Mitsubishi's design team had plenty of time to come up with this third generation Outlander's rather distinctive shape. At launch in 2013, this was the first all-new model the brand had produced in nearly three years. It's a softer, less overtly SUV-style look that marked a fresh aesthetic direction for the brand, with high flanks, a raised beltline, uncluttered surfaces, strong shouldering and soft-contoured bumpers. It's quite slippery too for something you might expect to be boxy and bluff, the 0.33Cd drag factor sleeker than that of a Nissan Micra.
We're also impressed by the way the styling artfully disguises the size of this car - though the tape measure actually suggests it to be a little more compact than you might think. This vehicle's footprint is, after all, no bigger than that of a Ford Focus. Up-front, the slim aerodynamic grille is trimmed with unusual hockey stick-shaped chromed strips and flanked by sculpted wrap-around headlamps.
Moving to the back, horizontal trim between the rear lamps is supposed to add visual width and give the car a more planted stance. A little disappointingly, it's a one-piece tailgate rather than the split-folding affair found on the previous generation MK2 model, perhaps because Mitsubishi wanted to follow the prevailing fashion of providing optional power operation. A pity that it opens slower than your father-in-law's wallet. Once raised, you'll find revealed a luggage space that's necessarily very small if all three seating rows are in use - just 128-litres. Fold the separate third row chairs into the floor though and you get a 950mm-long load space with a useful 591-litre total capacity that pretty much applies even if you opt for the PHEV Plug-in hybrid version. Less impressive is the extended capacity with both rear seating rows folded. Though the 1.69m floor length this creates is 335mm more than the previous generation model, the 1,022-litre total load capacity figure lags some way behind obvious rivals. Still, it'll probably be sufficient for most owners.
And at the wheel? Well efforts have clearly been made to give the cabin a bit of a lift over the plasticky, utilitarian feel that characterised the old model. This was, after all, the first Outlander - and arguably the first Mitsubishi - to get soft-touch interior plastics. But they're not as evident as they would be in, say a Volkswagen Tiguan, nor does the build, fit and finish feel as bulletproof. Which is a pity because all the evidence in every customer satisfaction survey going says that it is and that an Outlander will offer a far better long term ownership proposition. It all comes down to subjective perceived quality. If this Japanese brand can just up that a few more notches in its products, then the German brands really would have something to worry about because in terms of technology, space and structural integrity, this car's otherwise right on the money.
Everything's certainly easy to use, though some of the big, chunky buttons are a little hard to find and the sat nav and stereo can be fiddly to use. There's a lovely three-spoke leather-trimmed wheel that adjusts for both reach and rake, through which you glimpse a well designed instrument binnacle with two big dials and a nice old-school fuel bar graph. There's a selection of eco driving displays too, though some might be seen to be a touch gimmicky.
Moving back into the second row, there's reasonable space for two adults - or three at a squash, though taller folk may feel the need to recline back the adjustable backrests. The main news here is the great flexibility you get thanks to the way the bench can slide backwards and forwards by as much as 250mm - that's a range three times greater than that of the old MK2 model. Which certainly helps make the third row seating more usable - where fitted of course. You can only have two rows in the PHEV hybrid model, which is a pity, this seemingly the only area of practicality that was compromised by the battery installation.
Assuming you have chosen a model in which seating is possible in the luggage compartment, you access the rearmost section of the car via this sliding 'walk-in' function and head in to find that instead of the MK2 Outlander's uncomfortable fixed bench, there are here two separate properly-sprung seats with integral head restraints and reclining backrests. They're still only really meant for children or adults who you don't like very much but at least there's the feeling that this Mitsubishi is now a proper seven-seater, rather than a crossover with a couple of midget perches in the boot.
You won't find too many mega mileage Outlanders, as they're often used as second cars. As with any all-wheel drive vehicle, listen for whining gearboxes and differentials; look for leaky power steering, engines, gearboxes and driveshaft joints, off road abuse, tailgate and underbody corrosion and theft or accident damage. Make sure it hasn't been used to tow a mobile home the length of the country. Some of the interior plastics can feel a little scratchy. They're fundamentally tough but can lose their cosmetic appeal fairly quickly. Don't worry about the complicated electronics of the PHEV version: so far, these have proved to be very reliable.
(approx based on a 2014 Outlander 2.2 DID) An air filter is under £10. A pair of ABS brake discs sit in the £75 to £100 bracket, depending on brand. A pair of brake pads sit in the £13 to £25 bracket, depending on brand. A clutch kit is around £280. And a fuel filter around £26. A thermostat is around £21. And an oil filter around £4. A drive belt is around £21.
If you're of the opinion that many 4x4s have just become estate cars with a little more ground clearance and a largely redundant all-wheel drive system, you might well like this MK3 Outlander. Despite its modern styling, there's something quite old school in the way that it drives, and we mean that as a compliment. Set off down the road and the feeling you get is that of being in a 'proper' 4x4, rather than some sort of ineffectual Crossover vehicle. You sense the meatiness of the steering and the gutsiness of the diesel engine and realise that this is a vehicle you'll be able to rely on, a car that'll work with you, even in a tight spot.
We're talking here of the conventional 2.2-litre diesel version that many Outlander customers will choose - driving the petrol/electric PHEV Plug-in hybrid variant is of course quite a different experience: we'll get to that in a minute. First to the issue that on paper at least, might initially strike you with this diesel: a perceived lack of power. This car's most obvious Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe rivals offer 194PS, cars that the previous generation MK2 Outlander struggled to match with 177PS on tap. How will this third generation model cope then, with a more modest 150PS under the bonnet of every single conventional derivative? Pretty well as it happens - in fact if anything, it feels a little more rapid than its predecessor because torque (pulling power) stayed the same in MK3 form at 380Nm, yet weight fell by a useful 100kgs. That degree of grunt means this car is rated to tow two tonnes on a braked trailer - significantly more than a comparable Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V. This of course matters far more than the 0-62mph sprint time, but for the record, that's 10.2s, only a fraction behind the Kia and Hyundai models we just mentioned on the way to a maximum speed that's actually higher at 124mph.
Power isn't the only area where on paper, this generation Outlander might seem to have taken a step backwards, only to prove its point when out on the road. It's the same when it comes to the automatic gearbox many buyers will want. The previous MK2 version of this car was one of the first models of its kind to feature new-fangled twin-clutch auto transmission technology clever enough to pre-select the next gear before you've even left the last one. Yet for the MK3 version of this Mitsubishi, that dual-clutch system was surprisingly ditched for the more conventional INVECS-II auto 'box the Japanese brand still had on the shelf. Why? Because it turned out that going that route offered a smoother change with cleaner emissions. The figures and the driving experience both bear that out.
We think an automatic gearbox actually suits this car rather well. First because we love the lovely tactile wheel-mounted paddle-shifters that Mitsubishi borrowed for the Outlander's use here from its EVO X rally replica supercar. But mainly because of the kind of diesel engine this is, tuned to develop its pulling power low down in the rev range to help with towing and off roading. As a result, if you choose the six-speed manual version, you'll be grabbing for gears pretty quickly as you accelerate onto roundabouts and such like. In the auto model, everything's far more relaxed. Maybe too relaxed in fact. The 62mph sprint time falls by 1.5s with the auto 'box and you feel the difference when darting for a gap or when coming out of junctions.
But then, this isn't supposed to be a sporting Crossover or a real rival to more agile compact 4x4s. Buy a Ford Kuga or a Toyota RAV4 if that's what you want. Both will better the rather vague steering response on offer here that's rather at odds with the sporting feel you get sat stationary grasping the smallish chunky leather-trimmed wheel and flicking on those Ferrari-style metallic paddleshifters. Mitsubishi's greater development emphasis has been on things more likely to matter to Outlander folk. Better ride quality. And extra refinement, delivered thanks to things like more sophisticated engine mounts, thicker glass and improved sound insulation materials.
Doubtless Mitsubishi could have improved the handling of this car if it had included the kind of off road compromises found in most of its Crossover rivals. Refreshingly though, the brand stuck to its guns - and its heritage - in this respect, as a result of which this MK3 Outlander has plenty of Shogun in its genes. We'd certainly much rather be towing or tackling a muddy rutted track in this car than in most of its rivals, Land Rover and Jeep excepted. True, more rugged tyres would make this a more capable off-roader but for a 4x4 with independent suspension all round, wheel articulation is miles better than most cars in this segment. Hill-start assist and a 22.5-degree approach angle get you going up steep slopes and there's the same 22.5-degree departure angle to get you down them again, though as you're slithering towards the bottom, you'll possibly regret Mitsubishi's decision not to bother with the fitment of Hill Descent control on this car. That, the restricted 21-degree breakover angle and the lack of underbody protection might dissuade some owners from travelling too far off the beaten track - though the 190mm ground clearance figure is a lot better than most feebly capable crossovers can offer.
As for the 4WD system, activated through a centre-dash push button, well the first point we need to make is that, in a break with the current fashion in this segment, you have to have it. Indeed, even the Plug-in hybrid variant of this car is all-wheel driven. Other rivals offer 2WD drivetrain options for those wanting to get their running costs down, but Mitsubishi hoped to have covered that off here by including a '4WD ECO' mode that powers the car through the front wheels nearly all the time, only sending drive to the rear when a loss of traction is sensed. Which is why a 4WD Outlander can return superior fuel and CO2 figures to 2WD versions of Kia's Sorrento and Land Rover's Freelander. Point proved we'd say.
In fact, we can't really see why you'd ever bother to switch to the second 4x4 setting '4WD Auto', a mode which duplicates much the same functionality but operates the car less economically. That only leaves the final '4WD LOCK' mode you'll only need if your Outlander ends up somewhere you really shouldn't have ventured with it in the first place. Here, the electronically operated clutch pack splits drive 50:50 between the front and rear axles to deliver all the grip you're going to get.
And finally? Well we promised to tell you a little about the PHEV Plug-in hybrid variant, which offers a 2.0-litre petrol engine aided by a 70KW generator and a couple of 80bhp electric motors, one at the front, one at the rear, giving all wheel drive and a combined power output in the region of 220bhp. It's quite a remarkable vehicle, which most of the time will operate under battery power alone across its three driving modes.
The first of these - 'Pure EV' - sees full silent milkfloat mobility across a range of just over 30 miles, during which time the car will be driven by its two electric motors with drive supplied from the battery pack. Should the need arise for sudden acceleration or the battery charge have run down, the car will seamlessly switch to its second 'Series Hybrid' driving mode. Here, your forward motion will still be battery-driven but the generator will start up to power the battery and the motors. If that's still not enough for either the performance or the driving range you need, the car will finally, almost reluctantly, switch to its third 'Parallel Hybrid' driving mode, which adds the resources of the petrol engine driving the front wheels, in which form the car will spirit you from rest to 62mph in about 11s. In this mode, you'll have a driving range claimed at 547 miles.
If you're on a long journey that'll finish with a bit of urban driving, there's a useful feature that enables you to 'hold' battery charge and use the zero emissions stuff more effectively around town at the end of the trip. Plus there's a neat feature that allows you to use the petrol engine to replenish the battery's charge up to 70% as you drive. It's all very clever.
You can see why Mitsubishi didn't want to share this MK3 Outlander's design with other brands in the way it had with the previous version. Some of the technology here is genuinely forward-thinking, even if you don't opt for a Plug-in hybrid variant that sets new standards, not only for Crossovers of this kind but also for family cars as a whole.
Which is worth knowing, for if you're looking at a used car of this kind, then this might not be the one you'd first think about. Despite the fact that in the case of the diesel version many will want, the running costs are low, the residuals are good and equipment levels are well up to class standards. Other rivals might offer classier cabins or a slightly more dynamic drive but they're often pricier, less versatile and less effective when it comes to things like towing.
Or driving on the mud. This car, after all, also feels a good deal more suited to light off roading than the Crossover competition. Which is worth knowing if you and six others ever want to share a vehicle able to tackle the Rubicon Trail. That's not a realistic family aspiration of course - but this car very definitely is, the kind of model the brand has long needed for style-conscious folk with kids and active lifestyles. It's unexpectedly clever, unexpectedly effective, unexpectedly... Mitsubishi.