Outlanders are basically rebodied Lancers. Both share the platform and some drivetrain components but side-by-side, you'd never pick it.
Neil Dowling road tests and reviews the Mitsubishi Outlander.
That strange person in bikinis on the beach is not an alien from the Planet Jaffa. It's just finished an application of cheap spray-on suntan.
That watch isn't an Omega, it's an Omegga and its impressive face hides a dodgy circuitboard glued to a piece of recycled cardboard. With a battery that will expire after a three-hour international flight.
And is that a real iPhone 4? The Chinese have a $175 look-alike that will even make a call, take a photo and store a contact list.
Up until about 18 months ago, if you wanted an SUV you would get a wagon with all-wheel drive. Now there's the fake SUV - a two-wheel drive look-alike that is less expensive to buy and own compared with an AWD model, yet still makes you out to be an adventure loving, leisure-seeking family man.
Australia's Compact SUV market is 80 per cent AWD and 20 per cent two-wheel drive. Yet only 18 months ago, 2WDs accounted for only 10 per cent. The 2WD market continues to accelerate. Almost every player is in the game.
The reason is that the fake looks, goes and has almost all the features of an AWD but is $2000-$5000 cheaper. The Mitsubishi Outlander for 2011 gets a 2WD model that costs from $28,990 as a manual which compares to its AWD sister at $33,240.
It is also slightly more economical on fuel and has the potential to be cheaper to insure, repair and service given it has 65kg less hardware.
The automatic version of the five-seater LS model tested is $31,490 plus on-road costs and is an attractive buy given its excellent safety, welcome versatility, spacious cabin, pleasant road manners and solid equipment list. It costs about the same as the Toyota RAV4, for example, but has more standard safety and convenience features.
Outlanders are basically rebodied Lancers. Both share the platform and some drivetrain components but side-by-side, you'd never pick it. First generation Outlanders were a bit soft in styling but the latest is distinctive and even striking, mainly because of the flat expanse of the angled nose.
Compared with a conventional small car, the tall stance and high seating position aid entry/egress, improve driver visibility and carry the perception of greater safety in a crash. Cabin room is generous partly because of the vehicle's height but also because of the Outlander's boxy shape. The blunt tail also makes for a big and very useable cargo area.
But hard plastic and under-enthusiastic design across the dashboard cheapen an otherwise clever layout. The nine cupholders, big personal storage areas, twin gloveboxes, three 12V power outlets, comfortable rear armrest and steering wheel controls are impressive standard features.
The Outlander has a couple of welcome surprises in its tail. The five-seater has remote buttons in the boot that automatically retract the second seat row. These 60/40 split seats tumble forward. That instantly turns the family wagon into a vehicle with van-like cargo space.
The two-piece tailgate has a lift-up hatch and a fold-down section. The latter increases the cargo floor area, makes for an easier loading and unloading platform, and can become a seating position at picnics and when watching sports events. All seats have fold-flat backs so the cabin can become one big sleeping area.
Mitsubishi's 2.4-litre petrol engine - the only offering in the 2WD - isn't highly sophisticated but is a reliable and durable powerplant. Matched to the continuously-variable transmission (CVT) option as tested, it's unlikely to get intelligent drivers into too much trouble with the law.
The underpinnings are simple MacPherson struts up front with a multi-link system at the back that - in the transition to 2WD from AWD - has been relieved of the drive shafts and differential.
That makes more underfloor space and Mitsubishi has wisely used that to boost the fuel tank size to 63 litres from the AWD's 60 litres. All five-seater Outlanders have a full-size spare wheel. This is good news. Proper spare wheels mean a relatively rapid change-over if there's a puncture and immediately restores the vehicle to its full dynamics.
Space-saver - or emergency - spare wheels are rated at an 80km/h limit, are short-term solutions and then require a full replacement.
That full-size spare wheel means you can confidently take this vehicle out of the city limits. But that's not all. This has a five-star crash rating and comes standard with electronic stability control. It has two airbags - which is rubbish - but Mitsubishi offers a full six airbag package for an extra $850. You are obliged to pay the extra.
Basically, driving Junior to school and picking up dinner at McDonalds won't show up any difference between the Outlander AWD and the 2WD.
Heat the action up a bit and you'll find the AWD a bit grippier on corners and showing less understeer. Go bush and you'll find a new vocabulary as you explore the physical benefits of digging out a vehicle embedded in hot beach sand. So, NOW there's a difference!
The CVT is preferable to the $2500 cheaper five-speed manual version only because it's easier to drive in city conditions. It's actually a decent auto because in comparison to a lot of CVT units (which are fundamentally a steel band spinning up and down two cones to create variable gearing) this one doesn't have much lag off the mark.
Yes, there is some annoying over-revving of the engine at times but overall the Mitsubishi transmission is as good as any conventional automatic. You can also lock in its six preset gears and drive it like a manual if you're bored. Ride comfort (save for the over-hard rear seats) and quietness on the highway is surprisingly good. This counters an initial impression that the tinny sound of the doors opening and closing presumes that the wagon is lightly constructed.
I liked the steering wheel controls - including standard cruise - and simple ventilation dials and the ease with which it all worked. But I really liked the cabin configuration, its versatility and the fact the rear seats are higher than the front so children have a better outlook.
And that family-friendly appeal - and not the all-wheel drive system - is the Outlander's strength, making the 2WD version a logical choice.
MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER LS 2WD
Engine: 2.4-litre, 4-cyl
Power: 125kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 226Nm @ 4100rpm
Fuel: Std unleaded
Fuel tank: 63 litres
Economy (official): 9.0 litres/100km
Economy (tested): 9.3 litres/100km
Greenhouse: 212g/km (Corolla: 174g/km)
Transmission: CVT auto, 6 preset ratios, sequential; front-drive
Brakes: 4-wheel discs, ESC, ABS, EBD, brake assist
Turning circle: 10.6m
Suspension: Front _ MacPherson struts; Rear _ multi-link, coils
Wheels: 16-inch alloy, 215/70R16 tyres; full-size spare
Ground clearance: 215mm
Tow (max): 1500kg
Boot (seat up/down): 882/1691 litres (Corolla: 450/1121)
Warranty: 5yr/130,000km, 5yr roadside assist; 10yr/160,000km on drivetrain
Hyundai ix35 2WD Active ($28,990) _ 7.5/10;
Kia Sportage Si 2WD ($27,990) _ 8.5/10;
Mazda CX-7 2WD Classic ($33,990) _ 8.5/10;
Toyota RAV4 CV 2WD ($30,990) _ 7.5/10