MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER VRX 2.2D
What exactly is it? A not-completely-new incarnation of Mitsubishi’s popular soft-roader. Available in diesel for the first time in New Zealand.
Powertrain: 2.3-litre turbo diesel four producing 112kW/366Nm. Six-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive with on-demand and lock modes. Combined fuel consumption 5.8 litres per 100km.
Anything interesting in the equipment list? Mitsubishi has boosted the equipment levels significantly for the flagship Outlander VRX. It now features satellite navigation, touch-screen audio with Bluetooth, adaptive cruise control, collision-avoidance system and power-operated tailgate.
The practice of platform sharing has saved many carmakers in times of trouble.
Using the same basic underpinnings for a variety of models – even across different brands – reduces development and manufacturing costs drastically. Circa 2013, this is the way that most cars are designed and built: many mainstream cars that aren’t will be facing a grim future.
Get the platform right and carmakers are in a great position to achieve uniform excellence across a range of models.
And when the platform is not so right? The Project Global platform was a co-development between Mitsubishi and DaimlerChrysler, which first went into production in 2005.
By that stage the two companies had already ended their partnership, which was appropriate, because it turned out Project Global was destined to underpin some of the most mediocre cars of the decade: Mitsubishi’s own Lancer, the Chrysler Sebring, Dodge Caliber and Avenger and the Jeep Compass and Patriot.
Just reading those names in a list together is a bit depressing.
Something good did grow out of Project Global: the Mitsubishi Outlander, which was the first model to be launched on the platform and in hindsight by far the best. Rough around the edges perhaps but it had sufficient charisma and clever packaging to really capitalise on the boom in crossover-type vehicles.
Especially in New Zealand. In its heyday during 2008, Outlander was the best-selling vehicle in its segment. Globally, Mitsubishi also licensed the car to Peugeot/Citroen (PSA), which turned it into the 4007 and C-Crosser respectively.
In return, Mitsubishi obtained the rights to the French maker’s fine diesel engine. A master stroke, as the petrol powertrains were far from brilliant.
The diesel Outlander was never sold in New Zealand but the Peugeot 4007 was. With that diesel engine, a Mitsubishi dual-clutch transmission and a few detail changes to suspension and interior, the 4007 was and still is a truly impressive vehicle. More to the point, it showed what a great base the Outlander was.
Forgive me for dwelling on the past a bit. But there is a point. Despite all of its troubles over the past few years, Mitsubishi does seem to have the knack of making a lot out of very little. Emphasising the strengths in an uneven package. Making a silk purse out of something of suspect origin.
I think it’s something the Japanese maker has done again with the latest Outlander.
Out and under
Mitsubishi Motors has been in no position to create a brand new vehicle over the past few years; the so-called “all-new Outlander” is, in fact, based on the same platform as the old one – albeit with a thorough overhaul.
There will be no PSA version of this car, although the French connection continues with the Peugeot 4008 and Citroen C4 Aircross – both rebadged versions of Mitsubishi’s ASX, itself a mild redesign of the Outlander. Confusing, isn’t it?
You could say Mitsubishi doesn’t need PSA any more because it has used the last few years wisely to develop its own diesel engine, a 2.2-litre powerplant that is now offered in the Outlander. The dual-clutch transmission is out, replaced by a conventional six-speed automatic.
It’s all quite forward-looking, even if the exterior design seems to look backward. After years of “jet fighter grille” (the company’s words, not mine) frontal styling, Mitsubishi seems to be struggling to come up with a new corporate look.
The Outlander has lost its sharp edges in favour of clean surfaces and seems to fly in the face of fashion with tiny headlights and an absence of bling.
It’s similarly conservative inside and yet, once you’re on the road, you realise how far this car has come – at least in diesel specification. I’ve not yet driven the petrol model, which has a continuously variable transmission, and perhaps I shouldn’t because it might ruin the warm feelings I have for the new Outlander.
The diesel clatters at low speed but it’s very refined at speed. As is the rest of the car, save the old Mitsubishi bugbear of excessive road noise on coarse chip seal.
So no, in some respects the Outlander VRX does not feel as plush on the road as its luxury-car specification might suggest. But with diesel power it has a relaxed gait and feels good. Diesel notwithstanding, the new Outlander is also at least 100kg lighter than the equivalent version in the previous range.
A familiar package
One of the previous Outlander’s strengths was that it had the option of seven seats, when many of its rivals only offered five. Those seats were strictly occasional but they were there – in a tall cabin that also offered substantial load-carrying capacity, with fold-away seats.
You could easily wheel a mountain bike in there, with the front wheel attached, for example. Not many wagons offer that kind of space efficiency.
The new one is even more practical and more intelligently packaged, although I miss the Range Rover-style split tailgate. The centre-row seats have a double-folding action and slide 250mm to allow more legroom for third-row passengers.
That third row is split 50/50 and can folded away with one touch. Mitsubishi claims the load area is 335mm longer, despite the new car being the same overall length as the old.
It’s unlikely that the Outlander will return to the top of the sales charts. Not in such a crowded, fragmented market and not in a year when Toyota New Zealand is launching a new RAV4 (last year’s top seller was the Holden Captiva, by the way).
But I do really like the Outlander, with its quaint styling, seven-seat cabin and circa 2005 underpinnings. It works. More important than that, it appeals.
World’s first plug-in hybrid crossover
Here’s another compelling reason to take notice of the Mitsubishi Outlander: the Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) version due to go on sale in New Zealand in June is the world’s first plug-in hybrid crossover vehicle and could potentially be one of the cheapest electric cars on the market.
The Outlander PHEV went on sale in Japan last month. It combines battery and petrol power to operate in three different modes. It can run as a pure electric vehicle, with batteries powering the front and rear axles.
The car can also run as an extended-range electric vehicle, with the 2.0-litre petrol engine used as a generator. Or it can run with a combination of both the petrol and electric motors driving the wheels.
The PHEV is short on electric-only range compared with the Volt: just 55km at 120km/h, in accordance with Japan’s JC08 test standard. But Mitsubishi claims it can be recharged in under five hours and, with the petrol engine operating, it is capable of 880km on a single tank of fuel.
Mitsubishi has a mandate for 20% of its vehicle sales to be electric or hybrid by 2020. One of the most important means to that end is pricing that makes electric cars a viable alternative to conventional vehicles. The Outlander could be launched in an entry-level version within the $60,000 bracket, making it only slightly more expensive than the VRX diesel.
It certainly won’t sell on weird style. Taking PHEV technology mainstream means the plug-in Outlander looks almost identical to the conventional versions. The main styling difference is subtle: the petrol/diesel “hockey stick”’ grille is replaced by a solid bar.