When it comes to purchasing a sport utility vehicle, Malaysian customers have quite a number of models to choose from various manufacturers. However, as the readers’ comments on paultan.org have revealed, there are quite a number of people that insist on a unibody, mid-size, seven-seat SUV that is priced outside the premium segment.

As a result, the pool of vehicles is made smaller, as nameplates like the Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5 (five-seaters), plus the Volvo XC90 (premium) no longer fit the bill. Other models like the Toyota Fortuner and Isuzu MU-X aren’t considered either, as they are body-on-frame SUVs, despite being seven-seaters. This leaves us with just a handful of options, namely the Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan X-Trail, Kia Sorento, and Hyundai Santa Fe.

The first on the list was launched in February 2016, where it arrived fully imported (CBU) in a sole 2.4L 4WD variant at the time (Danny Tan had a go in one already). Just a few months ago, Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia (MMM) expanded the line-up with a new, locally-assembled (CKD) 2.0L 2WD option, which among other things, comes with a more tantalising price tag.

Of course, there are a few items that have to make way in order to facilitate the pricing, which is RM139,988 (on-the-road without insurance) until the end of 2017. So, should you make haste for one before then? We try out the new Outlander variant on a trip to Janda Baik and back to find out.

Let’s start with what separates the CKD variants from the CBU one, by first looking at it from the outside. At first glance, they appear nigh identical, until you spot the halogen projector headlights in place of the 2.4L 4WD’s LED units, as well as the absence of a sunroof.

The Ruby Black paintjob you see in some of the photos is exclusive to the 2.0 4WD in the Malaysian market, as it is only available for the plug-in hybrid version of the Outlander, which isn’t sold in the country.

Under the hood, you’ll find a 4B11 2.0 litre naturally-aspirated DOHC MIVEC petrol engine (145 PS at 6,000 rpm and 196 Nm at 4,200 rpm) sending drive to all four wheels. The mill is lifted from the smaller ASX, and comes paired with an INVECS-III CVT gearbox, although you won’t have paddle shifters to play with like in the 2.4L 4WD.

The smaller displacement sees an output deficit when compared to the 2.4L 4WD’s 4B12, amounting to 22 PS and 26 Nm, but a marginally better claimed fuel consumption of 13.7 km/l against 13 km/l. The company also says the 4B11 has been revised to be 10% quieter compared to previous applications.

The lack of grunt is most apparent on the uphill sections of the Karak Highway, especially when trying to quicken the pace. Sudden bursts of acceleration isn’t this car’s forte, as you’ll mostly be greeted by the rubber banding effect of the CVT, which piles on the revs but power comes in later on.

This isn’t a big concern for those who aren’t lead-footed, because the target market for the Outlander is people with families, where outright speed isn’t their primary concern. If you drive like a sensible person by adapting your driving style to match the CVT’s trait, the usefulness of the powertrain on the daily drive becomes apparent.

Power delivery is smooth here, and the 1,425 kg SUV will easily get up to most speed limits with minimal fuss, plus with little noise and vibration intrusion from the engine bay.

Those who want the security of all-wheel drive will be glad to know the entry-level Outlander variant retains MMC’s Multi-Select 4WD system. That makes the Outlander the only 2.0 litre, seven-seat SUV with all-wheel drive in the segment, as the X-Trail 2.0L is front-wheel drive only.

The system itself has three modes – 4WD Eco (FWD as default, directs drive to the rear axle when needed), 4WD Auto (splits torque automatically between both axles) and 4WD Lock for tough conditions.

To demonstrate the system in action, we were sent out onto a short course with a wet roundabout section, once in 4WD Eco and another time in 4WD Auto. In the former, the system does well to send drive to the rear axle when front grip begins to dissipate due to understeering, although the reaction comes a little delayed by a second or so.

Switching over to 4WD Auto, where drive is constantly sent to both axles, the same exercise yielded a quicker response from the system. In this mode, the system is always at the ready to direct drive rearwards, helping pivot the car to turn in more. Keep in mind that you’ll need to apply the accelerator in order for it to work its best, as I found out when lifting off mid-turn.

On a related topic, the Outlander offers decent levels of handling, managing body roll well enough so occupants don’t feel uneasy. The steering weight isn’t too demanding of the driver, and its moderate speed should help cope with long highway journeys.

The ride is a strongpoint here, remaining comfortable at up to highway speeds, regardless if you’re behind the wheel or not. Those 225/55 profile tyres (wrapped around 18-inch dual-tone alloys) along with the MacPherson front and multi-link rear suspension setup help isolate shocks from the cabin. That, along with good NVH levels makes it a comfortable SUV to drive around in.

On the practicality front, the Outlander may come with seven seats, but the third-row isn’t exactly roomy. As you can see, being placed on the rearmost bench is a pretty tight affair, as my paultan.org/BM colleague Hazril Hafiz gladly photographed, echoing the same sentiments of our earlier check-in with the 2.4L 4WD. Think of it as more a 5+2 rather than a full seven-seater, similar to the X-Trail.

Should you fold the sliding 60:40 second row and fixed 50:50 third row seats, you’ll have what Mitsubishi claims is best-in-class cargo volume of 1,608 litres. The relatively low loading floor makes it easy to get plenty of items in (boxes as you can see), and the fully-flat bed is appreciated. The X-Trail, by comparison, holds up to 1,520 litres with all seats down.

Focusing on the other parts of the cabin reveals a rather simple approach, one that may leave people wanting. It’s certainly functional, with good placement of stowage places so common items like your SmartTAG and water bottle are within easy reach.

However, one might be tempted to ask for items such as a power outlet or USB ports for the second-row seats, so passengers need not drag a cable from the ones at the front. Some might even be left curious at the lack of air-con vents for the second and third rows as well.

Nonetheless, you still get welcomed items like a nifty seven-inch head unit with Apple Car Play, dual-zone automatic climate control system, multifunction steering wheel, along with keyless entry and start. The Outlander 2.0L 4WD also makes do with fabric seats instead of leather ones, though they are supportive and didn’t leave me with a sore back.

A plus point is given to the safety kit, which is identical to that on the 2.4L 4WD. It includes seven airbags, Active Stability Control, Traction Control, Hill Start Assist, Rest Reminder, wide-angle dashcam (170-degree view) and security safety film for all windows.

Touching on the issue of money, the Outlander 2.0 4WD’s price position just slightly beyond the entry-level X-Trail (RM137,000) may seem like a downer. However, the 2.0L variant of the Nissan SUV is without all-wheel drive, so you’ll have to cough up more for the 2.5L variant for that (both come with just two airbags at that).

Offerings from Kia (Sorento starts from RM164,101) and Hyundai (Santa Fe starts from RM167,735) start well above what Mitsubishi is hawking, and the CX-9 demands far more than that (from RM281,450). The same same goes for body-on-frame models, where the base price of a Fortuner is RM169,800, and a base MU-X is RM160,793.

With all said and done, the Outlander 2.0 4WD is certainly a tempting proposition, fulfilling the role of seating seven as well as delivering a comfortable and pleasant driving experience, which is then backed by a reasonable equipment list. The no frills interior may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is very objective in its function and, along with everything else, should meet the demands of most looking around the price range.