New Outlander hot to handle
It's not due until here until October but, as Declan O'Byrne reports from Frankfurt, it may be hard to get a grip on Mitsubishi's formidable new Outlander
The emergence of every new car is an important event for the manufacturer but, for Mitsubishi, or Mitsubishi Motor Corporation (MMC), the arrival of the third generation of its Outlander, eleven years after it laid claim to the term 'crossover', marks a crucial watershed both for the marque and for its newly-adopted 'global' strategy.
The new car constitutes the first of what it terms "an all-new generation of global products", which will be followed in November by the arrival here of what, for the moment, is being called its 'Global Small', a rather clunky and unimaginative label for Mitsubishi's imminent, all-new offering in the B-segment.
For now, the flag is being carried - and the future for Mitsubishi lies firmly - on the chunky shoulders of the D-segment, third-generation Outlander which, MMC says, is "a new breed of car" and "very important" for its future.
Not that the outgoing model was unkind to the manufacturer as, without exactly setting the world on fire, it notched up some 2,000 domestic sales in the last five years, in addition to recording respectable worldwide figures, too.
When it lands on these shores, the new three-model line-up will consist of a 2.2l DI-D 6-speed manual (150bhp) 2-wheel drive 5-seater, which, with Co2 emissions of 130g/km and fuel economy of 5.0L/100km or 56.5 mpg, will slot into Tax Band B.
There will also be a manual 'selectable' 4-wheel drive 7-seater (146g/km, 5.6L/100km or 50.44mpg, Band C) and an automatic version of that (159g/km, 6.1L/100km or 46.31mpg) which will slot into Band D.
The engine in each case is Mitsubishi's own proven 16v, 4-cylinder common rail direct injection MIVEC diesel, delivering up to 150 bhp and 380 Nm of torque, more than handy and capable, as we discovered, when trying to keep up with the flow - or even outpace it - on all-action German autobahns.
In 2013 a plug-in hybrid version will be added to the model line-up in the form of a 4-wheel drive option with a targeted range of up to 800km and emissions below 50 g/km.
The outstanding figures in the overall package, apart from emissions of course, are those relating to mpg - for a chunky vehicle which occupies the same 'footprint' as the current model, a return of up to 56.5mpg, aided by the welcome deployment of stop/start technology, is no mean feat, while lower emissions will also result in less strain on the wallet in terms of annual road tax of €225.
Meanwhile running the mpg figures a close second, is the impressive list of now standard features on the car, including cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, dual zone automatic air conditioning, remote central locking with keyless entry and an always useful safety feature, a rearview monitor.
Other safety features include active stability and traction control, collision avoidance, lane departure alert, ABS with EBD and Hill Start Assist.
From a visual perspective, on the outside the Outlander is enhanced with 18-inch alloys, front fog lights, roof rails, rear spoiler and privacy glass while the comfortable interior is more spacious with noticeably less plastic in evidence and embodying a luggage floor box, a practical rear bench seat and increased cargo space, to boot.
Completing the package for here, MMC is offering up to five years warranty. While the car will come with a 3-year/100,000 km guarantee as standard, the option of two additional years will be available from dealerships. Also standard is three-year home and roadside assistance.
At the launch in Frankfurt, MMC executives said they no longer produced "regional cars" but "global cars". They stressed, in particular, the fact that the car was now more efficient and a lot safer, cleaner, quieter and roomier, in addition to being lighter by some 100kgs on average, with a 4-wheel drive system which was, as they put it, "brainier" than the old one. To their credit, they acknowledged that the outgoing model was "poorly reviewed in the past in terms of its perceived quality". The dashboard, in particular, they added, was seen as "messy" while "hard plastics" detracted from the in-cabin appearance.
In the new model, they said, there was now a perceived major improvement in quality. The car was now much quieter, the windscreen glass was thicker which contributed to noise exclusion, while a new engine mounting and cover underneath the car significantly reduced vibrations. Much was made, too, in Frankfurt, of the Outlander's completely re-designed rear suspension system.
All off which, with the exception, perhaps, of the reference to the suspension system, on a first and brief encounter cannot be argued with. One of the most attractive features of the new Outlander is that it now looks a lot more compact from the rear while it retains its muscular looks at the front where a redesigned grille is particularly attractive, softens its overall stance and should enhance its appeal to prospective purchasers who might otherwise have their heads turned by Hyundai's Santa Fe or the curvier Ford Kuga to mention but two of its keen rivals.
However, it's on the road and in terms of actual performance, that issues are raised by the Outlander. Over a test run of some 200 kilometres in the hilly and flat, rural and motorway, environs of Frankfurt, the Outlander, in manual and preferred automatic guise, showed its mettle. It's a speedy and comfortable chariot.
But make no mistake, t will test your driving skills, not so much on the autobahn, of course, but certainly on winding and narrow rural and clogged urban roads where, with rather heavy steering, its wide gait and handling that demands respect and patience, you are likely to find it challenging to say the least.
A more embracing and lengthier encounter on home soil awaits, of course, in order to fully assess its credentials. While price has not yet been confirmed, Mitsubishi is hoping to chop €1,000 off the current model's €36,000 tag.