Looks and handles better, but diesel and seven-seat options will appeal more.
11 November 2005

JAPAN’S ACCELERATED model cycles have always thrown up some strange anomalies.The current Mitsubishi Outlander still feels like a relatively new addition to the soft-roader segment; indeed it’s barely two years since it made its UK debut. But we’ve already driven its replacement, set to go on sale in Japan early next year, which gets here in ’07.The European Outlander will actually have a slightly different front end from the one you see here, and our core powerplant will be VW’s 2.0-litre TDi engine rather than the Japan-spec 2.4 litre petrol that we tested – but the Japanese version is certainly close enough to give us a good idea of what to expect.First impressions are good. Styling is far better, the chubby jowls of the existing car replaced by a clean, well-designed front end and a side profile that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Lexus RX300. Inside, the cabin is spacious and well finished, with high-quality switchgear and a good driving position. Our test car was a five-seater, but a seven-seat version with a collapsible third row will also be available.On the steering pad the handling feels composed – quick reactions, decent grip levels and a good resistance to the ultimately inevitable understeer. Normal configuration is front-wheel drive, with four-wheel drive selected by a central rotary switch (which also allows you to lock the centre diff), although limited ground clearance means few will choose it for anything except on-road performance.It’s stable at speed and little wind rustle makes it into the cabin. The 2.4-litre petrol engine, a new, all-alloy unit that will also be offered in Europe alongside that diesel, spins sweetly and produces reasonable urge, although the buzzy CVT transmission it comes with needs more work.In Drive, requests for hard acceleration quickly get the engine screaming away at high revs, while the Tiptronic-style mode is marred by a ridiculously high sixth ‘gear’ which the engine struggles to pull. We’d be surprised if an overwhelming percentage of UK Outlander buyers don’t go for the diesel option.So Mitsubishi’s renaissance continues apace – the new Outlander looks set to make a far more convincing case against rivals than the current car manages. If Mitsubishi can maintain this rate of improvement with the next-generation Lancer and Evo X, the future could take on a brighter tinge.Mike Duff

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