– Manageable size
– Good passenger room
– Quiet in most cases
– Not a real off-roader
– Small luggage area
– Cornering body roll
The Mitsubishi Outlander is the latest entry in the Japanese car manufacturer’s ever expanding line-up of 4WD vehicles. This new one is part of the popular new breed of automobile known as the crossover-a cross between a proper car and a proper 4WD, but actually being good at neither. To illustrate this point, the Outlander is based on the Lancer compact car platform rather than a proven offroader platform like the Pajero. However, considering that most 4WD owners are allergic to off-road driving, the Outlander performs its expected task relatively better than a real 4WD. It adds to a sizeable market niche of vehicles that are bought only for their big exteriors and spacious interiors.
The Mitsubishi Outlander is not a very big vehicle. Sure, it is bigger than a regular Honda Civic, but much shorter in length than a Toyota Camry. It boasts better ground clearance than a Lancer, but nowhere near as much as a Pajero. Overall, it is a very manageable size for city streets. We felt right at home driving away from the dealership, after our colleague had to deal with a rather offensive Ralliart marketing manager, whose insulting criticisms about our driving abilities were offset by the much friendlier dealer marketing co-ordinator who eventually handed us the keys.
The Outlander comes in base GLX and better GLS trim levels. Changes for the 2005 model year include more conservative rear tail lights, replacement of rear drum brakes with discs, and a more powerful engine.
At first glance, it looks like a futuristic tall wagon with a space-age front grill and shiny tail-lights. Most people can step into the cabin without pulling a muscle. Step-in height is rather low, so there are no side steps. Once inside, we were greeted with a very basic yet attractive dashboard, comfortable seats and excellent all-round visibility. The dashboard material is a combination of soft-touch and patterned hard plastics. There are four cup holders, with the front two able to hold large mugs. The centre console houses the simple standard cassette player, and the optional CD changer below it. There are a bunch of knobs and buttons under the stereo, and above it is a cool analogue clock between two circular a/c vents. The stereo speakers are surprisingly good, covering everything from high frequencies to thumping bass. Additional features include a standard rear spoiler, keyless entry, 16-inch wheels and an acceptable air-conditioning unit.
There are two front bucket seats, with a rather flat rear bench seat for three that can split 60:40 and fold. All headrests in the GLS are a see-through design, improving visibility. The standard seats have cloth upholstery, while partially perforated leather is optional. There is ample headroom and legroom in the front and back, which is one reason why people buy these types of vehicles. However, the rear luggage space is rather small for a 4WD, with a sloping rear tailgate and most of the bottom floor taken up by the spare wheel.
The only engine offering is the updated 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine, which is reasonably smooth and extremely quiet at everything except under full throttle. The engine starts up so quietly that it initially fooled us into thinking that the car did not even fire up. Sound-deadening is very well done in this budget 4WD, but excessive wind noise intrudes at highway speeds over 120 kph, since nothing as tall as the Outlander can slip through the wind without causing a storm. It can reach those highway speeds with ease though, with adequate power and torque to move this relatively light vehicle without embarrassment. The engine pumps out 181 hp for 2005, compared to a poor 146 hp in the previous model that looked almost the same. And the 234 Nm of torque gives it a good jump off the line. Mitsubishi likes to tout their motor’s MIVEC feature just like Honda shows off its VTEC. The MIVEC system alters valve timing depending on engine speed. This system offers better torque at lower rpm and better power at higher rpm, while keeping fuel economy and emissions in check. While Mitsubishi’s system is good, it has already been overtaken by Honda’s more complex i-VTEC system when it comes to smooth power delivery.
The only gearbox is a simple four-speed automatic with a rather fun manual shift feature. The automatic handles gear shifts smoothly, but it is not smart enough to downshift while rolling to a stop, like many newer auto gearboxes by other manufacturers. However, the manual shift feature can be used just like a manual, by flicking the shifter up and down to upshift near redline and downshift for engine braking, with the computer taking care not to allow mis-shifts.
The on-road handling is a positive point of the Outlander, considering it is a tall vehicle. With a lower centre of gravity than a Pajero, fully independent suspension and a full-time 4WD system similar to the one found in the Lancer Evolution rally racer, it proves quite nimble when tackling multiple curves and surviving drastic lane change manoeuvres. It really feels like a car, given its Lancer chassis. And its ride quality over bumpy roads is as good as any midsize car.
But as tight as its cornering abilities are, it still suffers from excessive body roll when turning fast. Additionally, it suffers from heavy steering feel while parking, which may annoy female buyers. Also, it may have decent ground clearance, but it is not even close to being a proper off-roader, other than ably ruining beaches and jumping footpaths with ease. Its front and rear overhangs are long, its chassis components are unprotected, and its maximum approach angle for an incline is rather limited. Its exhaust system would get ripped off at the peak of a dune, and its front bumper would crack at the bottom of a steep drop. In short, it is no better off-road than the Toyota RAV-4, the Honda CR-V or even the pointless BMW X5.
The little Mitsubishi 4WD has a full suite of active and passive safety features. The four-wheel disc brakes, which are new for 2005, work well enough with the aid of ABS and EBD, which distributes varying braking forces to each wheel under emergency anti-lock braking to keep the vehicle under control. In the event of a crash, there are front-rear crumple zones, side beams, dual front airbags and a stiff rattle-free structure protecting the occupants. It scored the highest safety ratings in crash tests by various institutions.
The Mitsubishi Outlander is a very capable entry in the soft-roader market, with unique looks, faultless initial quality, convenient size and easy on the fuel bills. Given its price, it is a good replacement for a midsize sedan and a respectable alternative to the established little 4WDs from Toyota and Honda.