To be honest, when the Mitsubishi Outlander made its global debut in 2012, I didn’t think much of it. While the overall package was good, the styling looked a bit lame, particularly the front end. The plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variant was an interesting product, though, but given its high price if introduced in Malaysia without any incentives to reduce taxes, it was unlikely to come here.
The weak styling could have been due to Mitsubishi Motors being distracted by other issues during the development period of the model but to my mind, it just didn’t stand out much in the growing crowd of SUVs.
This was a pity since the ‘grandad’ of the Outlander was the Airtrek and that was a fine car in its time, particularly the Airtrek Turbo which had impressive road performance for a SUV (although it was essentially a crossover).
For Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia (MMM), offering the Outlander was important since they had decided not to import the second generation of the Pajero Sport. That decision had left them without a 3-row, 7-seater SUV in the range which was limited and dependent only on the ASX and Triton.
Not wasting time in filling the empty slot of the Pajero Sport, MMM began selling the Outlander in CBU (completely built-up) form, imported from Japan. It was available with only a 2.4-litre MIVEC engine, which kept the price high due to our tax structure. More importantly, however, was that the version introduced in April last year, was a facelifted one and the first model to use the Dynamic Shield design concept that had been shown on Mitsubishi concept cars since 2013.
With the Dynamic Shield design – which is essentially the ‘face’ of the vehicle – the image of the Outlander changed, at least to my eyes. It certainly had more character and even aggressiveness with the way the flanks visually ‘wrapped’ the nose, like a protective barrier. There was no change to the profile of the vehicle but it wasn’t necessary since it was already well proportioned for a 3-row SUV.
As any carmaker who wants to grow their business in Malaysia knows, local assembly is a must to have more competitive prices that can ensure bigger sales numbers. Although the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) agreement provides for duty-free import of CBU vehicles from other countries in the region, there is still an advantage when assembling locally as the government offers incentives that can offset the production cost. In some cases, if the vehicle qualifies as an Energy Efficient Vehicles (EEV), the incentives can be quite good and enable the retail price to be attractive.
But the 2.4-litre powertrain was too big to generate the required numbers and fortunately, there was a 2-litre variant available and this was the one chosen for local assembly. The 2-litre size would be more acceptable as the roadtax would be lower, for one thing, and still there could be 3 rows of seats for 7 persons.
The locally-assembled Outlander 2.0 rolled out in September this year and had a pricetag RM31,000 lower than the 2.4-litre variant. At under RM140,000 (excluding insurance), it was a very strong contender in the midsized SUV segment with that plus point of being a 7-seater.
The other good thing about the Outlander is that it comes with 4-wheel drive as standard. Unlike some other companies which have been offering their newer SUVs with only 2-wheel drive, MMM decided that this model should reflect the heritage of the brand where such vehicles are concerned. Like Land Rover, Mitsubishi Motor is proud of its 4-wheel drive background and technology, best demonstrated by the many wins in the original Paris-Dakar Rally and then the Dakar Rally in South America.
However, in offering 4WD in the Outlander, the intention is not to provide just superior off-road capabilities but also for enhancing driving safety with better grip and stability on the road. This is something that many people may not consider as they may think that the value of 4WD is only if you are a frequent off-roader and drive in difficult terrain. But with all four wheels powered, traction can be improved, especially when cornering.
The 4WD Multi Select system that is fitted to the vehicle has three modes – 4WD Eco, 4WD Auto and 4WD Lock – which the driver can easily select while on the move by pressing on a button. 4WD Eco keeps the drivetrain in front-wheel drive mode most of the time unless there is excessive slip on the rear wheels, then the system sends power to the rear wheels as well. By running in just front-wheel drive, fuel-savings are possible so that’s a mode that should be used for town driving and even highway cruising in dry conditions.
With 4WD Auto, the system constantly monitors the rotation of the wheels and apportions power between the front and rear wheels optimally. 4WD Lock is for the most difficult conditions like very muddy ground when the wheels spin too much. The centre differential is locked and equal distribution of power to the front and rear will usually help the driver get out of a tricky situation.
All the power transfers occur virtually in real-time, thanks to electronic controls. This is one of the advantages of Mitsubishi’s system over that of some other SUVs which may have mechanical systems or reactive systems which send power to the rear wheels only when too much slip has occurred.
The effectiveness of the Multi Select System as well as the benefit of having 4WD was proven in a special test that MMM set up where the Outlander was driven at speed in a circle. Being able to run in 2WD as well as 4WD made the differences in grip and control more obvious. When running in 4WD Eco mode, the vehicle would understeer at the limits of grip on a wet surface. But as power was sent to the rear wheels, the understeer would diminish and the vehicle would track through the curve. In a real-world scenario, that could save you from heading into the drain on the other side of the road.
With 4WD Auto in use, the Outlander tracked around the circle steadily without breakaway. Even with induced variations in speed, the system would still adjust the power distribution to maintain traction and stability. Unlike older 4WD systems which didn’t tolerate high speeds, Mitsubishi’s system can be used at all speeds but there will be a difference in consumption when using 4WD Auto compared to using 4WD Eco.
Another thing which was also evident was that in spite of the tallness of the vehicle, body roll wasn’t excessive. This is due to the monocoque construction which is like that of a passenger car; traditional SUVs and even Mitsubishi’s own Pajero have used the body-on-frame structure which has the bodyshell bolted on the chassis. The traditional approach allows the body to roll more which is no good for driving dynamics. Additionally, a lot of effort went into lowering the weight which also contributes to better handling.
MMM also managed to arrange for heavy rain to come down as we drove along the Karak Highway to Janda Baik, a little enclave near Genting Highlands. With the 4WD system in Auto mode, there was a sense of security which you would not feel with a vehicle that has power only from the front or rear wheels. It doesn’t mean that you can go faster but it does mean that you can feel more confident going round corners because the vehicle doesn’t feel like it wants to slide.
In the event that a miscalculation does cause the tyres to lose their traction, there’s Active Stability Control with Traction Control to help regain control. The system applies a counteractive force using a combination of individual brakes and adjusting engine power which neutralises the understeer or oversteer and the vehicle will continue along the chosen line through the corner.
One thing which many were curious about was the ability of the 2-litre engine to provide decent performance for a vehicle of this size. One thing that should be noted is that it is 100 kgs lighter than the 2.4-litre variant so the 145 ps/196 Nm output should be adequate. In actual driving, this proved to be the case and there was no difficulty going up the inclines of the Karak Highway.
The Outlander has a 6-speed CVT and this may seem inappropriate for a SUV. But the Outlander, unlike the Pajero, is intended as an ‘urban SUV’ and in such a role, a CVT does help in keeping fuel consumption down. Some may dislike the way a CVT operates but I found it okay in the Outlander, and I don’t remember any occasion on the drive when I felt unhappy having it.
As for ride comfort, the previously mentioned monocoque structure means that the ride is less bouncy, helped further by the multi-link rear suspension. Seating comfort is also good and during an earlier drive in the 2.4-litre variant to Johor Bahru, I sat in the third row for a considerable distance and felt reasonably comfortable. If you have long legs, you might find your knees more visible…
Coming into the segment a bit later than other companies, MMM has made up by packing the Outlander with a lot of goodies. The 2.4-litre variant has things like a sunroof and powered rear door but then again, you do pay RM31,000 more. Still, it’s good to see that as far as safety is concerned, MMM has matched the list for the 2-litre variant with that of the bigger-engined Outlander with 7 airbags and even a rest reminder which advises you to take a break.
If you’re looking for a 7-seater SUV, this Mitsubishi is the lowest priced model available in Malaysia. Sure, you may not need three rows of seats all the time but the one time that you do, you will be glad you have the extra row available. The rest of the time, the seats can be folded down to give you lots of cargo space, which is something everyone would appreciate.
I’ve been testing numerous Mitsubishi models over the past 40 years and the engineering has always been good, with durability also a strong point. The Outlander should be no different and to underline their confidence in build quality, there’s a 5-year warranty with unlimited mileage.
To locate a showroom to view or test-drive the Outlander, visit www.mitsubishi-motors.com.my.