Mitsubishi has considerably increased its South African mid-SUV market presence with the introduction of an all-new Outlander - the third incarnation of this model.
Significantly reengineered and restyled, the new Outlander is targeted to meet rising expectations of South African mid-SUV market buyers, as well as new SUV market entrants: mostly customers trading up from passenger car lines.
Previous Outlander ranges had an ambiguous market appeal. Although well-engineered, and undeniably useful lifestyle vehicles, they looked a bit odd.
Aesthetically the new Outlander is considerably crisper. The styling is well proportioned and the nose, an especially unappealing feature of the previous range, has been cleaned up to give the overall shape a more resolute look.
Aside from the slightly busy rear light clusters, Outlander has now been endowed with styling to appeal to a more critical buyer, especially those who refuse to compromise on contemporary style when parking their vehicle in a chic, urban, environment.
Beneath the improved overall styling is a litany of key new design features. Rap your knuckles across the low-slung roofline and you might notice the Outlander has a rather strange resonance and feel: and yes, it's an all-aluminum roof to lower the centre of gravity.
The wonder alloy is a ubiquitous theme in the Outlander's fresh design features: amongst these is the new, all-aluminium, 2.4-litre engine. Mounted low and as recessed as possible in the engine bay, it contributes significantly to the low centre of gravity and increased poise and stability already afforded by the aluminium roofline.
Utilising Mitsubishi's own variable valve lift and timing technology (MIVEC), the new powerplant produces 125 kW at 6 000 r/min and 226 Nm of torque at 4 100 r/min. Considering kerb weight is just shy of 1.6 tons, the Outlander has quite a favourable power to weight ratio, primarily thanks to the presence of plenty of aluminum in the design package.
Dovetailing between the engine output and lightweight bodyshell is a technologically advanced continuously variable transmission (CVT) gearbox.
Left to it's own devices in standard automatic mode it has six forward speeds driving the front wheels. There is a modicum of manual control either by sliding the lever into the semi-automatic position in the shift-gate, or by using the steering wheel mounted paddle-shift levers.
Select CVT mode though, and you are ushered into a futuristic, if peculiar, driving experience. Consisting of a pair of cone-shaped pulleys - one connected to the engine output shaft and the second one driven via a multi-link steel belt.
Pressure from an oil pump changes the position of the pulleys relative to one another, changing the position of the belt and therefore ratio between the drive and driven 'gears'. The end result is as near to a seamless drivetrain as you are likely to encounter, with the momentum and engine power coefficients being as closely synergised as possible.
A dial just behind the shift-gate enables the third feature of the new gearbox: it's all-wheel drive control. Options are either normal two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive mode (where torque is distributed to the rear wheels when necessary), or four-wheel drive "lock" mode with torque being split in a 50:50 ratio between front and rear drive wheels. The latter is obviously for tricky traction situations in sand or mud.
In essence it all sounds very promising, almost over-engineered, in typically Oriental tradition. Yet SUVs are by nature a compromise, and adding a host of cutting-edge, engineering technologies invariably compounds many of these compromises.
After being relieved of my luggage by an airline, I was in a very uncompromising mood - to put it diplomatically - while getting inside the Outlander in the sweltering lowveld heat wearing my office wardrobe.
Our rendezvous point was the Kruger Park, and I was not especially looking forward to parading through the bush in Italian leather shoes and a neck-tie and shirt. Taking a shortcut around the back roads of the lowveld from Nelspruit I unconsciously vented much of my pent up, 'disappearing-luggagge-syndrome' anger on the Outlander.
An hour and a half later I was outside the Kruger park main gate; feeling perplexingly relaxed. How did that happen?
Well, the Outlander is a very satisfying SUV to drive, especially on sweeping roads and through undulating tarmac-terrain, such as roads indigenous to the lowveld invariably are.
Switch to the four-wheel drive mode and it is reassuringly neutral during high-speed cornering, with just enough tolerance factored into the chassis design to allow some adjustability on the throttle. Obviously the Lancer Evo-sourced suspension lineage is responsible here.
It is quite swift too - the combination of low overall weight, enthusiastic engine and a spread of six gear ratios making overtaking the work of a moment, without any sweaty palmed consequences. You could use the very efficient CVT setting or even the semi-automatic shift mode, but it's all a bit superfluous unless you are after fuel-index beating consumption figures. The gearbox sounds a bit strident in CVT mode too.
The interior was a very comfortable place to be too, with a spacious and contemporary design and a very airy feel. Aluminium finds its way in here too with alloy insets in the multi-function steering wheel and on the centre console adding to the modern, sophisticated look.
The recessed dials are easily legible and with an electrically adjustable driver's seat I was feeling quite pampered. A word of warning though - be careful not to activate the seat heating control by accident though, especially in the scorching lowveld. It can be suicidal. For a cold Karoo morning though, this is a brilliant feature.
Interior space was not only impressive, but the adjustability (a key feature in any urban SUV) was comprehensive: easily loadable split tailgate, one-touch collapsible seats, and utility bars which allow configuration control for the load bay.
And if you need serious mood altering, the Rockford Fosgate sound installation (a standard feature) is simply ludicrous. Powered by a 650 Watt amp, the nine-speaker sound system delivers epic, crystal clear, acoustics which resonate perfectly - partly because Outlander has its interior specifically designed to maximise the sound quality offered by this system. Consequently the interior is a very entertaining place to dispatch serious mileage.
The Outlander is a lot like a pair of cross-terrain running shoes. They look hip enough to go out with at night, they can pound tarmac with the consummate ease of a proper marathon running shoe and if you need to venture across some cross-country terrain every now and then...they cope just fine.
Mitsubishi Outlander: R299 900