The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport was introduced for the 2011 model year, and despite a harsh review here on Cars.com, it's sold well. Though it shares the Outlander name, the Sport is smaller than the regular Outlander, which has been around since 2003.
Last year, I warned shoppers to avoid the Outlander Sport because of its maddeningly loud yet underpowered engine and a troublesome continuously variable automatic transmission.
For 2012, Mitsubishi said it addressed these two issues specifically and delivered me a test unit to evaluate against its predecessor. Unfortunately, the test car came with a manual transmission, not the CVT that Mitsubishi updated. I could focus only on the engine, so that's what this review addresses.
Thanks to its revisions, the 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is slightly improved, but it's still not at the level of many competitors.
For a compact crossover, 148 horsepower isn't a lot. Competitors like the Hyundai Tucson, at 165 hp, and the Nissan Rogue, at 170 hp, offer more confident passing power and better acceleration from a dead stop. The Outlander Sport feels more like a compact car in its slow response. It's adequate, just not exemplary. (See the Sport compared with three competitors here.)
The Outlander Sport weighs 107 pounds less than the Tucson and 244 pounds less than the Rogue. The lighter weight and miserly engine certainly help with fuel economy. The Outlander Sport is rated 24/31 mpg city/highway with the manual transmission and 25/31 mpg with the optional CVT automatic and front-wheel drive. A selectable all-wheel-drive system is optional if you get the CVT; it's rated 23/28 mpg.
The Tucson is rated a similar 23/31 mpg, but that's with the optional six-speed automatic transmission. The manual transmission is rated a miserable 20/27 mpg. The Rogue comes only with a CVT and is estimated to get 23/28 mpg, also far below the Outlander Sport.
It's unusual for crossovers to even offer manual transmissions, as the base Outlander Sport and Tucson do. Both models feel more economy car than sporty. In the Outlander, I found shifting to be relatively effortless, if a bit boring. Unlike the CVT I tested last year, though, I could control the acceleration smoothly. An example of man being mightier than machine, I guess.
The Sport handles nimbly and its ride remains somewhat firm, though it's much softer than the Tucson.
And the engine noise? It isn't gone, but Mitsubishi definitely invested a few dollars to address the issue. Noise still fills the cabin when pushing the engine hard, but it isn't a constant drone during regular driving, as it was last year. And one editor's spouse — with no prior knowledge of the previous model — was annoyed by the 2012's still noticeable engine noise.
I still caution shoppers about the Outlander Sport's engine noise and performance, but it isn't the deal-breaker it was last year. Unfortunately, I'm still unable to offer a recommendation on the updated CVT. Perhaps a buyer-beware note is appropriate here.
Interior & Cargo
Despite being 4 inches shorter overall than the Tucson and a surprising 14 inches shorter than the Rogue, the Outlander Sport's passenger volume is plentiful: 98 cubic feet versus 102 and 98 cubic feet, respectively.
The cabin materials are acceptable for the car's sub-$20,000 starting price, and while the front and rear seats are a bit stiff, they're comfortable on short trips. Over a long commute, my back definitely felt sore.
Shoppers often select a crossover for cargo utility, and that's where the Outlander Sport's size hurts it most. At 21.7 cubic feet behind the backseat, it falls far behind the Tucson and Rogue, at 25.7 and 28.9 cubic feet, respectively. These two also beat the Sport's maximum cargo volume of 49.5 cubic feet with the backseat folded, providing 55.8 and 57.9 cubic feet, respectively.
The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport earned top scores of Good in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's front- and side-impact crash tests. It hasn't been tested for rear impact or roof strength at this time, so it's not yet eligible for Top Safety Pick status.
Neither the 2011 or 2012 model has been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at this time.
You can find a list of standard safety features here.
Outlander Sport in the Market
At first, the Outlander Sport appears like the most affordable compact crossover on the market, which could influence shoppers who are worried about its performance and small cargo area. However, the competition is only a few hundred dollars more while offering a more substantial driving experience and better overall package.
The Outlander Sport may have addressed a few issues that prevented us from recommending it, but I'm not yet ready to endorse it over most other players in this field.
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