The original Mitsubishi Outlander was called Airtrek in Japan, because its makers wanted to nurture the idea that its SUV was light-footed, nimble and free as a bird.
The same concept – the idea of that gently adventurous, easy-going dynamic – has been used to sell crossover 4x4s for the past decade. Unfortunately, even if Mitsubishi understands the formula, it can’t quite perfect its implementation here.
Given the firm’s heritage and outlook, it’s no surprise that the new Outlander feels better set up to escape up and over a motorway embankment than progress nonchalantly down the carriageway.
Most cars in the class – particularly those we consider to be at the top – wear ruggedness only as an affectation, but Mitsubishi still clearly believes in the concept of a big-boned, high-sided and robust utility vehicle.
Which isn’t to say that the new model is devoid of acceptable road manners. Settle into its lope, get to grips with the meaty feedback from a comparatively small steering wheel and the car’s relatively low kerb weight and soft low-speed ride are just about apparent in a largely benign experience.
The difference is that, against a backdrop of increasingly cultured competition, the Outlander conveys little sophistication. Despite its standard four-wheel drive system (see ‘Under the skin’, below), the Outlander’s Eco driving mode usually only troubles the front tyres with power.
A sense of simplicity pervades: one part primitive function, three parts mechanical durability. This suits it well enough on unmade roads, but on a testing B-road the handling can get polarised.
The car tends to adopt either an unremarkable plod or an unbalanced higher-speed fluster, and it isn’t easy to find a happy medium in between. Leaning untidily on modest grip levels and thumping through potholes are also unwelcome traits in a modern crossover.
All in all, the Outlander could use a little more ‘air’ and a little less ‘trek’.