Mitsubishi Motors hopes to sell 2,500 new Outlanders in the UK this year

Mitsubishi Motors hopes to sell 2,500 new Outlanders in the UK this year

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It's been a long wait for new products from Mitsubishi Motors, but the first of several to come has just hit the UK market. Glenn Brooks tries the third generation Outlander.

You won't mistake the third generation of this SUV for its predecessor: that model's chiseled front end is now part of a previous era for the company's Design department. Instead, there's now a softer, more aerodynamic flow, with two air intakes located below a grille that's just for show.

A quest for low-drag is also why you won't find side-rubbing strips on this new model, while the roof rails and door handles are flush-mounted. This is all about the SUV becoming a more, well, rounded, vehicle. Mitsubishi isn't afraid to talk about weight and fuel consumption numbers either, which is refreshing at the media launch of any new 4x4.

Outlander 3 (its codename is RE if you were wondering) uses the same Lancer-based platform as the old model so already there's an advantage over some rivals which have a ladder-frame chassis. The company has looked everywhere for weight savings, with even the new Fold & Stow rear seats having shed 10kg as part of an overall 100kg average reduction version-for-version compared to Outlander 2.

The new model is still a roomy seven-seater, with the second row now sliding over a 250mm range versus 80mm for the outgoing model. Flip the cushions and fold the backrests and you'll find room for objects up to 1.69m long to be stowed behind the driver and front passenger. The UK importer also sells a base version to farmers and the like who prefer to have a bigger boot and just five seats.

The sales numbers here in Britain aren't going to be sky high but to be fair, Mitsubishi has never claimed to be a major brand in this market. Still, the recent fall in the value of the yen will no doubt be a big relief to the company's MD Lance Bradley. He told me that cars for this country are being sourced from Japan, which means the Mizushima plant.

While Mizushima is the lead production location, PCMA-Rus, the 70:30 joint venture between PSA and MMC, also assembles the new model. This SKD and CKD facility in Kaluga will add the Pajero Sport later this year, to be followed by the next Lancer: Russia is a major market for the Mitsubishi brand, its cars and SUVs having earned a reputation for reliability and indestructibility.

Despite the nameplate's bulletproof reputation, there is nothing rough and ready about the new Outlander - if you weren't sitting higher than you do in a D-segment wagon such as the Passat you wouldn't necessarily know you were in an off-roader. And make no mistake, Mitsubishi does not want the Outlander to be called a crossover; it's an SUV.

A 'multi-select' 4x4 system combines the Electronic Control Coupling (ECC) with the 4WD ECU which controls it. A new feature is the Yaw Rate Feedback Control which inputs the ECC, judging cornering movements from the yaw rate sensor, the aim being sharper steering.

Most of the time, just the front wheels are being driven ('4WD ECO' mode) but when conditions demand it, the rear axle joins in. Set the system to 4WD AUTO and you get 4x4 drive but emissions and economy suffer, which is why 4WD ECO is the default. For really slippery slopes, there's also 4WD LOCK. All modes are set by a push-type switch on the centre console, which replaces the rotary controller that featured in the former GS series Outlander.

In the UK, Mitsubishi's own 2.2-litre DiD four-cylinder turbo diesel from the 4N1 family is the only engine. It replaces a PSA unit of the same capacity which MMC had branded DI-D.

The PSA-sourced diesel produced 177PS (130kW) and 380Nm of torque but its C02 average was 160g/km. The Mitsubishi engine has the same torque figure but power is only 150PS (110kW). Due to the overall weight loss, performance is down only slightly, while the C02 number is much better, at 138g/km. The new model tips the scales at 1,555kg (the old one weighed 1,650kg), which, incidentally, is less than a BMW 1 Series and almost half as much as an Audi Q7.

The wording of the firm's media information concerning its DiD engine is worth repeating: "Importantly, it will allow Mitsubishi Motors to respond quickly and flexibly to future market trends; to keep firmly in control of its own technology; and to end its dependence on outside partners, whether in terms of supply or development." So without stating as much, we now know that PSA won't be called upon too often in the future to share its powertrains.

The 4B1 engine features a 14.9:1 compression ratio, which is remarkably low for a diesel, and the company notes that "there is enough built-in flexibility to ensure that the engine easily satisfies Euro 6 emissions requirements as well as other legislation outside the EU, if needed". Does that mean the US? No-one is saying, but watch this space.

Speaking of North America, the Outlander is not yet on sale there but will be added to MMNA's 2014 model year range later this year, with the PHEV variant to follow from January. EU countries will receive this petrol-electric plug-in hybrid variant from the second half of 2013, Japan having been the first market - it was launched there just last month.

In many LHD European countries, the Outlander is also available with a 2.0-litre petrol engine as well as the 2.2-litre turbo diesel. In Russia, which is one of the model's largest markets, the diesel is not offered; instead there is a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol. The last of these is likely to be the standard unit for the US and Canada.

Mitsubishi hasn't stated a global sales target for the RE series model but it shouldn't be too long until the million unit mark is crossed for the Outlander – over 950,000 have been sold worldwide since the first shape vehicle was launched in 2001.

Aside from the PHEV due in the summer, a lot more new product is on its way. Mirage (Space Star in some European markets) deliveries are set to commence in a month or two, while a new Shogun/Pajero and the eighth generation Lancer should appear in 2014.

As for models that are still a few years away, look to next month's Geneva show for clues. There, the GR-HEV concept will be revealed. This provides clues as to the styling direction for the next L200/Triton pick-up, and arguably more importantly, it also has MMC's first diesel-electric hybrid powertrain under its bonnet. The company is also working on a new generation of EVs, as witnessed by the CA-MiEV concept which will also be revealed at Geneva - wireless charging is promised for that one.

After a few quiet-ish years, Mitsubishi does seem to be on the way back. The new Outlander is a very good product and deserves to sell well. There is much to admire in its design details and engineering advances, while the interior is a big improvement over the old model. Taking into account the eco publicity halo that the PHEV variant will soon be generating, don't be surprised if this turns out to be the most successful Outlander yet.