Mitsubishi Outlander Equippe

Think Mitsubishi, and the chances are that only two models will spring to mind - the Shogun mud-plugger and the thrilling rally-inspired Evo VIII. Both have proved a success in the UK, but now the Japanese company wants more.

SUV looks and rally-bred all-wheel drive should make this Mitsubishi's best car... but they don't. A poor ride and coarse engine take away some of the pleasure from the driving experience. Yet good value combined with capable handling and 'soft-roading' potential should attract enough buyers to meet the sales target of 2,000.

Think Mitsubishi, and the chances are that only two models will spring to mind - the Shogun mud-plugger and the thrilling rally-inspired Evo VIII. Both have proved a success in the UK, but now the Japanese company wants more.

Enter the Outlander, which mixes the visual punch of the beefy Shogun SUV body with the Evo VIII's sensational four-wheel-drive system. Aimed at rivals such as the Subaru Forester, the car's impressive parentage promises practicality and performance. We drove one of the first in the UK to see if the opposition should be worried.

The styling is something of an acquired taste, but does have some attractive detailing. The front wears a prominent Mitsubishi-badged snout, while the rear end looks sharp and modern. Unfortunately, it's not such a happy tale inside. By aiming to be part estate, part SUV, the Outlander has made some serious compromises.

Most dramatically, a high floor eats into the load space - not what we'd expect from a leisure vehicle. Thankfully, passengers fare better than their luggage, and there's lots of room front and rear. That said, the driving position is hampered by limited steering wheel height adjustment, but otherwise the ergonomics impress, while the raised ride height gives excellent visibility.

Performance UK-spec Outlanders will be available with only one petrol engine - a 158bhp 2.4-litre mated to a four-speed auto gearbox. LPG power will also be offered from launch. We tested an entry-level petrol Equippe. Once on the move, you will immediately notice the intrusive noise from the motor. Performance is average - if you can live with the lack of high-rev refinement - and the 0-62mph sprint takes 11.2 seconds, while maximum speed is 119mph. Fuel economy works out at 28mpg.

The harsh engine note isn't helped by the clunky automatic gearbox, but while not especially smooth it does at least offer a sequential manual override. Thankfully, the handling saves the driving experience, with the Outlander's Evo VIII heritage ensuring it is competent on B-roads, although at the expense of a smooth ride. There is little body roll, too, considering the car's increased height, which in turn at least lets it tackle light off-road work.

At £16,999, the base Equippe is good value for money, and undercuts Subaru's entry-level Forester by £446. Meanwhile, the flagship Outlander Sport SE weighs in at £18,749. With a sales target of only 2,000 next year, Mitsubishi isn't setting its sights too high. Maybe that's just as well, because although a decent drive saves the overall package, most buyers will find more comfort and versatility elsewhere.

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