Bigger and bolder in every way since its facelift late in 2009, the Mitsubishi Outlander now looks like a Lancer on steroids. That grille has metamorphosed the SUV into a scary filter-feeder lookalike.
So it’s a letdown that the rest of the driving experience lags this bold visage. The front seats are narrow and uncomfortable, the steering adjusts for rake only, and I found it difficult to get properly settled despite all the electrical adjustment in every direction. There’s seat heating too, one notices, though as an afterthought fitment with switches either side of the handbrake tunnel. The steering wheel itself feels too thin, and while it is pleasantly adorned with remote adjustment for cruise control and audio, it offers scant feel or feedback from the wheels. Its light weighting makes for easy manoeuvring in town and about tight parking, though don’t expect the piloting experience to reward.
The interior is slightly tacky in a hard-to-define way, perhaps underlined by the swathes of hard, pimpled plastics, even if nothing really stands out as bad design. There is undeniably lots of kit in this one-model-only offering, with GLX trim extending from keyless go to electrical sunroof through very good Rockford Fosgate sound system to park distance control and adaptive headlamps that improve visibility on the corners.
High points would included the clever split tailgate which makes loading easy and is perfect for those sports events or braais on the trot that require a handy seat. Perfect for the family, too, is the massive bootspace and rear seats that fold at a button’s touch. The rear seats offer good legroom and are nicely swathed in leather, though the trim on the doors and dash are leather-like rather than the real thing. So packaging is hard to fault, given that there’s space for five in comfort, with all the mod cons one could hope for.
Utility in the bag, one also has the traction benefit of a four-wheel drive system which is easily activated using a rotary button on the centre console, easily selecting the default 2WD for front-drive only, or 4WD for all four as required, or 4WD LOCK for when you want the keep all the wheels driven. Easy enough. Pity it’s connected to another of those CVT boxes we can’t help but hate. The engine note is muted enough; the CVT simply invites more droning whether you hoof it or pull off gently. ‘It’s a hairdryer,’ remarked one tester all too aptly.
And the motor is no sparkling performer: it seems far too thirsty for its displacement. If one is going to put up with the CVT’s elastic quality, at least let the motor have more grunt, which at 226Nm, is something the Outlander fails to deliver despite the high-enough 125kW at a busy 6000rpm.
On sharper corners, as expected, there is some wallow, yet it handles with assurance for an SUV, staying hard to unsettle at sensible speeds, if for no other reason than the drivetrain combination doesn’t have much in the way of oomph. In a somewhat contradictory way, the ride quality is firm, though not always intrusively so.
In all, a package that is perfectly adequate but never enticing. The update corrects some of the lacklustre styling issues of the previous generation Outlander, while its interior kit list and objective abilities on the tar hit all the markers for a competent softroader.
Price-wise, it punches below the critical R400k mark, offering very high specification for R394 500. But it comes up smack against Subaru’s very cleverly restyled Outback 2.5i CVT which offers a better driving experience and similar kit levels for R358k, or Nissan’s X-Trail 2.5 LE 4×4 CVT, at R397 900, which majors on space and offers a better drive. Even the new Kia Sorento 3.5 V5 4×4 A/T (R399 995) would have to go into the mix, as well as the de-specced Mazda CX-7 2.5 Dynamic A/T, which at R333 700 looks like a bargain in this busy sector.
Outlander’s uninspired interior, irritating CVT and less than frugal 2.4-litre engine are all bettered by other brands out there. In fiercely contested terrain, it’s just another foot soldier.
Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 GLS
HOW MUCH ?
2360cc, 16v DOHC, MIVEC 4-cyl, 125kW @ 6000rpm, 226Nm @ 4100rpm
Six-step CVT, part-time all-wheel drive
0-100kph N/A , 190kph, 9.9ℓ/100km, 236g/km CO2
HOW HEAVY/MADE OF?
HOW BIG (LENGTH/WIDTH/HEIGHT)?
0-60kph 5.47sec, 0-100kph 10.92sec, 0-120kph 14.54sec
QUARTER MILE TIME/TERMINAL SPEED
60-100kph 6.51sec, 80-120kph 8.93sec
BRAKING 100-0KPH TIME/DISTANCE