Mitsubishi has done a great job with the latest iteration of its big seller and for the first time there's a diesel. Carsguide spent last weekend with the top of the range Aspire 4WD diesel before the national media launch in a couple of weeks.
Dealers have received stock earlier than expected and are already selling the five-door wagon. With seven seats it's sure to make the mid-sized wagon popular among families.
There's a lot happening in this hotly contested sector with the new Honda CR-V just arriving, plus Mazda announcing a much-needed bigger petrol engine for its CX-5 early next year, as well as a new Subaru Forester and a Toyota RAV4, which we hear looks like a smaller version of the Lexus RX SUV.
Mitsubishi had a cracker last month with sales of the old Outlander doubling and giving it number 1 spot on the sales chart. But overall for 2012, in a category which sells more than 80,000 units a year, it is running fifth behind Nissan X-Trail, CX-5, RAV4, and Forester.
The latest Outlander is expected to give the model a big boost and to challenge the front runners, particularly with the third row of seats giving it an added advantage over its rivals as well as the bonus of a diesel.
There was plenty of gear in the Aspire test car including dual zone climate air, leather steering wheel cover, gearshift knob and seats, cruise control, power windows and mirrors, AM/FM radio, CD player, MP3 player, trip computer, Bluetooth, engine immobiliser, alarm, 18in alloy wheels, front fog lamps, rear parking sensors and camera, tinted glass, a cargo blind, keyless entry and start-stop, automatic wipers and headlights and a powered and heated driver's seat.
The test car was $49,582 drive away (non metallic paint). The range starts with the $28,990 2.0 litre petrol front drive ES, moves up to the $38,990 2.4LS 4WD, then $45,490 for the diesel Aspire and $50,990 for the top of the range Aspire Premium. These prices do not include on-road costs.
Mitsubishi says it has improved the quality and materials, increased cargo length and third row seat room. There are two 12V charge points, a USB socket and Bluetooth with music stream ing.
The diesel, which is a new 2.2-litre turbodiesel, has 110kW of power and 360Nm of torque with overall claimed fuel use of 5.8L/100km. I achieved 7.9L over a weekend drive which included gravel bush trails and city driving.
Mitsubishi is making big things about its eco drive system operated by a simple push button in the centre console behind the gear lever. 4WD Eco uses the front wheels only and switches to 4WD when it detects slippery conditions. 4WD Auto provides drive to all wheels while 4WD lock allows for better traction of all wheels in challenging conditions.
The Outlander looks good and appears bigger than the current model. The face looks very much like the Ford Territory, which is handsome, but the fog lights integrated into the bumper look like an after thought.
Does the horizontal grille signal a change in design by Mitsubishi which has favoured a vertical koala nose-type style in recent years? The rear is typically Mitsubishi with chrome trim and clear lenses.
The side view is fairly generic and fortunately does not feature a hefty C pillar like some of the opposition. Inside is more mature and there appears to be more room. The dashboard layout is clean and uncluttered with a simple array of buttons and switches.
The speedo and rev counter also are simple and easy to read and there are few buttons on the steering wheel making life less complicated for drivers who can be presented with too much information.
I found the front seats lacking in side support and I moved around a fair bit than I would have liked. The split tailgate of the previous model, which many buyers enjoyed, has gone, so too is the chilled area above the glovebox.
The rear loading lip is a bit higher than before and the new second-row seat no longer stows and folds elegantly and easily. It requires stowing the lower cushion first and then dropping the back rest. The reason is 30cm of extra cargo space and a flat floor. There's better quality materials than before with a dash of soft-touch plastic padding
There's plenty of oddment storage front and rear, including eight cup holders in seven-seaters. The steering wheel now has reach as well as height adjustment.
On the safety front there are seven airbags, including driver's knee bag, ABS brakes with EBD, stability and traction control, Hill Start Control and child restraint anchor points.
At idle it is quiet, even quieter once warmed up and on the run. It is one of the smoothest diesel engines I have driven. When left in eco mode the Outlander is a bit "doughy'' and lethargic, aiming for fuel efficiency at all costs and shifting into top gear as soon as possible, even around town.
It's smooth on the run with some wind noise when punching into a head wind and road noise on coarse bitumen surfaces. For an SUV it's a tidy handler, whizzing up the Kuranda Range and down the Rex Range with not as much body roll as I was expecting.
The torquey diesel easily managed the steeper sections and the brakes were superb. The steering is a highlight, light, precise and direct. In 4WD mode it was stable and secure, even at higher speeds through tight corners. It was a dream to drive and gives the driver lots of confidence.
The narrower steeper sections were a cinch. The Outlander soaked up the worst of the potholes.. There's less glass area but vision is good all around with the help of convex side mirrors.
It's quiet, reasonably economical, spritely and handles well, especially on gravel roads. The Outlander is an impressive effort, large enough to carry five adults and two youngsters in the third row, but small enough to easily park and manoeuvre.
Those who are happy with the current model will lap up the new one. The SUV looks good and is packed with most goodies, although sat-nav would be nice for nearly $50k on the road.
Mitsubishi Outlander Aspire diesel
Price: $49,582 drive away
Warranty: Five years/130,000km
Servicing: Capped prices for four years/60,000km
Engine: 2.2-litre turbodiesel 110kW/360Nm
Thirst: 5.8L/100km (on test 7.9L), 63 litres, 153g/km CO2