IF you are a car maker and you don't have a sports utility vehicle in your line-up, then achieving big volume success in Australia is an uphill battle.
Those “girt by sea” have fallen for off-road style wagons.
Last year, nearly one in four cars bought were a four-wheel drive or SUV. Sales within the segment during 2010 surged 25%.
Mitsubishi has seen the writing on the wall and is well tooled to meet the market.
The Japanese carmaker launched its city-size SUV last year (called the ASX), and now a two-wheel drive Outlander derivative has arrived with an appealing sticker price below 30 grand – that's a $4250 reduction on the previous entry-level model.
Called a soft-roader, due to off-roader looks but without the ability to tackle the tough stuff, the Mitsubishi has joined the likes of Toyota and Mazda who also offer an entry-level version of their popular SUVs.
Mitsubishi believes the 2WD Outlander and the ASX will combine to attract new buyers to the tri-diamond in 2011 – a year which also sees a raft of updates for Lancer models and an electric light car.
Last year we sampled the range-topping all-wheel drive VRX version and came away disappointed, but the new two-wheel drive resurrected the Outlander's appeal.
Head, leg and elbow room is good front and back and the cabin is plain but easy on the eye.
The console and dash has its fair share of hard plastics, and the steering wheel only has tilt adjustment, yet they are about the only complaints about the Outlander.
Even the basic cloth trim is easy to deal with, although those with families would be well advised to invest in some seat covers.
You don't get climate controlled air-conditioning but the basic system does a reasonable job.
On the road
Sports utility vehicles are rarely inspiring when it comes to the driving experience.
The Outlander is sprightly with a good feel through the leather-covered steering wheel, although getting too excited in corners or under heavy acceleration will expose the foibles of front-wheel drive.
Yet under just about all circumstances, the Outlander is easy to handle and a versatile offering.
Our test machine had the continuously variable transmission which proved well behaved in various conditions.
Steep hills and rapid overtaking required use of the tiptronic-style shift as the CVT can be slow to change down when you summons additional power.
What do you get?
Like all other 2011 five-seat Outlanders, the two-wheel drive has a power window safety system including driver auto up/down function, and an enhanced brake assist system, along with a full size spare tyre as standard.
This model also has air-conditioning, remote-control locking, steering wheel mounted audio and cruise controls, CD stereo, electric folding rear seats and USB port.
Safety gear includes dual stage SRS airbags, active stability control, anti-lock brakes and other associated technology, but you do have to pay $850 for side and curtain airbags.
The one-touch drop and roll function of the back seats is brilliant for those who regularly make use of the cargo area. All you need to do is press the button in the rear. Another boon at the rear is the two-stage tailgate that is especially handy if you have groceries in the back and you're parked on an incline.
Removing the all-wheel drive capability has saved weight, and in turn improved fuel consumption. The CVT is thriftier than the manual, with a combined average figure of nine litres per 100 kilometres.
It's hard to argue with the figures. The price is enticing for a flexible all-rounder, and you're backed by probably the best warranty on offer – five year/130,000 km whole vehicle, 10 year/160,000 km powertrain and a five year/130,000 kilometre roadside assistance package.
Many off-roaders never get near the rough stuff, let alone on dirt, so for those with no intention of four-wheel driving will reap the sticker price and fuel savings from the LS 2WD.
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