It was one of those hellish moments that occur almost daily on our roads. A big fat 18-wheeler was in the outer lane on the heavily congested M1 and I was driving alongside it in the inner lane. Suddenly, a Mum and Dad team towing a big caravan with a GXL Land Cruiser was merging, come hell or high water, from out of the northern Beenleigh entrance. The mirror set up on the extended bar across the bonnet of the Land Cruiser was obviously only there as a decoration.
There I was, stuck between the semi and the home on wheels; not between a rock and a hard place, but between a lot of metal moving closer and closer. At the wheel of the black Outlander I realised it was time to get out of there. I quickly shifted the dash-mounted gear knob from ‘drive’ to the lower section of the gate, bringing the Outlander into ‘sports’ mode (tip shift manual). A snappy flick of the lever to the right and a dab on the accelerator brought instant response from the Outlander’s 2.4L four-cylinder engine. I watched with satisfaction as the towing team merged into the background.
While I’m not a petrol head by any means, driving in today’s traffic puts specific demands on drivers and vehicles and I’m pleased to say that the Outlander, with its rally-bred background and willing engine, can certainly deliver the goods when pressed. Sure, it’s easy to leave the gearbox in auto – which is exactly what most drivers would do – but if driver input is required to manage traffic, paddock or beach conditions, the manual mode is there.
This near accident was my introduction to the mid-sized Mitsubishi SUV’s potential. I’d picked up the Outlander only an hour previously and after a rapid familiarisation with the controls (foot brake instead of hand brake, dash-mounted gear selector) I was enjoying the drive when the touring terrorists attempted to hijack my lane.
The test-drive vehicle had all the bells and whistles, and a walk around the car revealed some interesting features. A crossover vehicle like this one may well benefit from some macho image, and the nifty low profile tyres on the stylish 17” alloy wheels certainly compliment the sharp frontal treatment. Overhead there’s a handy set of roof carry bars and a sunroof. The overall finish was top class: I saw no blemishes, orange-peel paint or poorly fitted panels.
Inside the car the luxury treatment is impressive, with leather and suede trim with plenty of plush carpet underfoot. The pedals are all nifty alloy sports-style jobs and a carbon fibre-look insert on the dash adds a touch of class. Fuel and temperature gauges are centrally mounted between the main gauges while an analogue clock sits above the stereo and radio controls. At night, all instruments emit a soft red glow, which is easy on the eye and a pleasure to monitor.
One of the strong features of the vehicle is the amount of interior space. There is an exceptional amount of leg and head room for all five front and rear travellers, yet there is still a quite useful amount of luggage space in the rear section. Other features include powerful air conditioning; power windows and mirrors; driver, passenger and side airbags; and remote keyless entry.
At the wheel, things are easily managed. The seating position is very comfortable, instruments clearly visible and the cruise control makes long journeys a piece of cake. The audio system is a beauty, although a look at the reference book is recommended for best use of the 6-CD stacker, radio and 6-speaker unit.
I liked the storage areas in the Outlander. There is a unique floor-mounted storage locker between front seats, and once items are stored the sliding cover means that out of sight is out of mind. Similarly, a fair amount of underfloor storage is available in the spare wheel cavity in the back, although a rear blind for the luggage area is standard equipment.
Despite these creature comforts, it is probably the driving experience that will impress Outlander owners the most. The 2.4L engine with its variable valve timing is silent until it’s pushed, when it emits a healthy snarl. Being an overhead cam, 16 valve four-cylinder, it churns out 120kW of power and 220Nm of torque – a respectable output from what is essentially a modest, and accordingly frugal, power plant. Combined with a four-speed auto unit with constant four-wheel-drive, the engine always seems to be doing it pretty easy.
As a crossover vehicle designed to be used mainly in the city with occasional runs up the beach or into the bush, the Outlander fulfils expectations. The four-wheel-drive system is tuned to sense traction loss and act accordingly to restore it, and adequate ground clearance keeps the Outlander competitive with its class contenders.
The ABS system works well (as I discovered when a kangaroo popped right out in front of me). Fuel economy was 11L per 100km, which is quite reasonable, and the ride, both on and off road, was very comfortable thanks to full independent suspension all round.
The Mitsubishi Outlander comes with a three-year 100,000km warranty, and is priced from around $18,000 (excludes dealer delivery and on-road costs).Reads: 596