When Mitsubishi launched its Outlander in 2001 it entered a market with far less competitors than today. Many saw it as an SUV but in reality it was one of the first crossovers at a time when the term crossover was relatively new.
It was under no illusion as to its main rivals: the clue was in the name because the word Outlander was made up from a combination of Subaru Outback and Land Rover Freelander.
Today the Outlander is much bigger than the original, falling more into the SUV category than that first generation. It has also carved a niche for itself on the global stage because it might surprise you to know that the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version is the second biggest-selling PHEV in the world behind the Chevrolet Volt. Current exchange rates make it impossible for Mitsubishi to bring the PHEV model to SA though, with the company saying it would end up costing around a million bucks.
The only model to come to SA is the 2.4 GLS which, at R549 900, is definitely more affordable. Recently it benefited from an upgrade including what the company calls its Mitsubishi Dynamic Shield design. This means more chrome front and rear and a look that is modern and helps the Outlander to stand out in a world full of SUVs.
Inside, everything comes across as well thought through, with controls easily accessible for the driver and a good balance of black plastics, piano black surfaces and aluminium detailing. It all fits the description of refined and manages to match that of its rivals.
The Outlander has seating for seven courtesy of a third row of seats which fold flat to provide a decent amount of boot space at 477-litres, expandable to 1 608-litres with all the rear seats stowed away.
Infotainment is also catered for with a touchscreen system up front. It is rather basic, but it ticks the essential boxes. You also get a Rockford Fosgate sound system with a 710W eight-channel amplifier and a subwoofer in the boot. All of this can also be operated by straightforward controls on the multifunction steering wheel.
A bonus for those with children is the inclusion of a DVD system and screen mounted in the roof for rear seat passengers. Insert a DVD, fold down the screen and relish the peace and quiet as the kids watch a movie using wireless headphones.
It is all rather pleasant, but then there is the drive. The 2.4 petrol motor pushes out 123kW and 222Nm which is more than adequate for most people in town or for the occasional weekend away or holiday trip. However, the engine is marred by a seriously bad CVT (continuously variable transmission) gearbox. Put foot and it just whines all the way to the red line to the point where you just have to turn that sound system up to try to drown out the noise.
There are paddles on the steering wheel which you can use to limit the noise by using the six virtual steps in the gearbox when in sport mode, but these are almost pointless as they provide little real relation to genuine gear changes.
The Outlander is also afflicted by another issue common to CVT boxes and that is running out of puff when you want to overtake. At low urban crawling speeds it is not too bad, but overtake at highway speeds and it is not too enthusiastic.
Then there is the steering. It is possibly one of the worst assisted systems in the business. The wheel fails to return to the centre point and there is basically no feedback whatsoever, with the feeling that you are anything but connected to the road.
The ride comfort is good and it boasts all-wheel drive, with an easy to use control button in the centre console to switch between modes that include Eco, Auto and 4WD Lock.
The Outlander has much going for it. It looks good, has a great specification and a competitive price tag, but it is let down by the combination of a lacklustre engine and a terrible gearbox. But if it’s a Rockford Fosgate sound system and a DVD player in the rear for the kids you are after, then you will feel right at home. – Mark Smyth
Fast Facts: 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 GLS
Engine: 2359cc four-cylinder petrol
Power: 123kW at 6000rpm
Torque: 222Nm at 4100rpm
Top speed: N/A
Fuel: 8.2l/100km (claimed)
CO2: 192g/km (claimed)
Price: From R549 900