Two-wheel drive to fore
It's two-wheel drive to the fore as Mitsubishi widens the appeal of its Outlander SUV, says Richard M Hammond.
Big sport utility vehicles without four-wheel drive ought not to make sense, but regularly do.
The chief attributes of such models were historically ground clearance and a go-anywhere chassis but, in reality, the appeal of the modern SUV has less to do with going anywhere than it does with an increased sense of security from the commanding position and increased bulk. Combining those attributes with the favourable characteristics of a more typical car is what has made the crossover such a success.
Following the arrival of the genre-spawning Nissan Qashqai, many manufacturers projected crossover status on to existing compact SUVs – many while developing their own answer to the Nissan. The genuine, impressive ASX crossover means Mitsubishi can release its Outlander from segment-straddling duty. Returning it to compact SUV status is good – there's a place for a larger, more accommodating and more substantial model than the ASX but smaller, less intimidating and cheaper to run than the huge full-size Shogun.
With competition from above and below, the Outlander needs to spread itself across as wide as possible, hence four and two-wheel drive, twin-clutch automatic and manual models. Even the two-wheel drive manual's impressive stature offers the excellent driving position and commanding view that drivers came to love during the SUV boom, and have found hard to give up in more fuel-efficient, austere times. There's a safety advantage to having a better view of the road, as well as one of convenience and the psychological lift that comes courtesy of an elevated status on the road.
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As a tow car, the two-wheel drive version doesn't lag far behind the four-wheel drive. Once on the move, towing has more to do with stability and security of the car as it does with grip. The Outlander's sizeable frame is as planted in a straight line in two-wheel-drive as it is in four.
The ground clearance is present, too. That's not such an issue for urban or suburban compact SUV drivers but, for country-dwellers with challenging access roads, sometimes increased height is needed without increased traction.
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The chief advantage of the two-wheel drive Outlander comes in terms of fuel consumption with better real-world economy. The current fuel consumption indicator spent considerably more time on the right side of 30mpg, although still way below the official figure.
The 2.2-litre turbo diesel's torque delivery is impressive enough for some sharp getaways and the Outlander gathers pace effortlessly.
The front-wheel drive status is noticeable if overly exuberant in the corners, but the fact that such a sizeable model can be thrown into bends to find this out is to its credit.
For space and practicality it also performs well. The tall body is accommodating and large doors make for easy access. Hidden beneath the boot floor is an extra pair of child seats, which give the model MPV-challenging credentials.
Folding up the middle row seats to create extra load space is simple but putting them back in place is not a one-handed affair.
In the front, things are more user-friendly and equally as practical. Storage is excellent with three large bins and the GX3 model is equipped with an iPod connector and steering wheel controls for the audio and cruise control. A cutting edge, colour, digital display is very easy on the eye for the driver, too.
It may be lacking two wheel of drive, but there's nothing lacking in this compact SUV's appeal.
MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER 2.2 GX3 2WD
Engine: 2.2-litre, 174bhp turbo diesel
Transmission: Six-speed manual driving the front wheels
Performance: 0-62mph 9.7 seconds; top speed 124mph
CO2 emissions: 162g/km