In case you haven’t noticed, Honda CR-V owners are a happy bunch, who sit smug with large crescent-shaped smiles plastered on their mugs. And why wouldn’t they be. This soft-roader king has creamed competition to such an extent that the niche today has only one consistent-selling car. Right, it’s the CR-V. But finally, on the horizon is something with enough appeal, enough substance and enough spunk to split the segment wide open. Meet the Outlander, Mitsubishi’s new soft-roader, a pedal-to-the-metal effort from the beleaguered company that has put in all its renowned off-road and rally car genius into a single package.
At first glance the design of the Outlander looks handsome but featureless, with only the thick ‘French’ C-pillar standing out (more on this later). In the flesh, the design has an almost Audi-like restrained elegance about it.
The grille and the air inlet in the bumper are done in a sporty mesh and there is a mildly aggressive-looking chin plate. The rear of the Outlander is much more radical, almost concept car-like in certain areas. The vertical almost van-like rear windscreen is flush mounted with the car’s C-pillar and overlaps the rear pillar. The LED-studded chromed taillights are the truly radical part, however, especially when mounted right up against the smoked glass.
Like the CR-V the Mitsubishi is an integrated monocoque construction. 30mm longer than the Honda, the wider Outlander’s bulk has been made to appear more svelte by use of a layer of black paint at the bottom of the car. Depending on the trim level, the car will either ride on 225/55 R18 or 215/70 R16 wheels; the latter, of course, is more practical for Indian conditions.
This is true of the interiors as well, which have a very modern soft black and brushed aluminum look. Very tastefully done and beautifully finished, the interior looks certain to be a top-draw, like the Accord’s was when it was launched.
This sparse theme is carried to every part of the interior, with even the instrument cluster and steering wheel getting in to the act. The instrument pods are more Alfa Romeo or Merc SL500 rather than Japanese SUV. Individual, deep-set and hooded, they dole out essential info, road and engine speed. Beautifully crafted too is the steering wheel, its relatively slender three-spoke design now possible due to advancements in airbag technology. The design of the central console echoes that of the new Toyota Land Cruiser, with vents placed on either side of the audio system and strips of brushed aluminium running alongside.
The seats split 60:40, in case you need to carry a lot of luggage. Unlike the CR-V, a third row of seats exists, but as in many SUVs, it’s very basic. But you do get three-point seat belts for these seats as well. The real cool feature, however, is how they fold flat into the floor of the loading bay. Luggage capacity is a jaw-dropping 882 litres (with third-row seats folded), and the space goes up to 1690 litres if the second row seats are dropped as well.
Apart from a full complement of airbags, the other delightful feature of the Outlander is the ‘custom’ sound system designed in collaboration with Rockford Fosgate, a leading US car audio brand.
Tuned specifically for good on-road behavior, this Mitsubishi is reputed to be the best handling soft-roader. The claim is totally believable, as Mitsubishi’s full fledged off-roaders are no slouches in this respect. The handling is aided by the car-like coil spring and strut suspension on all four wheels. The front struts have large diametre coils for better absorption of poor roads and a strut brace across the spring towers helps maintain rigidity of suspension when under load. The rear suspension, an area that is usually not paid much attention to on other cars, is also provided a trailing arm, multiple links as well as a rigid and solidly built sub frame.
The four-wheel drive system, known as All Wheel Control, is also a step up on the CR-V. It does function, like the Honda, as a front-wheel drive car for the most part, but unlike the latter, it doesn’t lose energy and fuel efficiency and keeps the four-wheel drive system partially engaged in case it encounters any slip. This means a bit of driver interaction—turning the dial to the 4WD auto mode—is required to engage four-wheel drive.
For high speed driving in slippery or extreme conditions, the Outlander has a vehicle stability control package, similar in concept to that of Mercedes’ ESP, where individual wheel braking is used to prevent the car from skidding. ASC, as Mitsubishi call it, also acts as a traction control device, preventing wheelspin.At present, the only SUVs on sale fitted with this system retail for upwards of Rs 45 lakh. It would be great if HM-Mitsubishi offered it.
The motor, or part of it, will be a familiar one for observers of the Indian automotive market. Developed jointly with Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai, it is similar to the ‘Theta’ motor that powers the new Sonata. Generating 170bhp in its normal state of tune, expect power to be down by approximately 10bhp for our fuel. A dual overhead camshaft engine, this motor uses Mitsubishi’s variable valve timing and lift system known as MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve Timing Electronic Control System) that operates in three modes at low, medium and high engine speeds. A VW-sourced 2-litre diesel is also on offer in Europe, but this is unlikely to make it to our shores.
Power is fed to either a six speed manual or CVT, the latter possessing a paddle shift function behind the steering wheel for added driver involvement. The CVT or belted stepless automatic, as seen on the Honda City, is likely to be more efficient than that of the auto box equipped CR-V. Don’t, however, expect operation to be as slick or as refined as an auto ‘box. Only Audi has managed that as yet with their Multitronic metal belt CVT.
Part of HM-Mitsubishi’s renewed effort at standing up to be counted in the Indian market, the Chennai-based company has been waiting for the launch of the new Outlander. The earlier, much smaller ridge-nosed car was also considered, but the manufacturer wisely decided to wait. Already on an extensive test program, we expect the new Outlander to be in showrooms by end 2006, with an estimated price tag of Rs. 15-lacs.
A fresh, all-out effort from a company with its back to the wall, the Outlander promises to be a whole lot of car. Expect it to give the CR-V a real run for its money.