The verdict: The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport gets refreshed styling for 2020, but it suffers from some significant problems that hold it back in the competitive subcompact SUV class.
Versus the competition: Less versatile than the Honda HR-V and less entertaining to drive than the Hyundai Kona, the Outlander Sport’s highlights — highway driving feel and front-seat comfort — aren’t enough to make up for its misses.
As car shoppers increasingly turn their backs on cars in favor of SUVs (at least while gas prices are low), subcompact SUVs like the Outlander Sport are replacing compact cars as the new entry-level models. The Outlander Sport is one of the older models in the class — it dates back to the 2011 model year, when it debuted in the U.S. — but Mitsubishi has updated it over the years and gave it a front-end makeover for 2020.
We tested a top-of-the-line GT trim level with the larger and more powerful 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine (a 2.0-liter four-cylinder is standard) and Mitsubishi’s selectable four-wheel-drive system, All-Wheel Control. The system includes front-wheel drive, four-wheel drive and rear-biased four-wheel drive. Fully loaded, its only options were Red Diamond paint ($595), carpeted floormats ($145) and a cargo cover ($190). The as-tested price, including a $1,195 destination charge, was $29,120.
How It Drives
Subcompact SUVs overall haven’t proved to be exemplars of drivability, and the Outlander Sport is no exception. It shares some of the familiar negative characteristics of the class, including a firm, sometimes choppy ride and modest acceleration. The Outlander Sport’s lack of low-speed power is perplexing when you consider the optional 168-horsepower engine in the GT trim is one of the biggest, most powerful four-cylinders in the class. It’s nearly as powerful as some of the engines found in compact SUVs.
While the Outlander Sport’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder does have more reserve power at highway speeds than the smaller four-cylinders found in many competitors, the engine comes up short in low-speed driving; off-the-line response is good, but the drivetrain bogs down shortly after as you try to build speed. Pressing the gas pedal harder doesn’t do much to correct it. All versions of the Outlander Sport have a continuously variable automatic transmission, and it feels like the CVT is sapping engine power at city speeds.
The experience improves once you reach cruising speed. The Outlander Sport’s stable feel belies its small exterior dimensions, making you feel like you’re driving a larger SUV. There is, however, persistent wind noise above 65 mph as well as droning engine noises that are equally unappealing.
The Outlander Sport’s 2.4-liter engine is a liability when it comes to gas mileage. Four-wheel-drive versions are EPA-rated at 23/28/25 mpg city/highway/combined — lower than competitors like the HR-V (up to 29 mpg combined with all-wheel drive), Nissan Rogue Sport (27 mpg) and the Kona (27 mpg with its more powerful turbo four-cylinder). The Outlander Sport’s fuel economy is even more disappointing considering the 2.4-liter drivetrain’s sluggish performance in everyday driving. The SUV’s base 2.0-liter engine is marginally more efficient; front-drive versions are rated at 27 mpg combined, while four-wheel-drive models are rated at 26 mpg.
In some ways, stepping into a Mitsubishi is like stepping back in time: Most of the brand’s interiors already look old even when they’re new. A big reason for that is the style of its buttons, switches and knobs, as well as some of its screen graphics. Other elements, like the fuzzy cardboard headliner and sun visors that don’t extend, cheapen the cabin. The SUV gets some modest interior updates for 2020, including revised air-conditioning controls, but the cabin still looks dated.
That said, the front bucket seats are comfortable and there’s good all-around visibility from the driver’s seat. The front seats aren’t power-adjustable — even on the high-end GT trim — but GT models do get upscale suede-style upholstery with contrast stitching.
Backseat legroom and headroom is passable for adults, but the seating position isn’t comfortable; the backrest is too vertical and doesn’t recline. The standard 60/40-split backseat folds flat with the cargo floor to expand the cargo area.
The Outlander Sport has a standard 7-inch touchscreen multimedia system, but most trim levels come with an 8-inch touchscreen that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity. CarPlay started right up when I connected my iPhone, but I couldn’t switch back to the multimedia system’s radio band unless I unplugged my phone from the USB port, ending the CarPlay session. It’s a condition I haven’t encountered before with a CarPlay-enabled system.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the Outlander Sport received the highest rating, good, in all crash tests to which it was subjected except for the driver-side small overlap test, where it was rated acceptable. (It was not tested for passenger-side small overlap crashes; other older vehicles have struggled in this test compared with their driver-side results.) Automatic emergency braking is optional, and the Outlander Sport’s front-crash prevention system gets IIHS’ highest rating: superior.
Other optional active safety features include lane departure warning, automatic high-beam headlights, and blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert.
Value in Its Class
Subcompact SUVs typically require a certain amount of sacrifice, and that often takes the form of less-than-comfortable ride quality and seating. The Outlander Sport suffers from these things, and its sluggish drivetrain and dated interior further diminish its appeal. Without a significantly lower starting price than most of its competitors, there’s not a financial reason to discount the SUV’s negative qualities. The subcompact SUV class is getting more competitive by the year, and the Outlander Sport needs to be better in multiple areas to keep pace.
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