Saturday, November 1, 2008

Mitsubishi Outlander

Meet the Outlander, Mitsubishi’s new soft-roader, a pedal-to-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 rear windscreen may be vertical to generate the maximum amount of space, but apart from this, the architecture appears to consist of very few SUV-like vertical elements.
The front windscreen, in fact, is so steeply raked that it looks very car-like, especially when viewed together with the bonnet. Huge wheel arches, a roof that arches down towards the rear and blacked-out pillars are other features that stand out. The deep-set headlights give the nose a touch of aggression and the thick bumper, with its pushed-in fog lights, is very Range Rover.
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 feel and quality of the dash as well as those of the buttons on it is not too dissimilar to that of the Toyota either—great news, since this car is expected to retail at half the price. Like on the Pajero, the seats are sporty and very supportive, with considerable side bolstering.
Space for rear occupants seems to be at least as much as that of the Honda CR-V. Bolstering, however, isn’t as much at the rear, and like the CR-V the backrests can also be individually adjusted.
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. Clever too is the tailgate that splits for easy loading and unloading and the load area now is a mere foot and a half off ground level. 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. And it is a biggie that boasts four six-inch speakers, twin dome tweeters, a 10-inch sub-woofer and a 650 watt amp sound as standard. Since we’ve heard it in action, we can vouch for the fact that the system rocks.
The Outlander’s aluminium roof is another outstanding feature. The roof is in place to reduce the car’s centre of gravity, reduce body roll and lighten it as well. And it directly affects the agility of the Outlander as well as the manner in which the suspension needs to be tuned. But do notice the roof strengthening corrugations at the rear.
Another bit of Lancer Evo tech, like the aluminium roof, is the mono-tube shock absorbers at the rear. An advancement on the twin tube type design, discovered during the World Rally Championship races, these shocks deliver quicker responses to extreme movements of the spring, damping the movement with reduced amount of lag. This cuts the reactive ‘bounce’ of the spring to a minimum, greatly improving high speed stability as well as ride comfort. Incredibly, they also help at low speed, by reacting quicker to smaller spring movements or smaller bumps. This is a technology that will also be a great boon in Indian conditions.
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 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 the year-end.
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.

No comments: