Buyers seeking a compact soft-roader are being spoiled for choice with two significant candidates, the Mitsubishi Outlander and Honda CR-V, appearing in showrooms within days of each other. They're among the top of a class of 22 contenders in Australia's second-biggest car sales category.
The Outlander was the best-selling SUV in Australia last month as the company discounted it by up to $10,000 to make way for the new model, which landed in dealerships this week.
Australian media don't get behind the wheel of the new Outlander until next month. So we hit the pavement and lined up for a test drive at a Mitsubishi dealership as a mystery shopper. It was among the shortest road tests in Carsguide history but the 5.8km journey still gave some worthwhile insights. It was also good to get reacquainted with the experience new-car buyers go through every weekend, which can be unnecessarily harrowing and time-consuming.
Explore the 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Range
Price and features
For the record, our mid-week jaunt to a car yard forecourt was relatively hassle-free, with the salesman demonstrating good knowledge and only one serious faux pas, wrongly claiming metallic paint on a rival was $1200 (it was $400).
First, the basics. It's an all-new model (so why does it have a sad face?) but it sits on the previous car's underpinnings. The width and wheelbase are identical; the rear bumper is 5mm shorter than before.
Prices start at $28,990 for a base 2.0-litre petrol manual front-wheel-drive model. But that rises quickly. Fitted with automatic transmission (which most people buy), the front-driver is $31,240 plus on-road costs. Most Outlander models are priced between $35,000 and $46,000.
This makes the starting price dearer than that of the highly regarded Mazda CX-5, which is $29,880 with automatic transmission and gets a rear camera as standard (the new base Mitsubishi does not) although the Outlander gets rear sensors at this money. Cue the first "tut-tut''. The dearer Outlander models, however, come with a rear camera.
Our test vehicle was the $38,990 (plus $495 for metallic paint) 2.4-litre part-time all-wheel-drive model with CVT auto and seven seats.
The split tailgate of the previous Outlander that many buyers love (because they can use it as a makeshift picnic bench, nappy change table or somewhere to crook your leg while you wriggle into your running shoes) is no more. And the loading lip at the rear is higher than than before, so there's a little more heavy lifting to do.
The second-row seat no longer stows and folds elegantly and automatically at the tug of one tag. The new design is a more manual arrangement; you first must stow the lower cushion, then drop the backrest.
The advantage of this design is that you get about 30cm of extra cargo space and a perfectly flat floor. On five-seater models, the cargo area has hidden underfloor storage space; on seven-seater models there is a flat load space when the third-row pews are stowed. The chilled storage area above the glovebox is also gone.
Despite these issues, first impressions of the interior are good, with better quality materials than before — the dash is made entirely of soft-touch padding. The layout is cleaner and less fussy. There are two 12V charge points, a USB socket and Bluetooth with music streaming.
There's plenty of oddment storage front and rear, including six cup holders in five-seat varieties (eight in the seven-seaters). In a welcome change, the steering wheels now has reach as well as height adjustment. The glass area is smaller on the new model but vision is good all around, aided in part by the convex side mirrors.
Time to hit the road. It may be the proverbial lap around the block but we end up adding 5.8km to the demonstrator model's odometer, taking in the usual daily grind: school zones, speed humps, roundabouts, manhole covers and even an unusually steep hill.
The all-wheel-drive test Outlander with CVT auto and seven seats feels peppy despite the sharp incline. It rides on relatively small 16-inch wheels but the tyres do a good job of soaking up the worst of the road surfaces and the Outlander also significantly quieter and smoother than the outgoing model. The most impressive aspect for me, though, is the steering: light, precise and direct, a highlight of the car.
First impressions of the new Outlander are generally positive yet there are some aspects that owners of the existing model will miss — while it gets rear sensors, the lack of a camera as standard on the base model is an alarming omission on an all-new car. Especially when the Mazda and Honda rivals have it.
Meanwhile, faced with the choice between a runout Outlander at $10,000 off the RRP or a new one, I'm inclined to go with the old model. Problem is, they're almost all sold out.
At least the new one is much more fuel efficient. Mitsubishi now just needs to either sharpen the price, add a rear camera -- or both. Stand by for a more extensive review of the new Outlander after more time behind the wheel.