independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

It's nothing outlandish - but like a solid TD, it has my vote

It is a bit blasé to say it – but cars can be like politicians sometimes. They can suck you in, and then leave you high and dry. No more than some TDs I can take or leave, I never thought that much of Mitsubishi's Outlander. It was a relatively late arrival in the lifecycle of the modern sports utility vehicle and as such drew little real attention.

I considered the previous Outlander incarnation a bland enough piece of SUV/crossover work with commendable, if uninspiring, engineering and ability. Now they've gone and come up with a new one. But can the promise of a new SUV, any more than that of a new political dawn, really herald that much change?

They have certainly given the looks some serious treatment. They have given the front some striking design touches (shades of the Range Rover look I think), cleared up the (larger) cabin a lot and put some serious work into important areas under the bonnet and skin.

Furthermore, the one I had on test was a gorgeous deep bronze colour. So, before I even got into it, I had that sense of warming to something to which I had previously been indifferent. A bit like being caught up in the fervour of a political rally, if you know what I mean.

But I've learned many a lesson about this sort of thing. I call it my 'shallow' warning: Don't be taken in by a visual promise when it comes to cars – or most things for that matter. Just think of all the election-promise rhetoric and little subsequent substance we've had to listen to and endure over the years.

In motoring terms, it is a fact that nowadays you can dress up any old mechanical horse, and make it look like a Gold Cup winner.

So what was this new Outlander: a promising politician or something delivering as much as it promises?

As I said, the Outlander is a mid-size SUV/crossover with a choice of five or seven seats (mine had seven), and two-wheel or four-wheel-drive for extra traction and grip. The glory days of these big, expensive, motors being a must-have are well and truly gone. Nonetheless, a demand of sorts remains and carmakers have softened the look and focus so that they appeal more to families.

Hence a more user-friendly cabin in this new arrival, for example.

By no means is this your muscular 'Tiger' SUV with design bulges and brawn. The message is more subtle than that. Yet while they have significantly improved the cabin, it isn't as 'modern' or 'stylish' as some of its rivals (they range from the Ford Kuga to the Hyundai Santa Fe).

It was on the functional side of comfortable but the fabrics looked hard-wearing, while the plastic used on the dash and around the doors was of good quality. The instrumentation and all that stuff that is now part and parcel of a well-decked-out-motor are simply placed and illustrated. Thank God for that. You should see some of the cluttered cockpits I have to contend with betimes.

In fairness I think this could take a lot of pressure and handled well though it was not at its most elegant over rougher surfaces or those ubiquitous speed ramps. That didn't overly interfere with the comfort of travelling in it.

I'd say it is one of the more comfortable SUV's around. Mitsubishi did something with the front suspension and the rear which gave it a noticeable equilibrium. With a heavy load of passengers on board, and the boot jammed, it was one solid drive.

At its heart was that engine which, while a tad noisy after starting, turned in a consistently solid performance. With 150bhp on tap, the frugal 2.2-litre diesel (they're claiming as much as 58mpg) sat well with the package.

And so after all the campaigning in visuals and substance, the vote has to be cast for the Outlander. I have to say it does nothing extraordinary by any means. It does not have the handling of some rivals (the new Hyundai Santa Fe for example) or the potency of a BMW X3 or an Audi Q3 or Q5. Indeed in some areas it borders dull.

But you know what? To a large extent you get what you see and feel. So I'll give it a high preference vote because I think, like a good, constituency TD, it gets on with the job in hand without looking for the sound-bite headlines.

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