Seven-up: Outlander gets more bums on seats
Big revise moves crossover up the list
I'm often amazed at how carmakers eke out space and access for a third row of seats in modestly-sized motors. I sometimes wonder if it is worth the bother as the extra row can be more gesture than function.
But there is something about seven-seaters. They are a bit like spare rooms. You don't use the extra space that much, dump all sorts into them and then panic when they're needed. Seven-seaters cost more to buy, take up valuable boot space and aren't always that easy to access (more anon).
Yet I'm told by those in the know that there is strong, and rising, demand for them. And it's not necessarily all from parents of large families. It's also from those who want the flexibility - for when it's their turn to take their children's pals to football or hockey matches, for example.
The really big downside, I always feel, is how little space there is for luggage when you have the third row occupied (when not, they fold flat and give good luggage room).
Equally, you would be surprised at how strong a case can be made for a five-seater (especially from carmakers who don't have a seven-seat option). And you'd be surprised at how some dismiss others by claiming ownership of 'full-size' third rows.
I think Mitsubishi have hit on a good overall mix with their heavily revised SUV/crossover Outlander. They have a 4WD version with seven seats and a five-seater with 2WD which costs €7,000 less. Not all rivals bother with five seats so they have something going for them there.
Here I have to say that while the Outlander has been around a while it has never been the first name on my mid-size crossover/SUV shopping list. Or the second, for that matter. The likes of the Hyundai Santa Fe, KIA Sorento and Nissan X-Trail have had, up to now anyway, a higher profile.
I think that may be about to change a bit. They have given the motor a fairly serious going over as well as packing in much higher levels of spec - my 7-seater had leather upholstery as standard.
The Outlander is not a big car to look at, which makes the presence of the third row all the more intriguing. Avert your gaze now if you are any way squeamish because visualising me climbing into the third row could upset you. I have to say it was easier than I expected. I flicked forward the outside middle-row seat and, with the odd grunt, heaved myself in. I didn't stay long. The little seats were never meant for my bulk but smaller, younger children would be fine in them.
I was lucky to have the 4WD drive version over the few days of wind and water; I never had a concern about grip in the poor conditions. And for a tall-ish vehicle there was minimal side-buffeting by crosswinds. Solid car. The cabin was comfortable and it seemed much quieter - a result of better insulation from engine, road and (yes) wind noise.
Whatever they did in re-tuning the steering made a difference to the entire feel of the car. I also liked the driving position; it was easy to get my best spot because of electric adjustment and a nice, small steering wheel.
But I would have liked better lumbar support on my seat. And I wouldn't be taken at all by the darker insets around the cabin; things are gloomy enough on the outside these wintry days.
It's not the snazziest looking crossover/SUV either but as someone said recently, you spend 99pc of your time on the inside. And there is no doubt they have substantially improved it on that front.
My test car had the 2.2-litre DiD 150bhp diesel and manual transmission, a combination that worked well. The best test of the engine was a lower-gear/higher revs section of driving where little or no added sound or vibration came through. That's a sign of much better insulation.
I wouldn't say the Outlander is a mould-breaker but they have improved it sufficiently to move it well up the shopping list - for either a seven or five-seater.
Facts & figures
Mitsubishi Outlander 7-seater SUV/crossover 4WD, 2.2-litre diesel, 6spd manual, 150bhp, 4.8l/100km; emissions of 139g/km; road tax of €280 (automatic 5.3l/100km, €390 road tax).
Price from €38,450 (automatic €41,950); 2WD 5-seater version €31,450, 8-year/150,000km warranty.
Standard spec includes 18ins alloys, full-leather upholstery, dual-zone air con, 8-way electric driver's seat, heated front seats, paddle-shift gearchange, rearview camera/parking sensors, touchscreen audio display, Hill Start Assist, seven airbags, on-demand 4WD, cruise control, Bluetooth.
My side of the road
Something quite innocent can cause massive injuries in a car if you have to stop suddenly. A Christmas toy with sharp edges or heavy mass, such as a replica car, doll or superhero, can generate the impact of a small boulder if slung from the rear on heavy braking.
Stow away anything that can move so objects of fun don't become potential killers.