First Look: 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

With the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport making its U.S. debut at New York, Mitsubishi has a crossover it can offer starting at less than $20,000. At a length of 169.1 inches, the Outlander Sport is more of a Lancer-alternative than a true compact crossover along the lines of class leaders like the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape.

Just because the 2011 Outlander Sport is small (you'll find no mention of cargo capacity or rear seat legroom in Mitsubishi's press release) doesn't mean Mitsu's new crossover is necessarily a compromised vehicle. It's designed for city dwellers looking for a higher view of the road but will never go offroading. Mitsubishi says the Outlander Sport has a visual reference point about five inches higher than that of the Lancer.

Unlike the Lancer, though, the Outlander Sport can be had with premium options including a panoramic sunroof. It also offers a navigation system with traffic updates and a 40 GB hard drive, a 710 watt nine speaker sound system, FAST key passive entry system and Mitsu's "super wide range HID headlamps," which the automaker says emit 35-percent greater light output than regular HIDs.

All-wheel-drive is an option, but we expect the Outlander Sport's anticipated highway mileage of 31 mpg to be for the front-drive models. The car's onboard batteries are recharged using friction energy during braking. Combined with the electric power steering and a focus on light-weight materials, the Outlander Sport should sit near the top of the class in terms of fuel economy. The being said, swift acceleration probably won't be this crossover's forte: the standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine produces 148 horsepower and 143 in PZEV states. Our man in Japan recently drove a Japanese-spec Outlander Sport (known as the RVR over there) powered by Mitsu's 1.8-liter engine and found it to be acceptable under hard acceleration and relatively fun to drive.

A base Outlander Sport ES with the five-speed manual transmission weighs just 3,042 pounds; a CVT and magnesium-alloy paddle shifters are optional. For comparison, a base Lancer tips the scales at 2,911 pounds, Hyundai Tucson at 3,179 pounds, and the Honda CR-V at 3,386 pounds. Part of the Outlander Sport's light weight comes from the recycled plastic front fenders and thinner high-strength steel in the hood, tailgate, and doors. Interior materials, we're told, are also lighter and we're curious to discover whether the price of the interior weight savings is interior quality.

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