Mitsubishi Motors Corporation has officially announced the Airtrek ‘crossover recreational vehicle’, its first new model since the DaimlerChrysler-planned ‘turnaround’ was announced a few months ago.

This stylish crossover utility vehicle (CUV) is the latest in a line of new-generation SUVs now being rolled out by vehicle makers. They’re built on car-like platforms to give something closer to car-like handling, ride quality and economy than a light truck-based SUV.

First displayed as a concept 18 months ago at the Tokyo motor show, and in pre-production ASX-badged form at Geneva in February, the Mitsubishi Airtrek has familiar 2.4-litre GDI or 2.0-litre ECI-Multi petrol engines with drive to either the front or all four wheels.

The Airtrek goes on sale in Japan on 20 June while a similar model with different front end styling is due to be introduced to Europe and the USA over the next two years.

Mitsubishi’s UK importer says the new five-seater combines the best of the firm’s 4WD powertrain and GDI direct injection technology with luxury estate car (station wagon) refinement, equipment and versatility.

As usual, the Japanese have come up with a meaningless slogan to describe the new model which, we are told, was developed according to a “free-spirit interior space and performance” concept.

Whatever that means.

“Airtrek lays claim to an exclusive position in its category as it brings together the friendly driveability and brisk around-town performance offered by MPVs (minivans) and estates (station wagons), and the go-anywhere off-road performance potential of an SUV,” is the UK importer’s explanation.

Though the Japanese are not usually great innovators in car design, Honda’s engines apart, the Airtrek does have a few good ideas.

One is a minivan-style ‘walk-through’ area between the front seats, achieved by mounting the shift lever at the bottom of the dash centre panel, while the standalone floor console is the same height as the front seat squab cushion. But you can also get that in any column shift-equipped U.S.-designed SUV or the ForMazda Escape/Tribute CUV.

Four-wheel drive Airtrek models use the centre differential system from the road-going, rally-based Lancer Evolution.

Safety equipment, currently a hot topic in SUV-like vehicles, includes front seat belt pretensioners and force limiters and three-channel, four-sensor anti-lock braking with electronic brake force distribution. No mention of airbag innovations, though.

Round air vents and an analogue clock give some style to the new ‘T-shape’ dash layout (with the handy sub-benefit of easy LHD/RHD build) and Mitsubishi’s much-loved, long-lived, battleship grey interior monotone is at last giving way to new interior colour schemes: still grey but now two-toned with a choice of contrasting inserts and upholstery patterns.

The ‘Casual’ scheme features terracotta orange accents in the panels, seats and door trim while ‘Gentle’ co-ordinates black wood-grain panels with two-tone grey seat upholstery.

Those trim names may well change before the Airtrek is let loose outside Japan, as could the model’s name itself – it reminds us of a Nike sports shoe.

Mitsubishi is also offering Japanese buyers a luxury trim package with light brown wood finish panelling and real leather/punched-suede seat upholstery.

Standard or optional, according to model, are a front sunroof and rear glass roof panel.

Other Japanese market optional equipment includes a multi-communication system (audio/TV system with sat-nav) and a ‘multi display station’ that presents the driver with vehicle status and other pertinent information.

Both use an in-dash seven-inch widescreen display bound to appeal to gadget loving Japanese buyers.

And, in a week when soaring vehicle thefts in Japan seem likely to hike insurance premiums: most versions are fitted with an alarm system.

To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

The world’s car manufacturers: A financial and operating review

PriceWaterhouseCoopers Global Supplier Report

Automotive country report: Japan