The rough backroads of the Eyre Peninsula - and associated terrain just off them - was the scene of our introduction to the new V6-powered Outlander, but what about the four-cylinder model. We're in the entry-level machine, the five-speed manual LS, which dwells in the bottom half of the $30,000 compact SUV range.
There's no missing this new vehicle from the front, as it bears the aggressive snout of the Lancer. It works better on the little passenger car from some angles, as the Outlander looks nose heavy, but the overall look is an acquired taste for some.
The rear end hasn't changed to the same extent and the interior isn't markedly different to look at. Mitsubishi folk say there are new materials and new instruments, but there's not been a wholesale change within.
The cabin trim is better, although the cloth trim is a different material to the norm - it's not an unpleasant place to be, with reasonable amount of storage.
Even the base-model's sound system is of reasonable quality, but while most manufacturers have gone for the stereo 3.5mm audio jack input or a USB-input, Mitsubishi and a couple of others are using the two-cable set-up, giving the accessories department an easy sale.
The base-model retains the previous generation's 125kW/226Nm 2.4-litre engine - with variable valve timing and lift system - and has a five-speed manual transmission - the only Outlander on offer with a clutch pedal.
The engine is not stunning but then its not in need of a leash and a kennel either - there's some level of flexibility in its lower-end and stirred along with the serviceable five-speed manual (marred only by a dead clutch pedal) the LS can hustle along sealed roads with confidence.
Having sampled the CVT before I'd be sticking with the manual, as the engine needs to be kept humming in some conditions and can't afford much power loss through the drivetrain. It's quiet and the ride quality is pretty good, with decent cabin space and a solid feel to the body. But that's all with the drivetrain in 4WD auto mode, which brings the rear wheels into play - straight 2WD mode does make it feel heavier in the nose and less balanced.
Having spent time in (and owned) a number of opposition brands with a set 50/50 torque-split, the 2WD mode is best left to the shopping trolley mode, in dry weather - wet roads or country running I'd leave it in auto 4WD.
Mitsubishi says its compact SUV is being bought - and updated - by buyers looking for above-average off-road ability, with research showing as much as 30 per cent of use on unsealed roads.
The Outlander rates higher in the 4WD aspect for interest in the segment and although it doesn't have low range (something the Forester can be had with) it can lock the torque-split 50/50 front to rear. Even with the stability control off, the locked 4WD system gives a secure feeling on dirt, although less bitumen-bias on the tyres would be a good thing if you were looking to go further bush than a disused fire trail.
The LS sits at the competitive end of the most crowded SUV segment, with a standard features list that includes manual air-conditioning, remote central locking, power windows, remote-control locking, Hill Start Assist and new instrumentation. While the pre-production car we drove had only the two-jack MP3 input jacks, the October-onwards production vehicles will have USB inputs for MP3 players or USB sticks.
The options list includes side and passenger airbags and the ability to seat seven, although the latter is now only available in the LS and the V6 VR.
It's list price doesn't make it the cheapest in the segment, Subaru's Forester - the top-selling compact SUV for 2009 YTD - takes that prize; the Outlander squeaks into the top 5 for sales.
Competition has put some sharp pricing deals on the Outlander since its launch and that will put it higher on shopping lists and once the dollars are less of an issue there are few better compact SUVs on offer.
Mitsubishi Outlander LS
Price: from $33,240.
Engine: 2.4-litre MIVEC DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder.
Transmission: five-speed manual or optional CVT automatic, on-demand all-wheel drive.
Power: 125kW @ 6000rpm.
Torque: 226Nm @ 4100rpm.
Fuel consumption: 9.5 litres/100km, tank 60 litres.
Suspension: MacPherson strut coil spring with stabiliser bar (front); Multi-link coil spring with stabiliser bar (rear).
four wheel discs, front ventilated.
Dimensions: length 4665mm, width 1800mm, height 1720mm, wheelbase 2670mm, track fr/rr 1540mm, cargo volume 589/1691litres, weight 1545kg.
Wheels: 16in alloys.
In its class:
Subaru Forester, from $30,990.
Toyota RAV4, from $33,490.
Nissan X-Trail, from $32,990.
Hyundai Tucson, from $31,490.