Nothing gets the weight off quicker than a car company chasing the best fuel economy. Until recently, cars were like a sweet-tooth in a lolly shop, greedy for more and failing to heed a burgeoning paunch.
Now, like a sadistic personal trainer, the threat of excessive fuel thirst means the weight has to come off. Mitsubishi carved more than 100kg off its new Outlander and though it lost a few centimetres in length, created an SUV that has a much larger cabin, more equipment and an improved safety package.
Even its base model gets it all. Losing weight hurts - in this case the pain is that the newest Outlander is subjectively less attractive than the old model - but it's possible.
Mitsubishi fires the front-wheel drive, manual gearbox Outlander with its 2-litre petrol engine right amongst its rivals. At $28,990 this base-model is affordable, spacious, economical and well equipped but you'll need to add $2250 for the auto.
Disappointingly, there's no seven-seat option and no diesel in this model. Resale demand is strong with a 51 per cent retained value after three years and the capped-price service is a reasonable $340 a year for the first four years.
Standard gear includes rear park sensors, Bluetooth with hands-free phone service, six-speaker audio, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, climate control air-conditioning and a full-size spare wheel.
At 4655mm long this is the biggest front-drive SUV in its class, 100mm longer than the next longest, the Honda CR-V. But rear park sensors and its square silhouette don't make it a hard car to park while the size rewards with a spacious cabin.
But it's not the most stylish SUV on the block with a conservative plumpness - a return to its 2003 roots - at odds with the sharp lines of the RAV4, for example. The Outlander's dash is, however, refreshing. Soft materials, easy-to-read and use switchgear, a good driving position and the sense of space make it a comfortable car.
The single lift-up hatch isn't as handy as the old model's horizontally split tailgate. The spare wheel is carried in a under-chassis cradle so its access doesn't disturb any luggage.
The 2-litre engine is a single-overhead cam design - rivals are all twin-cam - and has been around for a while, though from last year adds an improved valve train. At 110kW/190Nm it's on par with rivals and claims 7L/100km, beaten only by the miserly Mazda CX-5.
Sparing fuel is helped by the Outlander's “Eco Drive” mode that prompts the driver to watch a dashboard score chart. The five-speed manual is one cog less than rivals - though drivers may appreciate the omission - and electric steering is now standard.
The Outlander is externally smaller and significantly lighter - up to 100kg - than the old model yet the cargo bed is 340mm longer at 1690mm.
It gets a five-star rating, has seven airbags and all the normal electronic aids. It also has hill-start assist - appreciated in the manual version - and reverse sensors. The Outlander has a full-size spare wheel.
From the expansive cabin, you wouldn't guess this is the entry-level Outlander. The dash looks and feels quality and leather trim to the steering wheel and gear knob add class. The petrol engine is quiet and its delivery smooth and tractable from low revs.
It's no powerhouse but even with three adults aboard it gets along without fuss. Ride comfort is one of the best in its class and road noise is relatively low, more than likely because of the less-expensive high-profile tyres.
Fuel-saving electric-assist steering isn't as precise as some others, especially through quick corners, but you get used to it. Better is its touring ability. The ride quality and the leisurely engine make it lope along with ease at 100km/h.
Fuel use on test was 8.2L/100km, not bad for predominantly city and suburban driving. However, the auto is more fuel efficient (6.6L/100km compared with manual Outlander's official 7.0L/100km) and the idea choice for suburbia.
Despite its price, it's not low rent and offers lots of room for the bucks. Want more space? CR-V has even more cabin room.
Mitsubishi Outlander ES
Price: from $28,990
Warranty: 5 years/130,000km, roadside assist
Service Interval: 12mths/15,000km
Safety: 7 airbags, ABS, ESC, EBD, TC
Crash rating: 5-star
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl petrol, 110kW/190Nm
Transmission: 5-spd manual; front drive
Thirst: 7.0L/100km; 91RON; 161g/km CO2
Dimensions: 4.7m (L), 1.8m (W), 1.7m (H)
Spare: Full-size steel