LATE LAST YEAR Mitsubishi launched its facelifted Outlander into the Australian market. It didn't pass without notice. Grafting the purposeful ‘jet fighter’ Lancer snout onto the benign-looking outgoing model was always going to provoke comment.
That wasn't all that changed. There were a couple of other more subtle visual enhancements as well as additional standard safety features, new drivetrains and a tweaked V6.
So, though the basic box remains, there is more than just the stylist's hand at work in the new Outlander.
But is it improved - or just a bit edgier looking? That's the basic question. More to the point, is the Outlander still a good choice for those in the market for a midsize/compact SUV?
Customers certainly seem to be warming to the new shape. The Outlander has been growing market share steadily ending 2009 with a 10.3 percent market share, behind the Rav and Forester (just), but ahead of the CX7 and Nissan X-Trail.
The new Outlander certainly boasts a sharper look than its predecessor.
The trapezoidal grille is edged with chrome trim on the VRX, and a pair of round foglamps sit either side of the grille on both VR and VRX models.
A new rear bumper and sideskirts update the rest of the exterior but, aside from the bonnet and front fenders, the old Outlander’s sheetmetal carries over.
The VRX wears additional chrome highlights on its beltline mouldings, doorhandles, sideskirts and foglight housings, while its dual exhaust pipes are capped with chrome tips.
A sunroof is standard on the VRX, and wheels are 18-inch seven spoke alloys (the base LS makes do with 16-inch alloys). Privacy glass is standard on the XLS, VR and VRX, with extra tinting applied to all glass rear of the B-pillar.
Inside the Outlander VRX is a well-appointed cabin with plenty of sprawling space for five people. In the base LS model, a seven seat option is also available.
All seats in the VRX are trimmed in black leather with perforated bolster panels. The driver’s seat is electrically adjustable; the front passenger’s seat requires manual adjustment for slide and backrest tilt.
Both front seats are heated in the VRX.
The 60/40 split second-row seats also feature slide and recline adjustment, and the low transmission tunnel means sitting in the centre seat isn’t all that uncomfortable.
The driving position is up high and affords the driver a good view of surrounding traffic, however the steering wheel only adjusts for tilt, not reach. Over-the-shoulder vision is hurt by a thick D-pillar.
The instrument cluster is bright and easily readable, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel (pinched from the Lancer Evolution and Lancer Ralliart) feels good to hold. Two magnesium paddles are mounted behind the steering wheel, allowing manual control of the gear ratios.
On the VRX, the upper dash is trimmed in leather-like vinyl – a nice change from the hard plastic that adorns lesser grades in the range. Ergonomically, all controls fall easily to hand. The rotary knobs for the ventilation system are simple and intuitive, and the rest of the dash is smooth and uncluttered. Mitsubishi’s MMCS display sits atop the centre stack in prime position, however with the sun directly overhead it can be annoyingly hard to read.
The load area measures in at 589 litres with the rear seats up and the cargo blind in place, while tumbling the rear seats forward (accomplished by pulling a switch mounted in the boot) unlocks a full 1691 litres of cargo space.
The tailgate features a handy split mechanism that allows the lower half to be dropped down, resting flush with the boot floor. This means heavy loads don’t have to be lifted quite so high before being slid into the back of the car.
Three shallow storage trays can be found beneath the boot floor, while a space saver tyre is mounted beneath the car.
Equipment & Features
The range-topping VRX comes equipped with loads of mod-cons as standard.
Auto-on wipers, dusk-sensing xenon headlights, active cornering lights, cruise control, Bluetooth telephone integration, climate control and a sunroof are standard features of the VRX. It’s also fitted with the Mitsubishi Multi Communication System, which incorporates a touch screen satellite navigation system with a 710 watt 9-speaker Rockford Fosgate premium stereo.
There is a colour multi-function display nestled between the speedometer and tachometer. On the S-AWC-equipped VRX, this shows the torque split status of the AWD system as well as the usual trip computer functions.
Rear seat passengers can enjoy the roof-mounted DVD player, and drivers will appreciate the convenience of keyless entry and ignition.
All Outlander models are fitted with stability control, traction control, ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist. Parking sensors are standard on the XLS, VR and VRX (optional on the LS), while a reversing camera is standard on the VRX and optional on the XLS.
Passive safety equipment for the Outlander range consists of three-point seatbelts all around (front seatbelts get pretensioners), dual front airbags, side airbags for the front seats and head-protecting curtain airbags for the first and second rows.
ISOFIX child-seat anchorages are fitted to each seat on the second row, with top-strap anchorages mounted on the rear of each second-row seat.
The VR and VRX are powered by an uprated version of the pre-facelift Outlander’s SOHC 3.0 litre V6, which puts out 169kW and 291Nm. Power is up only 7kW compared to the outgoing engine, but the torque curve has been widened to provide more low-down urge.
The V6 is mated exclusively to a six-speed automatic. It comes with a tiptronic gate and steering column-mounted paddles for gear manual selection.
The LS and XLS utilise the same 2.4 litre petrol inline four as the previous Outlander. Power output for the four-cylinder is unchanged at 125kW, and torque peaks at 226Nm. The LS can be had with a five-speed manual or CVT automatic, while the XLS is only available with the CVT.
Mitsubishi’s S-AWC all-wheel-drive system takes the V6’s power to all four wheels. Similar (but not the same as) the system used by the Lancer Evolution, the Outlander’s S-AWC can vary torque between the left and right wheels, as well as controlling the split between front and rear axles.
An S-AWC mode selector on the centre console allows the driver to switch between a tarmac program, a snow program (which allows more wheel slip) and a 4WD lock mode at the twist of a switch.
The 2010 Outlander’s braking and suspension hardware carries over from the previous model, meaning MacPherson Struts and ventilated discs at the front are coupled with a multi-link suspension and solid discs at the rear.
On tarmac (where most Outlanders will arguably spend the majority of their lives), the Outlander VRX feels sportier than many of its peers.
Much of that can be attributed to its engine, which delivers a generous amount of shove and is capable of moving the VRX’s 1727kg kerb mass at a good clip. It also sounds vaguely sporty, emitting a muted V6 growl from 3000rpm onwards.
The transmission deserves some credit for its operation. It’s hard to fault in terms of its shift programming, and it rarely fails to pick the right gear for uphill gradients and overtaking. Using the paddles, manual shifts are appreciably quick and crisp.
The suspension has a nice balance between a compliance and firmness, but cornering performance is blunted by the heavy V6 that sits ahead of the front axle.
With more weight sitting up front the VRX understeers when pushed, although the S-AWC system does a commendable job of pulling the nose back in when the throttle is applied.
On gravel the VRX feels safe and secure. With the S-AWC system directing the appropriate amount of torque to each wheel, it feels planted on loose and slippery surfaces. However despite the addition of an active front limited-slip differential, torque-steer is still very noticeable through the Outlander’s steering wheel.
On the highway, the Outlander rides comfortably. The tyres however tend to transmit a fair amount of road noise on coarse-chip asphalt.
Ride comfort is good, and the overall experience in day-to-day suburban driving is a positive one. Parking can sometimes be difficult due to the Outlander’s compromised rear visibility, but the VRX’s rear-view camera helps compensate for this.
Unfortunately we couldn’t get close to Mitsubishi’s claimed combined fuel economy figure of 10.4 l/100km during our time with the car.
The best we could manage was 12.0 l/100km on an even mix of highway and suburban driving, the big V6 and heavy chassis proving itself to be a thirsty combination.
With an asking price of $51,990 (before on-road costs), the Outlander VRX has the edge in value over medium-segment SUV contenders like the Kluger and Territory. The Toyota Kluger Grande AWD retails for almost $15,000 more and the Ford Territory Ghia AWD is $5500 more expensive than the Mitsubishi.
Both the Ford and the Toyota boast more power and torque, but unless you're looking for a heavy-duty tow-vehicle, the Outlander’s V6 has more than enough grunt for the average motorist.
Of course, for most family buyers, $51k-plus is a fair stretch. This will likely dent the VRX's appeal, notwithstanding the features it offers and the strength of the package. Relatively poor fuel economy and the VRX's lack of a seven-seat option also hurt its appeal.
However, while its closest competitors in the compact SUV segment - the Nissan X-Trail TL and Subaru Forester XT Premium - undercut the VRX on price, neither is as satisfying to drive nor as pleasant to be in. The Forester, in particular, is let down by its antiquated four-speed gearbox.
Volkswagen’s $42,990 Tiguan 147TSI is an enticing alternative to the VRX, boasting better on-road manners and a more-upmarket feel to its cockpit. Optioning one up to the same level as the VRX raises that sticker price markedly however.
In short, the 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander VRX offers solid performance, a sophisticated new drivetrain, improved equipment levels and decent accommodation for a family of five. For buyers looking for a stylish well-featured SUV with good on-road manners and more than capable in lighter off-tarmac situations, the Mitsubishi Outlander definitely warrants consideration.