As today’s A.D.D. culture has filtered into the auto market, new niches seem to pop up overnight, and they’re immediately swamped with competitors. The latest auto niche is the small crossover, and here’s Mitsubishi on the vanguard with the Outlander Sport (although the Nissan Juke, with its megabucks ad budget, may be more well-known).
The Outlander Sport was created from the Outlander by trimming the front overhang and chopping the rear (the latter move taking a good bit of the cargo capacity along with it). Because the wheelbase was left intact, passenger space is largely preserved, and the Outlander Sport can comfortably seat adults in the rear — not something that can be said for the more stylized Juke.
This is not, however, to suggest that the passenger accommodations here are plush. In typical Mitsubishi style, most of the cabin is trimmed in hard plastic. Seats are very firm, and the cloth upholstery is very basic. Also in typical Mitsubishi style, there’s a gaggle of tech available, including a booming sound system, keyless ignition, a backup camera, and navigation. The nav unit, though, has the horrendous ergonomics of an aftermarket system, with its screen surrounded by small, flat buttons.
While most crossovers are content to work out the specifics of the power flow in their all-wheel-drive systems on their own, the Outlander Sport has a knob with which drivers can select FWD, AWD, or AWD Lock (more rear torque bias, really). That’s fine, but the powertrain is otherwise a weak point. The engine is noisy, a situation exacerbated by the CVT (a five-speed manual can be had on front-wheel-drive models only). Power is adequate, but EPA fuel economy isn’t terribly impressive, at 24/29 mpg city/highway. That latter point, unfortunately, is true of other small crossovers as well.
Joe Lorio, Senior Editor
Mitsubishi has some solid ingredients here. The aggressive, Lancer Evolution-inspired styling looks trim and attractive on this larger vehicle, making the Outlander Sport more classically handsome than the avant-garde Nissan Juke. The interior, although hardly plush, is also attractive and is sufficiently refined for the segment. As others have noted, there’s enough space in here to seat four real people, something other cute-crossovers have trouble doing. And like most Mitsubishis, it’s surprisingly well sorted in the steering and handling department.
Unfortunately for Mitsubishi, this segment is already populated by other, more powerful offerings. The $23,775 base Outlander Sport is more than an all-wheel-drive, 188-hp Juke, and the as-tested price of $28,570 just about equals that of a 181-hp MINI Cooper S Countryman All4. The Outlander Sport is stuck with a weak 148-hp engine that parsimoniously distributes its power among the four wheels via a CVT automatic. Some automakers could make up for the performance disparity with extra luxury and equipment, but Mitsubishi frankly isn’t one of them. The fussy infotainment system is annoying at best, and the cosmetic enhancements of the exterior sport package only heighten the disparity between the athletic appearance and wheezy performance.
Mitsubishi does have some fine performance hardware. How about, for instance, the Lancer Ralliart’s powerful turbocharged four-cylinder engine and fast shifting dual-clutch automatic transmission? If the Outlander Sport had that powertrain, even in a detuned form, it could put the Juke and Countryman on the trailer. A man can dream, at least.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
All of my notes more or less mirror those of my colleagues. I really like the Outlander Sport’s chunky good looks. The extra-large moonroof is very cool, but the fact that it can’t open — or even vent — is a bit weird and disappointing. The infotainment system is the same lackluster one from our departed 4S Lancer Evo, with those silly, tap-’em volume controls. Body roll is definitely apparent, but the steering is decent. The drone caused by the continuously variable transmission is not my cup of tea (is it anyone’s?), but the paddle simulation works pretty well if you get bored or need to accelerate fairly quickly. The seat fabric is cool, but the seats themselves felt a bit too firm to me.
Essentially, I liked the Outlander Sport better as a bare-bones, $19,275 model, like the one we tested a few months ago. The $9300 worth of extras on this example puts it into a class where it’s effectively outclassed.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport may have the word “Sport” in its name, but after spending a couple days behind the wheel and logging several hundred miles, I’d say it’s a misnomer. In the Outlander Sport’s defense, it looks the part, with a purposeful stance, sharp, modern lines, and a Lancer Evolution-style face. In fact, it’s quite adorable especially in the bright blue paint of this test car — the color is called Laguna Blue and is available only on the top trim SE — and everyone who saw it wanted to know what it was.
The Sports’ engine is where the name loses credibility. The sole engine choice is a four-cylinder that, in this example, was linked to the optional CVT; a five-speed manual is standard and offered only on the base ES. I haven’t driven the manual, but the CVT certainly didn’t make much of the 2.0-liter four’s 148 hp. Floor the gas in automatic mode and, although the engine produces plenty of noise, it doesn’t produce much forward motion. Fortunately, the CVT also adds steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles, which look and feel great and were an absolute necessity for highway passing. Should you decide that the five-speed manual isn’t for you or you want to step up to the SE model, these paddles will likely prove invaluable. The SE model is a $1300 price jump over the ES, but the additional cash also includes eighteen-inch alloys, HID headlights, and a better stereo.
Mitsubishi has never excelled at producing attractive or user-friendly multimedia systems, but the interface in the Outlander Sport is still disappointing. This Sport SE was equipped with navigation — a $2000 option that includes a 40-gigabite hard-drive-based navigation system, a backup camera, and an auxiliary audio input — and I was pleasantly surprised by the comprehensive coverage of the navigation maps, but the graphics are outdated and the display isn’t bright enough or angled appropriately to compete with the amount of light let in by the oversize, fixed-glass sunroof. In addition, the screen-driven radio controls are a bit fussy to use. For example, the scan button doesn’t live on the main screen and requires several taps to find, select, and stop each time you want to use it. It’s not overly complicated but requires taking your eyes off the road for longer than should be necessary. There’s also no reason not to have a volume knob on the dash instead of the up/down toggle that Mitsubishi uses here.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
I think this thing is exactly the perfect size, and it had my Ford Escape-driving neighbor jealous of its style. When she saw that it was fully loaded AND under thirty grand, she half considered looking for a Mitsubishi dealer to trade her car in. Which brings me to the sorest point of any great car to come from the tri-star brand: the abysmal dealership network. There are so few dealers, and my previous experience with ones in Greenwich, Connecticut, and White Plains, New York, were both terrible. It’s really too bad, since for a hair under $29k you get a fun-to-drive, tidy, well-equipped CUV.
I wish they would do away with the CVT, though. It drones under any amount of acceleration and makes the engine sound wheezy, loud, and coarse. The suspension seems a little too soft for the car’s intended sporty demeanor, too. As Joe Lorio points out, the Juke is better known (although Mitsubishi did run some weird campaign involving driving this car via the Internet) and is even more funky. While I would take the Outlander Sport’s interior over the Juke’s — especially for the giant, LED-trimmed glass roof — the Nissan comes in at almost two grand cheaper and is a hoot to drive. For someone who wants a little flair in the compact CUV class but finds the Juke too out there, I think the Outlander Sport could be the way to go.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC
Base price (with destination): $23,775
Price as tested: $28,570
2.0-liter DOHC 4-cylinder engine
All-wheel drive (AWC)
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Tire pressure monitoring system
Hill start assist
Active stability control
Steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles
Automatic climate control
Heated front seats
Heated sideview mirrors
AM/FM/CD/MP3 head unit with 6 speakers
Auxiliary audio jack
Rain sensing wipers
Telescoping steering column
Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob
60/40 split rear seats
Options on this vehicle:
Navigation with rearview camera — $2000
40 GB HDD navigation system
Rearview backup camera
Auxiliary audio input
Premium package — $1800
Panoramic glass sunroof with LED illumination
710-watt Rockford-Fosgate sound system
9 speakers and 10-inch subwoofer
In-dash 6-disc CD/MP3 unit
Sirius satellite radio
Exterior sport package — $995
Large rear spoiler
Front corner extensions
Rear diffuser garnish
Front chrome lower garnish
Alloy fuel door
Key options not on vehicle:
24 / 29 / 26 mpg
2.0L DOHC I-4
Horsepower: 148 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 145 lb-ft @ 4200 rpm
Curb weight: 3263 lb
Wheels/tires: 18 x 7.0-inch aluminum-alloy wheels
225/55R18 Goodyear all-season tires
What’s new? Everything. The Outlander Sport is a new entry for 2011, smaller and separate from the Outlander.