MITSUBISHI originally entered the sub-compact off-roader market with the strangely titled iO, a daintier version of the brawny big brother Pajero. But as the popularity of this form of urban SUV increased, in September 2003 the company introduced the Outlander, a spin-off of the Japan-only Airtrek launched in 2001. Following-on immediately after its European début, the Outlander arrived in SA, but rather than hit the local market with a range of derivatives, just one model was put on offer, and that is still the case. However, recently there was a minor upgrade that included a more powerful engine to replace the original 104 kW/ 213 N.m unit, a welcome performance enhancement for this rather heavyweight (1 621 kg) Mitsubishi.

The crossover design is a mix of station wagon and compact SUV, and although from the A-pillar rearwards the shape is, by definition, typical of the breed, the front end does have a distinctive look. It is simple yet bold, with flutes along the bonnet tapering down into a solid “grille” centre section – adorned with Mitsubishi’s threediamond star emblem – from which single, broad horizontal bars extend towards the base of the (by today’s standards) conservatively styled projector headlamps. The grey bumper/air intake is also simply executed, and includes foglights. Certainly, there is no mistaking it head-on, which is the whole point…

Grey plastic cladding extends from the front bumper, over the wheelarches and along the (stylised) sills and into the lower rear bumper. Not being body colour, any chips and scratches are less noticeable. Aluminium rails run the length of the roof, the line of which extends into a (redesigned) tailgate spoiler with integral third brake light. Both bumpers incorporate central “skid plates”.

Inside, the Outlander pleases and dismays. For starters, the cabin is spacious: our tallest tester was easily able to “sit behind self” with room to spare. A reasonably generous glasshouse and the elevated seats combine to provide a good vista from all five seating positions, and there is a tilt/slide sunroof that can add to the airiness. The driver’s chair has cushion height and lumbar adjustment, and a wide, fold-up armrest is attached to the inner bolster. Each section of the 60:40 split rear seatback can be set in one of three positions, and there is a foldaway centre armrest with a pop-up dual drinkholder. Upholstery is all leather, with perforated inserts. Each seat has a three-point seatbelt and height-adjustable head restraint, and Isofix child-seat anchorages are provided.

The facia drew comments ranging from “OK” to “oh dear”. The layout follows the “keep it simple” theme, with a patterned aluminium strip stretching the full width (a hint of BMW Z4), the surface of the inlay broken only by the dual instrument binnacle, a centrally placed analogue clock, and a pair of air vents. What spoils the show is the effect of the black plastic, which adds an unnecessary sombre touch to the architecture. In addition, the add-in audio system – a Pioneer radio/CD front loader with six speakers – neither gels with the rest of the layout, nor is finger-friendly to operate. Sharing the facia’s short hangdown section with the Pioneer are three knobs and two buttons to control the air-con, a 12-volt power socket, and the gearshift, which, as a result, falls conveniently to hand and is a pleasure to use when in manual override mode – as will be explained later…

Not only is the gearshift in a different place from the norm, there is no conventional handbrake. Instead, there is a Mercedes-like pedal-operated park brake (depress to engage, depress to release): the system is not top of our test team’s preferred list. A large storage box, with a sliding lid and a pop-out tray/dual drinkholder, sits where the levers are usually to be found. Other oddments stowage places within the passenger compartment include narrow, deep bins in the front doors, map pockets behind the front seats, and a large, non-lockable facia cubby.

For the driver, the leather-bound four-spoke steering has rake adjustment, a third column stalk operates the cruise control, and there is a rheostat for the instrument backlighting. The foldaway exterior mirrors are electrically adjusted, and all four windows are power operated, with one-touch-down for the driver’s. A left-foot rest is provided, and the fuel flap release is mounted on the floor.

Having stated that the passenger area is spacious, the same cannot be said for the boot. With all seats in place, there is only 216 dm3 of luggage space under the removable soft vinyl cover that can be adjusted according to the seatback positioning. Folding the seatbacks forward – the cushion is fixed – creates an almost flat load floor and 1 232 dm3 of utility space, accessed through a large rear opening. The tailgate rises to 1 850 mm, and the loading height is 790 mm. There are bag hooks on both sidewalls, and four tie-down hooks on the floor. A small compartment is located in the right-hand sidewall, and there are two underfloor compartments, the right-hand one housing the tool kit. A full size spare tyre, mounted on a steel rim, is located under the boot board.

But it is under the bonnet where the latest Outlander’s biggest improvement is to be found. A revitalised 2,4-litre Mivec petrol engine is used, offering 120 kW at 5 750 r/min and 220 N.m of torque at 4 000. What “Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing and lift Electronic Control” boils down to is a lightweight mechanism that regulates engine operation in low- and high-speed mode by surreptitiously switching inlet cam profiles at 4 400 r/min. A typically-Mitsubishi balancer shaft and an electronic throttle valve add to the engine’s smooth operation.

The Invecs-II transmission has only four speeds, so progress in full auto mode always feels a bit sluggish. But knock the shifter left across the gate into manual override, and the Outlander becomes noticeably livelier. Given the freedom of being able to hang onto a chosen gear, driving is a lot more entertaining, and we found ourselves using this mode more often than not, including achieving our best performance figures. Zero to 100 km/h in 11,4 seconds, the standing kilometre in 33 seconds at the Imperial “ton”, and a top speed of 187 km/h will satisfy most owners. However, some may consider the fuel consumption – expect around 13,4 litres/100 km overall – as a bit on the high side.

The Outlander is a comfortable cruiser with an easy-going gait. Allindependent suspension – struts and coil springs all round – helps cushion the ride and generally keep things shipshape. Power-assisted steering is sensibly geared at 2,8 turns lock to lock, and the 11,4-metre turning circle is reasonable for this type of vehicle. But attempting any gung-ho cornering tactics will bring about typical 4wd plough-on understeer with accompanying body roll. Annoyingly, the 215/60 Yokohama Geolander tyres, wrapped around attractive 16-inch five-spoke alloys, squealed through corners even at slow to moderate speeds.

Rather like the rival Subaru Forester, the Outlander features some WRC technology in the running gear, the all-wheel drive system being adapted from the rallybred (and championship winning) Mitsubishi Lancer Evo saloon. Drive is delivered to all four wheels with the aid of a viscous-coupling centre differential, which accommodates the small differences in axle speeds experienced in cornering and (should the vehicle ever venture there) off-road manoeuvering. There is no low-range transfer ’box, so serious bundu-bashing is out of the question, but the permanent all-wheel drive does offer additional security in adverse weather conditions, and allows for some mildly adventurous off-roading.

Brakes are now all-disc, ventilated at front, and feature ABS with EBD. Other safety and security related items include remote central locking, dual front airbags, and an immobiliser.

Test summary

If Mitsubishi is serious about making inroads into the local “soft roader” market, then it is asking a lot of a solitary model to carry the flag. That the Outlander 2,4 GLS manages to do so with some style and ability suggests that it is a sound base for an expanded line-up. Although lacking sophistication in some areas, all of the test team were impressed with the vehicle’s easy-driving and friendly nature. Competitively priced with a high level of features, the Outlander is a surprisingly good, but lonely, package.

Original article from Car