But a new model heralds big changes at the company since DaimlerChrysler took a 37% stake in 2000. The Outlander is meant to be an estate car/sport utility vehicle crossover and was originally only intended for Mitsubishi's domestic market in Japan where it is called the Airtrek.
However, it was felt that with a few modifications the car could be sold in North America and Europe.
Mitsubishi claims that the only car currently occupying the Outlander's sector of the market is the Subaru Forester, but also hopes to steal sales from the Honda CR-V and Nissan X-trail.
The Outlander will be joined next year by the Grandis MPV and the all-new Colt, which shares many of its components with the forthcoming four-seater smart ForFour.
Designed for the Japanese market, the Outlander has not been engineered with a diesel engine in mind, so like the Forester and for now, the CR-V, the Outlander will only appeal to diesel sceptics.
However, Mitsubishi will offer an LPG option from launch for a £1,000 premium over the petrol. It offers substantially lower CO2 emissions (223g/km versus 240g/km), meaning drivers choosing the dual-fuel option could cut their benefit-in-kind tax bills.
All Outlanders come with a four-speed automatic transmission with a manual-change sport mode, and there are three trim levels – Equippe, Sport and Sport SE.
Entry-level models have climate control, a CD player, alloy wheels, leather steering wheel, electric windows and four airbags. Sport adds an electric sunroof and rear skylight, extra speakers, a wood-effect console panel and front fog lamps while Sport SEs also include leather seats.
Mitsubishi thinks it can sell 2,000 Outlanders in the UK next year, but admits it is a modest target and might shift a few hundred more.
Behind the wheel
THE Outlander is a striking design thanks to the bluff grille centrepiece and its tall body. Based on the latest incarnation of Mitsubishi's Evo series and with permanent four-wheel drive, it is designed to drive more like a car than an SUV.
Inside the Outlander is quite pleasant and user-friendly, with a dashboard-mounted automatic gearstick, but some of the materials feel less upmarket than the Honda CR-V and the latest Nissan X-trail.
The 158bhp 2.4-litre engine offers strong performance but is hampered by the unresponsive four-speed automatic transmission. Mitsubishi feels more of its customers will prefer the auto, and perhaps auto versions of its rivals are similarly reluctant to perform, but at least the choice of a manual transmission would have been nice.
The engine is refined and from the outside at idle the exhaust has a seductive purr. At higher revs from the inside the engine sounds genuinely sporty, but you have to use the manual section of the gear gaiter to get the best out of it.
The Outlander takes twisty sections of road in its stride, with little in the way of body roll and a firm but well-damped ride. However, the steering is lifeless, making it difficult to feel part of the action.
There is a decent amount of legroom and headroom for all occupants inside – on a par with or better than the Subaru Forester – but luggage space is surprisingly mean when the rear seats are in place, with quite a shallow boot.
GOOD road manners and a bargain price in its favour, the Outlander is trying to steal sales from a talented group of compact SUVs. Although LPG will win it a few fleet deals, the auto-only range will have limited appeal elsewhere.
Model: Mitsubishi Outlander
Engine (cc): 2,378
Power (bhp/rpm): 158/5,750
Torque (lb-ft/rpm): 159/4,000
Max speed (mph): 119
0-62mph (sec): 11.2
Fuel consumption (mpg): 28.0
CO2 emissions (g/km): 240
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 60/13.2
Transmission: 4-sp auto
Service interval (miles): 9,000
On sale: January 2004
Price (OTR): £16,999 – £19,749