THOSE looking for a mid-sized AWD wagon are now faced with an even tougher job deciding what to buy.
Mitsubishi have come up with a larger, more flexible and extremely well-priced offering in the new Outlander.
At $31,990, its “entry-level’’ contender puts plenty of heat on an array of rivals, including Nissan X-Trail, Toyota RAV4, Mazda Tribute 2.2, Subaru Forester X2.5, and Suzuki’s honest Grand Vitara.
The new Outlander is a more robust character than the previous model, now having a longer wheelbase and larger body.
This gives it impressive interior space, and carrying capacity can be enhanced to seven passengers if you order a third row of seats.
Be warned though, once other parents know you have additional room, expect to have a few extra youngsters aimed your way for the trip to and from soccer.
A highlight of the new shape is a horizontally split tailgate which has a lower section that makes a picnic seat.
The popularity of compact, or mid-sized, SUV 4WDs comes from the fact they are great all-rounders.
You sit higher on the road, which gives the driver a confident view of proceedings, and have the security of extra grip, easily at hand if needed.
And unlike their bigger brothers, you can park them easily at school or the shops and they don’t guzzle precious fuel. In the case of Outlander, a combination of highway and around-town driving will produce consumption figures of under 10 litres for every 100km covered.
The other big plus is, if not unselfishly ferrying loved ones to their sporting pursuits, you can load up the surfboard or golf clubs and head off for some much-needed “you time’’.
Our Outlander came with a 2.4-litre, DOHC, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine, which produces a handy 125kW of power if spurred to 6000rpm, and 226Nm of torque at 4100rpm.
For most people, its performance will be perfectly acceptable, but those who enjoy more grunt should spend the extra dollars on a V6 version.
The 2.4 engine is mated to a clever continuous variable transmission (CVT), stepped to give the effect of a 6-speed automatic.
It behaves nicely and the Mitsubishi zips around the city with the minimum of fuss and can sit on the 110km/h highway limit at a cruisy 2200rpm.
Mitsubishi does not come with low-range 4WD, which makes it more of a “soft-roader’’, like most SUVs in the class.
This means it can handle some slippery or sandy going, but wouldn’t be a contender if the going became really rough.
Extra stability and grip is easily engaged by turning an Active Select dial from 2WD to 4WD, or 4WD lock, a setting that sends 60 per cent of power to the rear wheels.
Spicing up the Outlander deal is a healthy list of standard features.
These include air conditioning, dual front airbags, ABS, power windows, cruise control, trip computer, and roof racks.
There’s also a remote entry and start, which means you can keep the key in your pocket and still start the car.
Oh, I almost forgot the clincher _ a leather clad steering wheel.
Mitsubishi’s major redesign has produced a stylish SUV that ticks all the boxes for those in need of a versatile wagon with loads of appeal, good looks and comfort.
For the price and backing of a 5-year, 130,000 warranty, it’s simply Outlandish.