Mitsubishis in the Sand – Outlander and Pajero Sport
Not every new-car dealer lacks offroad knowledge. Thanks to Chadstone Mitsubishi we drive a Pajero Sport and Outlander on the dunes.
AS A GENERAL RULE, your average new-car dealer has less than no clue about offroading. Over the years, I’ve heard many stories from readers about poor advice, and my own favourite is when I was told to drive a poverty-pack LC100 in 4WD “because it’d improve the handling”. Of course, the base model LC100 is part-time 4WD so selecting 4WD on bitumen would lead to transmission windup in short order.
But there are exceptions, and Chadstone Mitsubishi is one of them. The service manager there is also an ex-president of the Pajero Club of Victoria, and an offroad driving instructor. Some of his mechanics are also skilled and enthusiastic offroaders too, so they combined forces to organise a customer drive sand in the sand dunes at Portland, near the South Australian border on the Victorian coast.
We sent Jane Speechley along in a Pajero Sport and you can read about her experiences here. I thought I’d crash the event too, but not in a Pajero Sport Sport, Pajero, or Triton. There would be no point – everybody knows how well they go on sand. For this sort of trip I prefer to take something a bit harder to drive, and so I selected the Outlander, Mitsubishi’s softroader.
Back in 2015 I’d tested the Outlander and come away fairly impressed. It wasn’t stylish, sexy or a sharp drive but it was good value, a practical 7-seater (better than Sport or Pajero) and surprisingly good offroad. So I was keen to see how it went in the sand at Portland.
Our tester was the diesel XLS seven-seater, with 18″ tyres which we dropped to 15psi. The transmission is a six-speed auto with paddleshifts, and the drivetrain is an on-demand system which means it mostly drives the front wheels, sending torque to the back only when it has to. Theres a ‘lock’ button to encourage the system to send more torque rearwards – it’s not a true centre differential lock. Stability control can be disengaged leaving brake traction control active. The engine is good for 110kW at 3500rpm and 360Nm of torque from 1500-2750rpm. Clearance is 190mm, and approach/departure/ramp aren’t great as you’d expect from a softroader.
On the day the dunes were a bit damp and it was early morning, so the going was relatively easy for a couple of reasons – damp, cold sand is not as loose hot, dry sand and the hotter the air, the less power the engine makes. Yet the sand was more than loose enough to get a good idea of how the Outlander performs and the answer is pretty damn good for its class. First, there’s plenty of power, not like softroaders of old with high-revving petrols and four-speed autos where you often got into situations where you just ran out of power. The paddleshifts are immediate and precise, and the transmission does what it’s told. The drivetrain effectively drives all four wheels, and stability control does not interfere once switched off.
The big limitation of the Outlander compared to its low-range, heavier-duty brethen is clearance. The nose is low, so you need to be careful about dune ascents and descents at the bottom. You also need to be very careful not to dig in as there’s very little time between when the wheels start spinning and the belly touches the ground. Clearance on rutted tracks is also an issue, and the Outlander has short-travel suspension although it is fairly soft suspension so it flexes well within its limits. The Outlander is also fairly light at around 1600kg, and that is an advantage compared to say Pajero Sport which is a touch over 2000kg and even that’s light compared to say Prado, LC200, Everest and others.
One softroader weakness is an inability to distribute torque front/rear, and sometimes also to overheat the central clutch which gives up and leaves you in 2WD. The Outlander does not appear to suffer from either problem, although I’d like more time in soft, hard going before stating definitively it wouldn’t be a concern. That said, enough work was done to give some confidence in the car, which is not unexpected given Mitsubishi’s offroad heritage. However, this was the diesel with a conventional automatic. The petrol has a CVT, and those aren’t as heavy-duty.
Overall, I’d say the Outlander is a capable sand machine – more so than most in its class – and owners should not be worried about going for even quite difficult sand driving, just note the limitations of the clearance and angles.
The ASX shares the same drivetrain and being even lighter and smaller is just as capable as the Outlander, if not more so. The LS manual pictured below has 205mm of ground clearance compared to 190mm for the Outlander, and weighs just 1300kg.
A fairly lightweight for class two-tonne kerb weight, 133kW/430Nm, eight-speed automatic, diesel, lockable centre diff and sand mode. If you’re thinking that adds up to a pretty decent sand machine then you would be right. I didn’t get a chance to really explore the limits of the Sport, but it performed as you’d expect given the specs – pretty damn well. I did play around with sand mode on and off, and stability control on and off. Even with sand mode off and stability control on the Sport can still get places, but switch the electronics off and sand mode on and you’ve got a very good sand car. I especially liked the paddle shifts which do not turn with the steering wheel so you always know which one to flick for an up or downshift – the auto isn’t bad, but as ever there are times when you’re better off selecting a gear yourself.