Mitsubishi Outlander MIVEC VR-X

At last, the Outlander scores some appeal!

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • 20 percent more power
  • No discernable increase in fuel consumption
  • Improved brakes and appearance
  • VR-X's Multi-Media system difficult to operate
  • A worthy alternative for crossover vehicle buyers

We first sampled the Mitsubishi Outlander in 2003 (see New Car Test - Mitsubishi Outlander XLS) and, while it was decent overall, it lacked anything to give it an edge. Its 100kW engine was also pretty underpowered in the class – “more power and/or less weight” is what we asked for.

Well, three years on and the ZF series Outlander has received a significant power boost – and, along with various other updates, it’s now a vehicle that has some appeal. Think of it as a cheaper Subaru Forester.

Since mid ’04, all Outlander models have received MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve lift Electronic Control) to alter the timing of the 2.4-litre four’s single overhead camshaft. This has contributed to a substantial 20 percent power hike over the early model – there’s now 120kW at 5750 rpm and 220Nm at 4000 rpm. The extra grunt enables the Outlander to run side-by-side with its rivals and, despite the engine’s very long stroke, it revs cleanly towards its 6500 redline. Interestingly, the 20 percent power increase has not sacrificed torque in the all-important low rpm range – the MIVEC Outlander offers perfectly adequate slog when you want it and 95 percent of peak torque is available from 2500 rpm.

Unfortunately, the only transmission available in the Outlander is a four-speed auto. Thankfully, the auto trans is well matched to the engine and the Sports Mode sequential shift function works well. We found ourselves using the Sports Mode shift more than usual thanks to the handy on-dash placement of the selector.

Enjoying a 20 percent power increase, the Outlander can climb hills with minimal fuss and zap in front of other cars when required. Tipping the scales at 1575kg, the Outlander MIVEC is capable of accelerating to 100 km/h in the mid 10 second range (about 2 seconds quicker than the early model). And, surprisingly, this extra performance comes with no discernable fuel consumption penalty – we recorded just over 11 litres per 100km during our mainly urban test, which is virtually identical to what we recoded in the early model. The engine’s 9.5:1 compression ratio is happy on a diet of normal unleaded fuel.

As previously, the Outlander is one of the most car-like crossover vehicles on the market. Its ride height is elevated enough to provide a safety benefit but it’s not so high that it cowers when there’s a corner approaching. With the security of constant AWD (using a viscous centre coupling), the Outlander has a safe, predictable bias towards understeer when exploring the limits. But, yes, there is more roll and pitch than a normal vehicle and grip levels are slightly reduced (sporty VR/VR-X Outlander models are equipped with 215/55 17 Yokohama Geolander tyres). Note that VR/VR-X models also have sports-tuned suspension – the ride is firm but not uncomfortable.

The thin-rimmed steering wheel that we criticised in the early version is replaced by a much grippier item (leather trimmed in the VR/VR-X) and the power assisted rack and pinion steering has decent response and feel. The brakes have also received a welcome upgrade – the rear drums found in the previous model have been replaced by discs. ABS and EBD come standard and the Outlander can pull up with excellent stability.

The off-road capabilities of the Outlander are severely limited by the lack of low-range gearing and a center diff lock. A look underneath also reveals minimal bash protection but there’s more than enough ground clearance for tackling rutted tracks on weekends away.

Inside, the Outlander offers impressive space for passengers and cargo. Lift the tailgate and you’re greeted by a cargo floor that’s big enough to accommodate the majority of loads. The 60:40 split rear backrests also fold forward to increase cargo volume from 328 to 1049 litres. The cargo area is neatly finished with four tie-down hooks, a 12V power outlet and, in the VR-X, a security blind. A full-size alloy spare wheel is accessible beneath a false floor.

The Outlander is well equipped even in base guise – you get a foot operated park brake (which maximizes interior space), power windows, cruise control, dual airbags, white face instruments, an adjustable driver’s armrest and plenty of storage facilities. The top-of-the range VR-X model adds easy to use analogue climate control, side airbags, carbon fibre look and leather bits, aluminium pedals, exclusive floor mats, chrome inner door handles and front scuff plates. The sports-spec seating onboard the VR-X is also covered in leather/suede and you get see-through head restraints which tremendously improve rearward visibility.

But the standout feature of the VR-X is its Multi-Media system which integrates satellite navigation, a trip computer, CD/MP3/DVD/VCD/MPEG player and a colour 6 ½ inch screen. The navigation system performs reasonably well (though the mapping data has some ‘holes’) and the sound system is suitably refined but, put bluntly, the whole system is a bastard to use. For example, if the navigation/map screen is being used you can’t push the VOL DOWN button to turn down the audio system – you must first locate the appropriate button to change to audio mode. Other simple tasks, such as changing the front-to-rear speaker bias, also had us delving into the operating manual.

Visually, the MIVEC Outlander is distinguished by its standard roof rails, projector style headlights and new grille, bee-sting aerial, revised taillights and rear spoiler. The tailgate has also been resigned to feature a larger window and handle. Sporty VR/VR-X models score full colour coding, a chrome exhaust tip, darkened headlight surrounds, fog lights and 17 inch alloys. The mid-spec VR misses out on the VR-X’s headlight washers, rear privacy glass and clear lens taillights – no big loss...

The Outlander should be a pretty durable vehicle (as evident by the supplied five-year/130,000km warranty) but, compared to some of its rivals, it lacks some polish. The roof rails and much of the interior is made using cheap plastic, the leather trim is very thin and our test vehicle had a major front-end clunk over bumps. The engine and exhaust notes are also appalling from outside the vehicle.

We congratulate Mitsubishi on giving the Outlander what it needs to put up a fight against the Forester and other light crossover vehicles; with a base price of AUD$29,990, it’s cheap enough to any grab buyers’ attention. Unfortunately, the top-of-the-line VR-X attracts a substantial premium of AUD$10,000 (for a total price just under 40 grand) and we don’t reckon it’s justifiable. We’d be happy to miss out on the VR-X’s terribly integrated Multi-Media system and opt for the mid-spec Outlander VR - that’s the bargain model.

The Outlander VR-X was provided for this test by Mitsubishi Australia.www.mitsubishi-motors.com.au

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