Driving Torque

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Archive for the tag “Four-wheel drive”

Mitsubishi Outlander GX5 Automatic – Driven and Reviewed

2013 Mitsubishi Outlander front corner lowIt may be perceived as a little contrary to begin a car review with its conclusion but I feel its important to get one thing straight from the off, no flim-flam, no messing about; This Mitsubishi Outlander is a VERY GOOD CAR. Obviously that’s not my review done and dusted and I’m going to give you a myriad of reasons to support my sweeping statement, but there’s something about the Outlander that compelled me to want to pass this nugget of information to all and sundry.

2013 Mitsubishi Outlander sideIt’s possibly a defence mechanism as, if not all, then definitely sundry seemed determined to pour scorn on this mid-sized 4×4, with their derogatory comments mainly directed towards the Outlander’s general appearance: talk about judging a book by its cover. Unfortunately though, everyone can’t be wrong and even I’m forced to admit that it’s not the prettiest car in the world. There are some pleasant features and even some, namely the front and rear headlights that are strangely reminiscent of the latest Range Rover – no bad thing I’m sure you’ll agree. Conversely, there are reflections of the original BMW X1 – a car rarely noted for its aesthetic qualities. I’m fairly sure it’s the Outlander’s apparently small wheelbase and large front and rear overhangs that are the crux of the issue but without that seemingly voluminous rear-end, it just wouldn’t be the same car – I’ll explain why later.

It's very fashionable - piano black all the way in here

It’s very fashionable – piano black all the way in here

Inside the cabin is a breath of fresh air due to it’s easy layout and use of modern, top quality materials. Some of Mitsubishi’s interiors could be described as anything other than contemporary but a lot of effort has obviously gone into the Outlander to ensure it’s a credible competitor in its class. Piano black seems to be the colour of choice this year when picking out cabin plastics and our Outlander was no stranger to this fashionable look. All of this hard work would be for nothing if, say, the switchgear etc. wasn’t positioned correctly as little niggles can rapidly turn into big deals when they’re tackled every day but I found everything to be user-friendly and tactile.

2013 Mitsubishi Outlander frontThe Outlander is only available with a 2.2l oil-burner (unless you opt for PHEV). This could be looked upon as a somewhat brave decision as if a potential buyer takes a dislike to it, that’s the end of the story and they’ll simply move onto a different manufacturer. Thankfully, there’s very little to dislike about it: it’s smooth and refined although things can get a little clattery around the 2k revs mark. There is some noticeable lag but this is only when setting off from standstill – on the go, it’s quick to respond and surprisingly eager to power through the rev range. Perhaps more importantly, it’s easy on the wallet too; the engine is capable of CO2 emissions of 138g/km and over 50mpg. This did suffer in our range-topping GX5 automatic though, with figures of 153g/km and 48mpg, due in part to the absence of stop/start technology on auto Outlanders.

2013 Mitsubishi Outlander rearMitsubishi have managed to shave 100kg from the kerb-weight of the outgoing model – no mean feat when modern safety regulations generally mean slimming down is nigh-on impossible. They’re also very proud of the Outlander’s multilink suspension set-up, with good reason in my opinion; You see, it’s the way the Outlander drives that really sets it apart from the crowd.

2013 Mitsubishi Outlander rear cornerThere are three modes for the 4WD system; Eco, which powers the front wheels and only engages the rear ones if necessary; Auto, which Mitsubishi refer to as the ‘normal mode’, with 4WD permanently engaged, offering optimum grip at each corner, all the time; Lock, for when the going gets tough and the system requires locked differentials to get you back on the straight and narrow. I alternated between ‘Eco’ and ‘Auto’ and, to be honest, the difference from the driver’s seat is barely detectable. Whichever mode the Outlander in, it performs the great trick of abandoning it’s SUV limitations and does a plausible impression of a regular car. In fact, not a regular car but a capable car with a sorted chassis that inspires confidence and, would you believe, fun?

Top marks for the Intelligent Motion, Mitsubishi

Top marks for the Intelligent Motion, Mitsubishi

This inspiring performance on the road is really what sets the Outlander apart from the competition. Mitsubishi appear to have used some of the guile that made the Lancer such fun, and translated it into this relatively tall 4×4, the result being the best of both worlds – useable space and useable driveability. The fact that Mitsubishi have opted to supply the Outlander shod with Toyo rubber – a brand renowned for its sticky characteristics, is, for me, a true indication of just which direction they wanted the Outlander to go in when it came down to on-road performance.

So, we’ve established that it’s driving experience is class-leading and, being a Mitsubishi, it’ll be sturdy and reliable to the point of obsession, but what else makes the Outlander worthy of my initial high praise?

To answer this, we need to go back to my previous point about it’s relatively large overhangs and just why they’re necessary: The Outlander has seven seats – nothing to write home about in this sector you may think, but there’s having a third row of seats, and having a third row of seats. Occupants six and seven are treated as unwanted guests in some vehicles – tolerated but not really welcome.

That third row of seats is easily accessible and surprisingly comfortable

That third row of seats is easily accessible and surprisingly comfortable

Not so in the Outlander. Mitsubishi have gone to great lengths to ensure they’re comfortable and relaxed; they’ve extending the leg-room available to them; they’ve eliminated the clambering in aspect sometimes associated with the rearmost seats by providing a second row that slides and tilts forwards properly; they’ve also provided two sprung, inviting seats – complete with headrests, not just a big bench that appears to have been lifted from your local park. The cherry on top of this increasingly tempting cake is that the Outlander has been engineered to offer some room for your luggage, even when crammed to bursting point with people. It’s not a lot of room, granted, but compared to some of the competition, it’s better than nothing.

2013 Mitsubishi Outlander front corner highSo, the Mitsubishi Outlander drives well, is thoughtfully made and offers hitherto unseen levels of useable space for cargo and livestock. There are some drawbacks, obviously, not least of which being the lane departure warning system (LDW) which has a minor panic attack if you dare to stray over the white lines. This is very useful on a long motorway journey and could possibly save lives but on a B-road, it just gets annoying. Salvation comes slightly in turning it off but, unfortunately, it’s default setting is on and it reactivates every time the start button is pressed. Minor irritations aside though, I can’t stress enough that the Mitsubishi Outlander is a VERY GOOD CAR.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Mitsubishi Outlander GX5 2.2l Automatic, Transmission – 6 spd automatic, Layout – Front engine, 4WD, Power – 150ps, Torque – 360Nm @ 1500 – 2750RPM, Emissions – 153g/km CO2, Economy – 48.7 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 118MPH, Acceleration – 11.7s 0-62mph, Price – £33,999 OTR.

Mitsubishi Shogun LWB DI-DC SG4, Driven and Reviewed

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution doing what it does best - rallying

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution doing what it does best – rallying

It’s time for a little mind reading: Name me a hugely successful rally car from the ’90s. Ok, ok, forget the Impreza, now name me another one. It’s the Mitsubishi Lancer, isn’t it? These two 4wd turbo-charged monsters thrust rallying back into the limelight and brought an element of excitement back to the WRC not seen since the hair-raising days of Group B.

It’s therefore fair to say that Mitsubishi know a thing or two about screwing a 4wd system together and, perhaps more importantly, getting it to work in the real world, predominately on tarmac. Step forward the Shogun. Before the X5, the Cayenne or the Touraeg had even been roughly sketched, the Japanese were providing the only really credible opposition to anything coming out of Solihull with the Landcruiser and the Shogun. They were even screwed together properly.

The Shogun, complete with extra large wheels

The Shogun, complete with extra large wheels

What we have here then is the most recent incarnation of Mitsubishi’s go-anywhere limousine and it’s time to see whether it can still cut it in today’s highly competitive 4×4 segment or if it should simply retire back to the Land of the Rising Sun.

It has to be said that first impressions are good. If it’s road presence and drama you’re after, this is undoubtedly the tank for you. Subtlety must have been having a day off when the designers dreamt this car up as there’s more shiny bling than an episode of TOWIE (!?), and those ultra-large rims give the Shogun that sense of attitude that many 4×4 owners so heartily lust after. Indeed, it was the recipient of many approving comments from image-conscious 20-somethings, which surely represents something of an acid test.

After a few double-takes though, the reason for the Shogun’s nagging familiarity dawned on me; with its flattish bonnet and wrap-around headlights, it bears a certain resemblance to the latest Range Rover. This, of course, represents a role swap of epic proportions as the Japanese have long been accused of producing uncanny facsimiles of Western cars but, in this instance, the horse seems to be following the cart as the Shogun was available in this guise a long time before the new Range Rover breathed its first. A long, long time.

So, we’ve established that, from the outside at least, it’s something of an oldie but a goodie, possibly even a trendsetter that was way ahead of its time. But what’s it like on the inside? Can it offer levels of ambience and quality, hitherto unseen on a Japanese automobile, with fixtures and fittings to make the big three German marques feel uneasy?

The Shogun's Interior

The Shogun’s Interior

Put simply – no. It’s not an unpleasant place to be, don’t get me wrong, in much the same way that a Virgin Pendolino isn’t an unpleasant place to be. But neither of them are leading the way in the field of opulence either. The seats are supportive and comfortable enough and the basic design of the cabin area is fairly inoffensive but to compete in this segment, it’s in need of something of a rethink.

Standard equipment in this range-topping SG4 model is impressive, boasting DVD players in the front and rear mated to a Rockford Fosgate entertainment system, a rear view camera and the all important hidden row of seats to transform your Shogun into a MPV. Mitsubishi’s Fold2Hide system really does make this extra seating disappear into the boot when not required and isn’t too uncomfortable when it is. For this at least, they should be applauded.

Rockford Fosgate Multimedia System - standard on SG4 models

Rockford Fosgate Multimedia System – standard on SG4 models

However, the multimedia system somehow manages to confuse and be confused, all at the same time, never appearing completely sure what’s being asked of it. It claims to be proficient in the ways of the Iphone yet gets completely flummoxed when asked to interact with one, ultimately denying almost all knowledge of their existence.

There are other aspects of the Shogun’s cabin that, although minor on the face of it, prove to detract from an otherwise pleasurable experience. There are cubby holes and storage areas aplenty, as one would expect with a tough, rugged 4×4. All good so far, until the wide variation of plastics used is noticed. Surely it couldn’t have been that hard to match a lid or door to the rest of the surrounding surface and yet they mostly stick out like a sore thumb due to their differing colour or material.

The door-bins are another bugbear. They are voluminous and would be extremely useful, if it weren’t for the fact that once the car’s doors are shut, they are rendered completely inaccessible due to the location of the door’s armrest. If this is a clever safety feature to prevent the driver being distracted by the contents of his door-bin then I apologise. But if this is the case and the vehicle should be stationary whilst keys, boiled sweets etc are being found, surely it begs the question; why not just store everything in the boot?

Back to what Mitsubishi do rather excel at – a 4×4 system. No manufacturer would be naive enough to believe that the majority of their 4x4s are going to spend much less than 98% of their lives on tarmac, but to be unable to cut it on the rough stuff when required could prove to be a SUV‘s downfall.

shogun side viewI was ‘lucky’ enough to be in a position to test this Shogun out properly as our recent Baltic weather conditions left many roads covered in an inch of ice and snow. Green-laning it may not be but it’s about as hairy as most Shogun’s will ever see so, how did it do? Well, on one occasion, in two-wheel drive mode, on its standard road tyres, it was left pretty stranded on a particularly icy back street. One press of a button engaged 4wd, but again, progress was impossible. A further button press engaged the Shogun’s very clever differential lock and this is where those years of practice bore fruition: Those road tyres all of a sudden found grip where previously it didn’t exist and the mighty Mitsubishi simply strode on where lesser cars would have been stranded and this is what it does very well; it reassures you that, ultimately, it knows what it’s doing.

Back on terra firma, at slightly less inclement temperatures, the Shogun’s 4×4 system continues to impress. If the road is wet, slippery or compromised in any other way, a simple press of a button invites the front wheels to join in and all concern is instantly dissolved as grip levels are restored to confidence inspiring standards with little loss in economy.

shogun SG4 BadgeThe 3.2l, 4 cylinder, common rail Diesel found in this Shogun has been around a fair while now and, with recent advances in engine technology, it could hardly be described as cutting edge. Mitsubishi have recognised this fact and by tweaking this and modifying that, they’ve lowered emissions from 246g/km to 213g/km and 280g/km to 224g/km on manual and automatic models respectively. MPG is also up from 30.7 to 36.2 on the manuals and to 33.2 from 26.7 on the autos. Not exactly figures to worry Mr Prius but a step in the right direction that keep this drivetrain more relevant.

One aspect of this engine that can’t be ignored, no matter how hard one tries, is the noise. There’s insulation aplenty inside the Shogun to muffle the Diesel clatter but from the outside, it’s just not acceptable in a car that retails at £42,000. 4×4 or not.

shogun off roadOverall, to dismiss the Shogun as a relic from a bygone age would be somewhat unfair and inaccurate. It has many good points, not least of which is it’s bulletproof build quality and reputation for reliability. It’s just that, this SG4 model is priced up there with some pretty tasty competition and this is where it’s inadequacies are magnified. Strip it back to it’s bare bones however, taking away some unnecessary indulgencies and leaving only the bits we like and you can have a LWB Shogun for £32k. For that money, it’s a go-anywhere 7 seater that represents something of a bargain.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Mitsubishi Shogun LWB DI-DC SG4, Engine – 3.2 TD, Layout – Front engine, 4WD, Power – 197bhp, Maximum Speed – 111mph, Economy – 34.4mpg combined, Emissions –  216g/km CO2, Price – £41,799 OTR

New 2013 Ford Kuga – First Drive at the European Launch, Valencia

Ford Kuga

Ford Kuga (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since it first saw the light of day in 2008, the Kuga has been something of a success story for Ford in Europe, selling over 300,000 units and, according to Ford themselves, attracting buyers who would previously have overlooked the brand. In such tough economic times, it’s tricky attracting sales at all so what’s the Kuga’s secret and does this new, updated model retain it’s predecessor’s magnetic pull?

New 2013 Ford Kuga

New 2013 Ford Kuga

Like it’s stablemate – the Focus, this new Kuga is a global car for Ford. It not only replaces our first generation model but is also sold in the USA under the moniker ‘Escape‘, replacing a much larger 4×4 of the same name. Think it’s impossible to tempt an American out of his gas guzzling pick-up? You may be surprised to read that the Ford dealerships in the US can’t get Escapes into their showrooms quickly enough – it’s an incredibly popular vehicle and, with 5 NCAP and also 5 NHTSA stars, incredibly safe too.

2012 Ford Escape

The Kuga is known as the Escape in the US. This is the previous model Escape

Visually, I always found the first generation Kuga very inoffensive with a certain ‘Tonka Toy’ charm that distinguished it from the opposition. It had real road presence, bulges in all the right places and a nice shiny pair of twin exhausts that hinted at a cheeky fun factor on the road. This latest Kuga has undoubtedly retained many of these endearing features but I can’t help but feel that, visually at least, it’s all got a bit grown up. Amalgamating the Kuga with the Escape has inevitably resulted in a slight compromise with it’s styling. Thankfully however, the US market have adopted our curvy Kuga more than we’ve endured their boxy Escape.

Hands-free tailgate. Works beautifully, sometimes

Hands-free tailgate. Works beautifully. Sometimes

The new model is longer (81mm) and marginally narrower (4mm) than the outgoing model which does give it a more sensible, upright silhouette and detracts from its previous squat image with its shorter, less cumbersome overhangs. Ford claim to simply be listening to market feedback who apparently demanded more luggage space. One can’t fault them for this but it just seems a shame that the trade-off for a larger boot (up 82 litres on previous model) is inevitably a loss in the looks department. On the boot subject, Ford are very proud of their new, automatic, hands free tailgate which is designed to allow items to be quickly stowed away, without fumbling around in the rain for the keys. With the ‘correct’ kick under the rear end, the system does open and close as advertised. Be warned though – looking foolish is easily achieved, either by adopting the wrong style of leg movement or, as I did, by solidly cracking one’s shins on one’s own bumper.

It’s that same story up front too. Here is where the influence of the US market is more obvious and the result is a far more angular, dramatic ‘face’. It’s all new, triangular air intakes are slightly reminiscent of Porsche‘s Cayenne – certainly not the prettiest car in the world but definitely one of the more striking.

Some fantastic design features inside

Some fantastic design features inside

Inside the new Kuga, there’s a reassuring air of quality that seems to be indicative of most current Fords. The standard of materials used and imagination in design are largely unseen in this price bracket and are testament to Ford’s commitment to forgetting mistakes made in the past and establishing themselves as a marque of quality once more.

Ford were keen to point out the various innovative features they’ve added to the new Kuga, all aimed at a more satisfying, safer driving experience. The AWD system now boasts Torque Vectoring Control, Torque Steer Compensation, Curve Control for over-zealous cornering and Active Nibble Compensation for, erm……

2013 KugaLearning the intricacies of exactly how all these systems work is both unnecessary and slightly boring. What isn’t boring however is what they all add up to on the road. Our test route, high in the hills above Valencia offered many bends with varying angles and elevations to really stretch the capabilities of a lofty SUV. Ford insist that the S in SUV stands for Smart in this instance and when it comes down to how the Kuga drives, I’m inclined to agree. Yes, the roads around Valencia offer a surface quality that we in the UK can only dream of but, either way, the Kuga was resolutely unshakeable. The AWD system on our test vehicle apparently analyses feedback from the aforementioned driver aids 40 times every 16 milliseconds and I could well believe it. The result is a sensation not dissimilar to Ford’s own Focus with its limpet like qualities; no mean feat for a tall 4×4 with running gear that’s designed to also be able to cut it off-road.

The new Kuga will be offered with a range of engines; 2.0l Diesels in either 140PS or 163PS guise and Ford’s 1.6 EcoBoost petrol with either 150PS or 180PS. Our test cars came equipped with the Duratorq Diesel engine (163PS) and I’m sad to say, this is the Kuga’s weakest link. This Diesel engine is unusually keen to rev but, even with the Kuga’s valiant attempts at sound deadening in the cabin (including thicker glass), when pushed hard, the reverberations and clatter were intrusive, antiquated and completely out of sync with the car’s funky image.

New 2013 Kuga Rear

We like twin tail-pipes

The EcoBoost engines could prove to be a real highlight for the Kuga, not only by producing a more pleasant noise but by also improving handling further due to their comparative lightness. The only stumbling block may be that Ford have decided to offer the 150PS variant in FWD only, reserving the higher output lump for 4WD. Not that I’m envisaging the vast majority of Kugas ever experiencing much more by way of off-roading than a grass verge, but any potentially adverse effect on the 4WD model’s impeccable road handling would be a real shame. If, however, the FWD EcoBoost Kuga does tow the party line and sticks to the road like glue, it’ll surely become a common sight in the UK as its economy and CO2 figures aren’t a million miles away from its Diesel counterparts, with acceleration becoming far more spirited. Couple this with the entry-level Kuga being available for £20,895, a full £1,000 less than the equivalent outgoing model and it could be a great package.

Conversely, I feel that the 180PS model will sell in very limited numbers as it offers no hike in performance due to the extra weight of its 4×4 system, whilst fuel consumption and CO2 emissions stumble to unacceptable levels in this segment (36.7mpg combined and 179g/km CO2).

With improvements in almost every area, stunning handling and a very welcome price drop, the new Kuga has little to dislike and with this segment expanding 40% since 2008, I see very little reason why the Kuga won’t continue to take a hefty bite. However, Ford predict that it’s Diesel Kugas will outsell the petrol variants 3:1. Armed with the mighty EcoBoost, I’m not so sure. I definitely plan to get my hands on one soon though, to provide my full verdict.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications as driven; Ford Kuga Duratorq 163, Price – from £25,545, Engine – 2.0l Diesel, Layout – Front engine, 4WD, Power – 163bhp, Acceleration0-60 9.9s, Maximum Speed123 mph, Economy –  47.9 mpg combined, Emissions –  154g/km CO2

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