through increased rigidity, revised suspension and recalibrat­ed power steering.

Cabin noise also has been reduced with a modified air intake, noise-isolating windscreen, improved weather stripping, quieter tyres, damper tuning and modified suspension mounts.

The trip computer remains a source of bewilderme­nt and pairing a mobile phone is still far too hard.

PERFORMANC­E

Where to start?

The base LS with 2.0-litre petrol engine is front-drive with a five-speed manual.

Five-speeders lost their attraction about the same time as VCRs and the manual mars an otherwise acceptable driving experience.

A taller top gear is needed because the car has trouble settling into its stride on the highway, with too many revs on the dial.

The mid-spec XLS can be had with a larger, more powerful 2.4-litre petrol engine, hooked up to a fuel-saving continuous­ly variable transmissi­on with seven preset ratios. It can be slow to respond — switching to manual mode and using the wheel-mounted paddle-shifters elicits sharper reactions.

Available with a 2.3-litre turbo diesel, the range-topping Exceed is teamed with a convention­al six-speed auto, again with paddles.

It’s the vehicle of choice if you cover long distances.

VERDICT

The 2.4-litre petrol version with CVT is the pick.

Smooth, responsive and surprising­ly economical, it comes in three grades — meaning there’s a variant to suit most budgets.

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