It’s very hard these days to find a flaw in a newly released car so significant it would prevent one of our editors from recommending the car to buyers. While a suspension may be too stiff for some of us, it won’t turn off everyone. The ergonomics may be convoluted and confusing, but that won’t stop a lot of shoppers, either.
The horrendous engine that bellows from behind the dashboard of the all-new Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, on the other hand, is bad enough to strike this crossover off of any recommendation list.
If not for the drivetrain’s poor performance, the Outlander Sport would be a terrific vehicle with good handling, a surprising amount of interior room and sharp looks. I just wouldn’t want to drive it anywhere.
The Outlander Sport — a smaller, completely different crossover than the automaker’s Outlander — finds its biggest problems in its 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and optional continuously variable automatic transmission. The Outlander Sport boasts impressive gas mileage figures of up to 25/31 mpg city/highway, but the pursuit of high mileage results in an engine that’s a mighty loud miser.
Accelerate hard from a stop, and the Outlander Sport lurches briefly before the engine burbles up to speed. With a CVT, there aren’t any natural shift points, so that burbling just gets louder. At certain points in this buildup, the tone sets off a rattle in the dashboard. It wasn’t a pleasant symphony of automotive sounds, to be sure.
I don’t mind that the engine — even when coaxed with the CVT’s shift paddles — moved the crossover slowly. You can be slow in this segment, you just can’t sound like a World War II Jeep crossing Normandy.
The braking response, ride quality and handling of the little crossover are all pretty terrific. While the ride is a little firm, it bests the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage in terms of comfort, and it handles nimbly.
I hit parking lot after parking lot during holiday shopping trips while testing the Outlander Sport, and if there’s a better vehicle for such a task I don’t know what it is. The crossover’s nimble feeling and commanding ride height are the things a lot of shoppers in this segment really want.
Road and wind noise are fairly muted — at least as far as I could tell when the engine wasn’t roaring at me. I was not able to test the manual transmission which is only available on the base model.
The Outlander Sport is the second Mitsubishi designed with the automaker’s new corporate grille in mind. The rest of the lineup, including the larger Outlander, got a version of the grille slapped on after the Lancer compact car’s redesign made a splash with customers.
On the Outlander Sport, the grille looks natural and properly sized, and it complements the crossover’s masculine design — and masculinity isn’t typically seen in a segment often referred to as “cute-utes.”
Our SE tester had stylish 18-inch alloy wheels, and even the rocker panels had a curve to them.
It’s clear Mitsubishi spent a lot of time on this little crossover’s design, and it’s striking enough to bring folks into the dealership.
Mitsubishi has also made strides inside. Both the Lancer and Outlander had some low-grade finishes here and there, but I couldn’t find any in the Outlander Sport that weren’t commensurate with its $18,495 base price.
The cloth seats weren’t overly firm, and I appreciated the simple air-conditioning and radio controls — save the iPod integration, which I’ll get into later.
The gauges are sporty, like Mitsubishi aims for in other cars, and the nice, crisp digital readout between the two analog gauges for speed and RPM is a nice touch. I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to track my average gas mileage for more than one trip, though.
Backseat space was surprising, too. In a vehicle this short — it’s 169.1 inches long, compared with 179.3 for the Honda CR-V and 174.8 for the 2011 Kia Sportage — I still had plenty of legroom behind the driver’s seat, and my son’s convertible child-safety seat fit remarkably well behind the front passenger seat. I could sit in front of him with a little legroom to spare without his feet being able to kick the back of my seat. This is an accomplishment in a vehicle of any size, let alone in a relatively small one.
Cargo space, at 21.7 cubic feet, isn’t plentiful for this class; the CR-V has 35.7 cubic feet and the Sportage offers 26.1 cubic feet. Still, I was able to easily fit golf clubs, a stroller and lots of holiday shopping bags in the back, although not all at one time. Though I have a feeling they could have fit all at once with some wrangling.
If it weren’t for its engine, the Outlander Sport would be a practical pick for a family looking to downsize their vehicle.
The Outlander Sport is offered in two trims: the base ES and the higher SE. The ES starts at $18,495 with a manual transmission, making it one of the most affordable compact SUVs on the market. The 2011 Kia Sportage starts at $18,295 and comes similarly equipped at that price.
The Outlander Sport comes with standard Bluetooth and USB inputs, 16-inch steel wheels, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a trip computer.
Adding a CVT to the ES raises the price to $19,995.
The SE comes standard with a CVT and starts at $21,695. It adds 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights and push-button start.
All-wheel-drive SE models cost $22,995.
The iPod integration was awful in my test car. Every time you tried to browse through artists or songs there would be a delay on the display screen, which didn’t show many characters, either.
Option packages include Navigation ($2,150) for all trim levels and a Premium Package for the all-wheel-drive SE. That $1,800 option includes a panoramic sunroof, black roof rails, and a Rockford Fosgate stereo with a subwoofer. Perhaps the upgraded stereo has a better display for the iPod.
All Outlander Sports come with standard antilock brakes, stability control and seven airbags, including a driver’s knee airbag. As of publication, the Outlander Sport had not been crash-tested by the federal government or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
In its current form, the Outlander Sport is tragically flawed, and that’s a shame. In a crowded segment with worthy choices from Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, Toyota, Ford and Chevy, it will be impossible to recommend the Outlander Sport until Mitsubishi addresses its powertrain.