VRX a value-for-money question

BY ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 09:28 04/08/2010

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Is the top V6-powered VRX version of the Mitsubishi Outlander $13,000 better than the base LS model of this popular range of all-wheel drive crossover vehicles? Rob Maetzig asks the question.

Mitsubishi's Outlander has been the best- selling medium-sized SUV in New Zealand for the past four years.

MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER VRX V6

POWER PLANT: 3.0-litre SOHC V6 Mivec engine, 172 kW at 6250 rpm, 296 Nm at 3750 rpm.

RUNNING GEAR: Full-time all- wheel drive with S-AWC. Invecs- II six-speed automatic transmission with manual over- ride, including steering wheel paddles. Macpherson strut front suspension, multi-link system at the rear.

HOW BIG:Length 4665mm, width 1800mm, height 1735mm, wheelbase 2670mm.

HOW MUCH: $54,900.

WHAT'S GOOD: High specification, very good drive, attractive looks.

WHAT'S NOT: Tyre roar is pronounced. Really only a four- seater for comfortable driving. OUR

VERDICT: Sorry Mitsubishi, I'd opt for less power and the LS or XLS levels of specification. Lower price, more suitable all-round package.

There is good reason for this. Obviously, buyers recognise that it is a very good vehicle thanks to its combination of good size and comfort, and on- road credentials.

And another good reason why the Outlander is so popular is because the range contains sufficient vehicles to appeal to just about anyone.

There's a Japanese domestic- specification 2.0-litre front-drive version that is there to cater for those who want a slightly higher- riding SUV-style bodyshell on a front-drive car platform, and with the added benefit of seven seats. That model retails for $37,990.

Then there's a range of 2.4-litre all-wheel drive models of varying specification, all with continuously variable automatic transmissions, and with a choice of five or seven seats. These models vary in price from $44,990 to $49,990.

And right at the top there are two Outlanders powered by a 3.0-litre V6 engine mated to a conventional six-speed automatic transmission. These models retail for $49,990 for a SLX version, and $54,990 for a VRX.

In past months, I've driven both the four-cylinder base models, the two-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive LS Outlanders, and was happy to pronounce them to be pretty good product.

Now I've had the opportunity to try things out at the other end of the scale - spend a week behind the wheel of the V6-powered VRX, which has all the bells and whistles normally expected of a top-end Japanese car.

The VRX is by no means the top-selling model in the Outlander range. That honour goes to the four-cylinder 2.4-litre and 2.0-litre LS models which do a very honest job in the New Zealand motoring conditions.

This is particularly the case with the all-wheel-drive 2.4-litre version, which I found offers a nice combination of secure on- road handling and reasonable off- road ability, sound performance via its 127 kW DOHC engine, and - this is most important - excellent interior design.

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So for the 3.0-litre V6 VRX model to be $13,000 better than the base all-wheel-drive LS Outlander, it has to offer some pretty appealing additional features.

Does it? Let's delve a little deeper.

When the Outlander was facelifted late last year, the Mitsubishi New Zealand people proclaimed that they had worked hard to raise the premium appeal of the model with the VRX and its high level of appointment, technology and power.

VRX certainly is well- appointed. In fact, it is loaded with specification that includes a Lancer Evo-type leather steering wheel with audio and cruise control functions, a nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate stereo system, automatic air conditioning, Bluetooth hands-free telephone system, and leather seats. The front seats are also power operated and heated.

My test vehicle was also fitted with an optional satellite navigation system that I found to be a little beauty because the graphics were so good.

The front seats are comfortable and reasonably form-fitting, but despite the fact this Outlander is marketed as a full seven-seater thanks to a third row of seats, not only is there precious little room in the fold-down rear seat, but the second row is far more suited to two people than three. This is because the centre has quite a hump to it that's uncomfortable after a longish period.

During the week I had the VRX for test, I used it to carry five adults on a fairly lengthy journey. It really was quite unreasonable to expect any of them to sit in the third row - it is suitable only for kids - and it wasn't long before the person sitting in the centre of the second row began to complain.

So despite the fact the Outlander officially has seven seats, I'd describe it more as a four-seater.

However, from the perspective of the people sitting in the driver or front passenger seat, this Outlander is fine. It's very well specified and comfortable, and I particularly enjoyed the design of the steering wheel.

One major downside with this car is that it is fitted with 18-inch alloy wheels, and the tyre roar on our coarse-chip roads is often very pronounced. These tyres might look nice enough, but they are far noisier than the 16-inch wheels and tyres on the lesser models.

It's obviously something that the Japanese engineers simply do not understand when they specify vehicles such as the VRX for export markets such as New Zealand.

It's probably fair to say it's not their problem, but ours with our very coarse roads. But I'll bet MMNZ wish they could install skinnier and quieter tyres.

The upside, however, is that the 18-inch wheels and tyres do contribute to a solid ride and handling package.

The VRX is full-time all-wheel drive, and it features Mitsubishi's Super All-Wheel Control, which combines a front- wheel electronically controlled limited-slip differential with an electronically controlled coupling and ABS brakes with active stability control. When the vehicle is being braked and cornered, the system redirects torque to the unbraked wheels to improve steering performance.

To further improve driveability, S-AWC also offers the driver three drive modes - normal, offroad and snow - selected using a switch mounted on the centre console.

The Outlander VRX also has the very good Hill Start Assist, which automatically holds the brakes to prevent backwards roll once the driver releases the brake pedal to move away.

Overall, the VRX' ride and handling is the best of the Outlander range. It's firm but comfortable, and very enjoyable to operate. However, as is the case with all medium-sized vehicles with the wider low- profile tyres, the road noise is a pain.

Outlander's 3.0-litre V6 engine offers a solid 175 kilowatts of power, and the torque is 296 Newton metres, 90 per cent of which is reached at 2000 rpm - very good for a petrol engine.

So the conclusion that has to be reached about this Outlander VRX is that on the upside it offers excellent V6 power, a sporting ride and handling package, and excellent interior specification. But on the downside are fairly uncomfortable rear seats, and - worst of all - pronounced tyre roar that sometimes gets in the way of everything, including enjoyment of the vehicle's beaut audio system.

The VRX does have all the usual Outlander goodies, including the clamshell-design rear hatch that allows easy access to the cargo area. But so do all the lesser models.

And that raises the big question: Is V6 power, a trick all- wheel-drive system, and a high level of specification worth the extra dosh? I think the fact that this particular model is the least popular of the entire Outlander range, answers that.

- Taranaki Daily News

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