If you are in need of a car with seven seats but the idea of an MPV leaves you a bit flat, then what about a large, seven-seat SUV instead?
Hyundai's Santa Fe is practical and well equipped while the recently launched Land Rover Discovery Sport has added even more choice to the market. Or there’s this, the Mitsubishi Outlander, which has received a few upgrades as part of a 2016 model year revamp.
It’s certainly more distinctive thanks to a new chrome front grille flanked either side by striking vertical chrome blades. There are also LED daytime running lights, as well as new LED headlights on this upper-level GX4 trim we’re testing here.
Inside, Mitsubishi has attempted to boost cabin quality - a weak point of the previous car - with more soft-touch materials, smart gloss black trims, a new steering wheel and a revised infotainment system.
Underneath the skin the suspension has been tweaked in a bid to improve the ride and handling, and there's improved sound deadening that’s claimed to make the cabin quieter. Although it's badged as a 2.2, the engine is actually a 2.3-litre diesel that remains largely unchanged.
It’s not as quick as the competition with this six-speed automatic gearbox fitted (a six-speed manual is also available), or as efficient as the new Ingenium diesel engine in the Discovery Sport; however, the CO2 emissions are less than the Hyundai’s, which makes it cheaper to run as a company car.
What’s the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.2 DI-D like inside?
Those interior upgrades have certainly made a difference. The Outlander now feels plusher than before, with most of the upper surfaces feeling pleasantly squidgy when you give them a prod. The gloss black trim on the fascia looks good as well while this GX4 trim also gets neat black ash decorative trims on the doors. It’s still no class-leader in terms of perceived quality, but it's pleasant enough.
The improvements aren’t quite as obvious when it comes to the infotainment system, though. The menus may have been simplified and the time it takes to boot-up reduced, but the system is still not as responsive or easy to use as either Land Rover’s or Hyundai’s systems. At least you do get sat-nav and a rear parking camera as standard on the GX4, though.
As before, the Outlander’s cockpit is a comfortable place to be. Despite the steering wheel not having a vast range of in-and-out movement, the driving position is still decent enough to suit people of various builds. The seats are electric and trimmed in leather, and while they don’t hold you particularly firmly in corners, they manage to cosset you like a favourite old armchair.
Everything else is broadly similar to the previous version; the instruments are clear, the ergonomics are decent, and the high-up seating position affords you a good view out.
The back seats slide and recline, and when they’re set fully back allow enough leg- and head room to seat a couple of six-footers comfortably. A third person sat in the middle seat won’t feel quite so content because the raised central seat limits headroom. When you need the full seven seats, the two rearmost chairs are easy to erect. However, they aren’t as big as those in the Santa Fe and are suitable only for kids.
Where the Outlander is good is for boot space. It has the biggest luggage area of the three when it's in five-seat mode, although you might struggle to get into it. That’s because the powered tailgate that’s part of this GX4 package occasionally refuses to open if it thinks it’s too close to an object behind – even when, clearly, it’s not.
What’s the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.2 DI-D like to drive?
While the Outlander isn’t as quick as the Santa Fe or the Discovery Sport, it doesn’t feel slow. It picks up smartly from low revs and pulls strongly thereafter, revving cleanly all the way to its limiter. The six-speed automatic 'box is also pretty effective at keeping the revs somewhere around the 1500-3000rpm mark - just where the engine is at its most effective. The auto 'box changes through its gears smoothly, too.
You wouldn’t describe this engine as quiet – there’s a noticeable amount of diesel clatter and whooshing from the turbo – but still, it’s relatively smooth and easy on the ear. You don’t feel much vibration through the controls either, although at idle with the car in drive, you do feel a very slight shimmy through the body.
That extra sound deadening has had an effect on other areas of the car’s refinement. Suspension, road and wind noise - which were all problem areas for the old Outlander - are improved, although not to an extent that will trouble its rivals. Nor is the ride that great; it’s absorbent enough to smooth out generally patchy surfaces, but big ruts cause a thud through the cabin and there’s plenty of excess body movement over rippled roads.
We’ve been hugely impressed at how well the Discovery Sport handles for such a big, tall car. By comparison, the Outlander feels more like an old-school off-roader, with lots of body lean in corners making it feel unwieldy when you are pressing on. The steering’s pretty accurate, though, and the brakes feel strong and progressive.
Should I buy one?
This Outlander GX4 costs £32,899, and if you were to spend a few thousand pounds more on a mid-level Discovery Sport auto, you’d be buying into one of the new generation of SUVs that are both practical and sharp to drive. Or, just over £1000 extra gets you the well-equipped Santa Fe Premium auto, which is a more useful seven-seater.
However, despite its faults, there’s something endearing about the way the Outlander ambles along; in the main it’s comfortable, roomy and practical. At this money, it’s still not quite good enough to justify recommending over the competition, but the cheaper versions, perhaps with a decent dealer discount, are worth considering.
What Car? says...
Mitsubishi Outlander 2.2 DI-D GX4 auto
Engine size 2.3-litre diesel
Price from £32,899
Torque 265lb ft
0-62mph 11.6 seconds
Top speed 118mph
Fuel economy 48.7mpg