The Civic Type-R and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo. Two very fast cars with legendary status. Except that ‘punks’ drive the Type-R around London, Pakistanis do their thing in Evos. Technically though, things are far more different. The Type-R was designed to burn the streets and occasionally fry more exotic stuff on track days. The Evo was designed to do all that and forge its way through forests, lay bare vast tracts of land and, er, help Mitsubishi get out of their recall mess. It’s a rally bred four-door saloon then that generally doesn’t cross swords with the Civic. Except now. No, we aren’t sleep-talking, but under the two crossovers you see here, there is a lot of commonality with their sedan brethren. Both the CR-V and Outlander are based on the same platform as the Civic and Evo. But then again, there are some differences. One is a proper road-centric crossover, the other has four-wheel drive gear with lockable diffs. Street cred vs rally bred? It doesn’t get any better than this.
While the Evo is loud visually, the Outlander is more sober. Not that it appears discreet, but in a while, it’ll appear like just another SUV. Nevertheless it’s robust and sharp in its appearance with the right amount of tones and bulges – take the crease that runs along the centre of the bonnet or the inverted air-dam on the grille, for instance. The Outlander appears taller and narrower, somewhat accentuated by the narrow track. The slab-sidedness becomes pronounced in profile, though the D-pillar integration is a smart touch. It’s not known to many, but the Outlander is sold as a seven-seater in some markets, hence the slightly MPV-ish greenhouse. The large wheel arches and smaller wheels do leave some air for imagination if fitting larger wheels and tyres is on your agenda. The tail lamps do seem aftermarket to most and the only smart touch is the two-piece tailgate that makes loading a breeze. How does it compare with the CR-V?: The CR-V, like the Type R, has presence. Its unconventional looks and coupe-like greenhouse mark its soft-roader pedigree. We still can’t get over the cleft-mouth grille-bonnet combination, but it’s a matter of personal taste. One thing is for sure, it will stand out even when other SUVs come and go.
INTERIOR & COMFORT
Space is at a slight premium in the Outlander. Designed to be a seven-seater, it skimps on crucial legroom. When compared to some of the competition, it feels like premium money for a smaller portion of real estate. Where the Outlander covers ground well is with the driver and passenger seats that offer good support, though there’s no way of adjusting lumbar support. Most, however, will like the seat warmers whose buttons are conveniently tucked away on either side of the handbrake.Mitsubishi interiors traditionally have stuck to good old black, and with the Outlander, the tradition continues. It’s a simple layout with not too many knobs and buttons to fiddle around with. The centre console has a pseudo carbon-fibre look with soft inserts. It isn’t the best of solutions, given the tendency of such surfaces to catch dust and grime rather easily. The rotary knobs for the air-conditioning unit are slightly plasticky, while the volume and track controls for the stereo a bit fiddly. Some of the plastic is of the hard and slightly poor finished variety, though on the whole it’s still fairly well put together. The Rockford Fosgate sound system is probably one of the best in the market, with a deep resounding bass and thump that will appeal to potential customers in this segment.
The dials could have been better finished, but the control stalks and other controls are well put together. The steering also feels very good to hold, part of the reason why the good handling character gets amplified. It is fairly loaded with so many little touches and features that the CR-V leaves you with a ‘poor’ feeling. There are headlamp washers, keyless entry and start, lots of space to store knick-knacks, a multi-information display that tells you about an impending service, paddle shift gearbox and one-touch power windows all around. If there’s one thing I’d like to take a hammer and knock out, it’s those buzzers. Even Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin would get a buzzing headache, what with the headlamp-on, key-in, seatbelts-not-worn buzzers... hurting you like ultrasonic sound to a dog. How does it compare with the CR-V?: The CR-V is better finished, better built and has vast acreage of space. The driver’s seat may be too wide, but otherwise there’s not much to fault. The stereo, though good, lacks depth and maybe there are too few features on the inside. If Honda does manage to offer some more features, it will only come with another price hike, making the Outlander an even more tempting proposition!
POWERTRAIN & PERFORMANCE
I’ve always had reservations about CVTs. Though great in theory, they tend to be a tad irritating in practice. The one thing that is most unappealing is the rubber-band effect that they create, constantly hunting for ratios and never allowing you to enjoy the drive. It works fine in the city, but not necessarily on the highway. It happens here with the Outlander as well, where the gearbox acts as the weakest link in its armour, and ultimately puts the CR-V in a strong fight-back position. The Mitsubishi is nice to flick around with paddle shifts, but more often than not, the tall ratios of the six-speeder don’t allow you to get a grip of the grunt. You constantly need to upshift to get out of the ‘buzz’ zone. That doesn’t prevent the engine from leaving a deep impact. It’s a nice rorty engine with a deep induction note that sometimes sounds a bit like a V6, before it becomes more ‘electric’. Performance numbers might not sound electrifying, though.
The CVT plays spoilsport yet again and before it starts to figure that you want to nail the throttle, precious tenths are lost. The lag is very pronounced, though once it gets past it, around the 40 kph mark where it drops some ratios, it starts to get its act together. The tonne mark comes in 12.1 seconds, a second slower than the CR-V, though the passing speeds are more impressive with the 80-120 kph and 100-140 kph turning in better numbers than the CR-V. The MIVEC engine uses similar variable valve tech like VTEC, while the block itself is made of die-cast aluminium. This block was developed with DaimlerChrysler and Hyundai and the CVT is standard. Trouble is, the marriage of the gearbox to the engine is a marriage of unequals, one where the gearbox acts like the spouse in entire control of the house. How does it compare with the CR-V?: The CR-V is quicker off the line and puts its power down very cleanly. It is quicker to 100 kph by a second, while sounding brilliant all the way to the redline. Unfortunately you can’t hold a gear at the redline like the Mitsubishi, nor are there paddle shifters to offer you some amount of control. Top speed too at 176 kph is some 10 kph off the Mitsubishi, highlighting lack of top-end. It might lose out to the Outlander in some areas, but its ability to offer the performance when you need it most nudges it ahead of the Mitsu.
RIDE AND HANDLING
Seven Dakars, four World Rally Championships – all in a row – and you know where this Outlander is coming from. Mitsubishi’s best weapon has always been its ability to understand the fine balance between off-roadability and corner carving prowess. Based on an extended version of the GS platform that also anchors the Lancer’s shell, the platform has even spawned the Citroen C-Crosser and Peugeot 4007 SUVs, both built by Mitsubishi for the French manufacturers in Japan. It was originally designed as a global platform along with DaimlerChrysler before the two parties had a fallout. The Outlander’s design allows for a rigid structure that can withstand the extremities of high-speed tarmac driving and semi-serious off-roading. Using a high-tensile steel monocoque and an aluminium roof, the Outlander also manages to somewhat offset the higher kerb weight due to the four-wheel drive system, while reducing the centre of gravity. It shows when you push the car around corners, where despite a track that’s narrower than the CR-V, it shows very few traces of body roll. Turn-in is also precise, amplified by the good-to-hold steering and there is good feedback too. Around fast corners the steering loads up well, though for the novice driver it can feel a tad heavy. It’s also very easy to put the Outlander into a drift and power through it beautifully. Those same on-road characteristics can be seen off-road as well. The good approach and departure angles and firmer suspension puts it at ease in hammering the surface underneath. The steering too gives a lot of leeway, with its inherent directness giving you a better idea of whether the surface allows you to engage 4WD or not.
Under normal circumstances the car is front-wheel drive, but when four-wheel drive auto mode is engaged the system splits torque between the front and rear wheels. On a very short drive through some off-road section with four-wheel drive engaged, the car never felt bogged down, nor did you need to raise the revs, something that tends to happen in its larger brother, the Montero. There’s also the 4WD lock mode, something a lot like locking differentials which we didn’t try, but then again we weren’t playing on a high-slip surface either.Back on the road, I asked Kartik to drive while I spent some time in the rear seat. Mitsubishi has adopted for McPherson struts at the front and a multi-link setup at the rear. Combined with higher profile 16-inch wheels, it is very good at tackling a wide variety of surfaces. While the ride is a tad firm at lower speeds, it’s never intrusive and never behaves like Margaret Thatcher when the speeds rise. Come to think of it, it’s very, very stable at high speeds and cross-winds just hit the car and drop their mojo. Braking too is highly stable and well balanced between all wheels.How does it compare with the CR-V?: So far the undisputed SUV king of the on-road arena, the CR-V is left trailing by the Outlander. Handling is still quite good, but high-speed lane changes reveal a softer rear setup and the steering, though nicely weighted, lacks the same level of feedback. Ride is quite good, but a tad stiff for some. For the off-road stuff, the CR-V is found wanting and it’s very easy to scrape the underbody if you aren’t careful. We’ve seen enough CR-Vs busting their dampers within one stage of the Raid de Himalaya and that should give you a good idea that it’s best left for tarmac use.
The Outlander is true to its rally genes. It rides better, handles better and steers better than the CR-V. It is also the only one capable of going off-road, but you really need to be an outdoor junkie to be even trying out the 4WD knob. It also offers more kit and strangely enough is cheaper in Mumbai, when you consider the on-road price is cheaper by almost Rs 1.15 lakh. On the other hand, the CR-V has more sorted build quality, has a sweet sounding engine, is a mite more frugal, is more spacious and will offer better return on your money when it’s time to upgrade. Besides it’s a Honda, so if you want to play it safe, you just won’t go wrong. So which is the outright winner here? It’s a tough choice actually, so let
me put it this way: as a self-driven car, it’s the Outlander, and as a family car, it will be the CR-V. Now that only goes to show that despite being similarly priced, they are as different as Barack Obama and John McCain, Oasis and Coldplay and the Civic Type-R and Lancer Evo.