Average. Decent. Reasonable. Nothing spectacular. In all key aspects of its design and driving behaviour, Mitsubishi's newly introduced Outlander XLS falls into one of these categories. We can't imagine potential owners having many (or indeed any) beefs with an Outlander, but nor is it a vehicle that really inspires or draws you in.
The most important question is: at $37,490, does the top-of-the-line Outlander XLS have the all-round abilities and value appeal to triumph over its long list of competitors?
Unlike many of its rivals, the Outlander arrives on the market with a very fresh look; whether or not it's a pleasing fresh look is debatable... From many angles, particularly the rear, the Outlander XLS looks well integrated and spunky - its pumped guards, roof spoiler, aero roof racks, high-mount brake light and clear taillights come together quite nicely. From the front, though, it looks like there's been a head-on collision with a bulldog. Yes, it's kinda tough looking but its also very cumbersome and ill-proportioned.
At least you can say its kerb-side appearance is different.
Inside, too, the styling is very modern - and again, distinctive. The dashboard is particularly eye-catching and, according to Mitsubishi, "retro-tech." All controls are reasonably well laid out and the instrumentation - speedo, tacho, fuel and temp gauges - are nice and clear.
Being the top-of-the-line model, the XLS has its fair share of features - a power tilt'n'slide glass sunroof, cruise control, electric mirrors and windows, immobiliser, remote central locking, trip meter, a generous centre console arrangement, leather wheel and shift knob, white-face dials and a centrally-mounted analog clock. The XLS also gets standard front and side airbags - note that no other vehicle in its class gives the option of side 'bags.
A 6-stack in-dash CD wired to 6-speakers is also standard on the XLS, but we wouldn't rate its sound quality anything wonderful. Interestingly, there's no climate control fitted but that's no major issue since the rotary HVAC controls are very easy to operate.
The driving position is quite comfortable (though the foot-operated park brake can get in the way occasionally) and the slightly raised driving position has undisputable advantages. There are no discomfort issues when driving the Outlander for extended durations, but a thicker rimmed steering wheel would be welcome.
Rear passengers enjoy generous amounts of head, knee and foot room and the backrest is multi-position adjustable to ensure comfort. Note that the top-line XLS also features see-through head restraints, which help provide a good overall level of visibility.
A low lip allows easy grocery loading into a cargo area that would be ample for most situations. The 60/40 split rear seats can also be folded forward to give you an expanded semi-flat cargo area that could swallow, say, a BMX with ease. And if you want still more carrying capacity, the front passenger seat backrest (once its headrest is removed) reclines near-flush with the back seat, allowing you to transport skinny items up to 2.4-metres in length. Cargo tie-down hooks, a full-size under-floor spare wheel, a 12-volt power socket along with a cargo security blind are also included on the XLS.
And now onto the driving experience.
In most urban situations the Outlander feels quite car-like and, in terms of keeping up with traffic, it acquits itself reasonably well - it is quite responsive and torquey. When you start asking for more power, though - like when passing on the open road - the vehicle fails to deliver.
Under the bonnet you'll find a 4G64 2.4-litre, SOHC, 16-valve petrol four - the same design engine as used in the Mitsubishi Nimbus. In Outlander tune, though, the 2.4 pushes a healthier 100kW at 5000 rpm but with a slightly less gutsy 205Nm of torque at 2500 rpm. Certainly, the low rpm at which peak power and torque arrive are indicators that the Outlander is a non-sporty performer.
Surprisingly, the Outlander is available only as an automatic. This is no great loss, though, as the 4-speed sports-mode sequential trannie works very nicely. We never caught it out in the wrong gear, and it is willing enough to kick-down without having to mash the accelerator to the floor. The sequential shift mode is great for descending hills where you want to hold a low gear in order to preserve the brakes. A LED gear indicator in the instrument cluster lets you know where you are in the 'box.
With an all-up kerb mass of 1565 kilograms, the Outlander is one of the heaviest vehicles in its class and - with 100kW - it's also one of the least powerful. No surprises, therefore, that 0 - 100 km/h sprints take mid 12-seconds and the quarter mile takes around 18 - 18.5-seconds. More power and/or less weight would be a good thing.
Fuel consumption is also pretty average, with 11.5 - 12.5-litres per 100km recorded during our test. With its modest 9.0:1 compression ratio, though, the Outlander can run on basic 91RON regular unleaded with ease. Touring range is adequate thanks to a 60-litre tank.
Driveline configuration is one of the biggest areas of variation in the 'light off-roader' market. Some of the rivals - such as Honda's CR-V - use a permanent front-drive set-up with active rear-drive, but the Mitsubishi opts for constant AWD security (like the Subaru Forester, for example). A centre viscous coupling is used to apportion front-to-rear torque.
As you would expect, the Outlander handles with great security and has enough traction to deal with the vast majority of conditions. The only thing missing is dual range and a centre diff lock for venturing way, way off-road. From our relatively limited off-road testing, though, the Outlander manages both sand and mud with no problems.
Its similar maximum approach and departure angles - 21.4 and 22.2 degrees respectively - make sense and the 205mm of ground clearance compares reasonably well with the competition.
On the bitumen, the Outlander doesn't have the ride trade-offs of a more serious off-roader - there's no real sensation of a hefty unsprung mass and road irregularities are absorbed very much like a conventional vehicle.
Using a monocoque body construction, the Outlander stands fairly tall on its (revised for Australia) MacPherson struts with lower L arms and a swaybar, multi-link trailing arm rear with a swaybar. Handling is, as you'd expect, a bit understeery but it's still easy to punch through a corner with both the front and rear tyres yowling (indicative of a reasonably balanced chassis).
The standard 215/60 Yokohama Geolanders on 16 x 6 alloys deliver a reasonable amount of grip on bitumen, but are not ideally suited to mud or sand.
Road feel through the power-assisted rack and pinion steering arrangement is good but, at times, we were caught out by the surprisingly large turning circle (larger than CR-V, X-Trail, Forester etc).
Without having a load hitched to the back we think it unlikely you'll ever fade the brakes of the Outlander. During our test they provided good, linear pedal response and consistent stopping power. Unlike the basic LS Outlander, the XLS gets standard ABS and EBD controlled ventilated front discs and drum(!) rears.
Overall, the Outlander is quite well built but its interior plastics aren't up to the standard of, say, a Honda CR-V. The only other quality gripe - that applies to our press car, at least - relates to the vinyl trim surrounding the vanity mirror on the passenger-side sun visor. (See pic.)
Mitsubishi's 3-year/100,000km warranty is fairly typical in the class.
By now you'll realise that nothing has stood out as particularly good or bad. So where does that leave the Outlander in the context of its competition?
Well, at $37,490, it is one of the cheapest top-of-the-line vehicles in its category. Only the Forester XS and Mazda Tribute Limited Sport are cheaper but, really, there is only a couple of thousand dollars separating these from the RAV-4 and X-Trail. Certainly, this is a very competitive segment.
As we mentioned, there's nothing to dislike about the Outlander - except maybe its front-end styling - but in this class it needs some kind of definitive advantage, which it simply does not have.
Verdict? We'd check out the deals from other manufacturers first.