THERE is little doubt that buyers looking at the SUV market are especially spoilt for choice. Every manufacturer worth his salt has thrown a hat into the ring hoping to entice with an extensive inclusions list, modern looks and value for your buck.
The big players - Toyota, Ford, Holden, Mazda, Hyundai, Kia and Honda - have either updated or released new models this year and Mitsubishi, part of that elite, has weighed in with the new Outlander, spruced up inside and out and now offering the option of seven seats for under $40,000.
The Outlander's interior, an improvement on its predecessor, is simple, functional and perhaps slightly utilitarian. Materials have a quality feel and it has been well put together but it could do with a bit of brightening up.
Seats are fairly comfortable, less so after two hours in the saddle, and we had to have a few goes before finding a good driving position.
We liked the feel of the leather-wrapped steering wheel with onboard controls, the nifty storage spaces and an overall feeling of roominess. Headroom is generous and legroom is up to you, thanks to a sliding second row.
The third pew, which let's face it, is one of the Outlander's main selling points, is really just for little people and is easily accessed via split folding middle seats provided you don't have a child-seat attached to the latter. The boot is limited with all seats in use but grows to a gigantic 1608 litres with the second and third rows folded flat.
On the road
The 2.4-litre CVT engine which drives the petrol 4WD models feels a bit short on power with the Outlander straining when pushed to deliver up a hill or while overtaking.
We like a bit more oomph off the line especially when turning across oncoming traffic and the petrol was shy about delivering.
Overall ride quality is fairly decent, and the suspension deals well with irregular surfaces.
Steering is light and it tends to lead with its nose, diving into corners with enthusiasm and then losing interest in the task at hand. We thought it a tad noisy even with improved cabin dampening.
The 2.2-litre diesel engine that powers the 4WD LS and Aspire models would be our pick.
It has much more grunt, is a bit more refined and just plain makes sense.
Four-wheel drive has three modes accessed by a button on the console - 4WD Eco mode is for everyday driving sending power to the front wheels only to improve fuel economy although it didn't do much for our bottom line, 4WD Auto sharpens power response and steering feel while 4WD Lock mode is useful off the tarmac.
What do you get?
The inclusions list is on the money with even the base model ES sporting Bluetooth, cruise control, parking sensors, USB adapter, climate control and voice recognition.
The LS offers seven seats and adds alloys, a 15.5cm LCD colour display, fog lights, dual-zone climate control and rear-view camera.
The top-of-the-range Aspire also features rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlights, heated leather seats and smart key with touch button start.
The five-star safety package extends across the range and includes seven airbags, Active Stability Control, ABS with EBD and Hill-Start Assist.
Buyers looking at the Outlander have probably also cast an eye on the Hyundai Santa Fe (from $38,990), the Nissan Dualis (from $24,990), Holden Captiva (from $32,490), Kia Sportage (from $26,990) and Mazda CX-5 (from $27,880).
The Outlander copes well with the needs of a modern family with good use of space and extensive storage options a bonus. There is no air to the last two rows which may feel a tad unfair to occupants seated there while the removal of the split tailgate has eliminated a highly desirable feature.
The petrol CVT is a thirsty blighter - our test week, even with a fair amount of distance driving, was well off the touted 7.5 litres/100km by more than three litres. The diesel was not only more powerful but much more frugal (5.8L/100km).
Outlanders come with a five-year/130,000km warranty while Mitsubishi's Capped Price Servicing program prices the first four services, 15,000km intervals, at $360 (add $150 for diesels).
The Outlander has snubbed the more pronounced shark fronts of the Lancer and ASX, opting instead for a rounder more demure nose, simple lines and an almost old-fashioned rear. Like the inside, one can't help but feel that the exterior too could do with a bit of a lift, to add some fire to an understated look.
What matters most
What we liked: The versatility offered by seven seats.
What we'd like to see: Reverse camera as standard, a bit more power.
Warranty: Mitsubishi offers a five-year/130,000 kilometre warranty, capped-price servicing for four years or 60,000km and a free one year roadside assist package.
Model: Mitsubishi Outlander LS.
Details: Five-door mid-size two and all-wheel drive sports utility vehicle.
Engines: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 110kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque 190Nm @ 4200rpm; 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol 124kW @ 6000rpm and 220Nm @ 4200rpm.
Transmission: Five-speed manual or continuously variable automatic.
Consumption: 7.0 litres/100km (m) or 6.6L/100km (CVT); 7.5L/100km.
CO2: 161g/km; 174g/km.
Bottom line: From $28,990 plus on-roads (LS 4WD CVT at $38,990 as tested).
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