First Drive: 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Don't confuse the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport with the Mitsubishi Outlander. They share a name, but these two vehicles are distinctly different. If you're familiar with Land Rover's Range Rover and Range Rover Sport, Mitsubishi's naming scheme might make sense. The Outlander Sport isn't necessarily sportier than it's bigger, older brother. Rather, it's a significantly smaller vehicle that competes in an entirely different segment. With two rows of seats, available all-wheel drive, and a frugal four-cylinder, the Outlander Sport is entering the crowded compact crossover market as a serious latecomer.

Fuel efficient, not fast
Since this is a compact crossover, fuel economy is a key attribute and the Outlander Sport posts some good numbers, with 31 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg in the city with front-wheel drive and the continuously variable automatic transmission. That'll beat most competitors by 3 mpg in the city and is among the best on the highway. With all-wheel drive, fuel economy drops to 29 and 24 mpg, respectively. Surprisingly, Mitsubishi achieves those numbers without direct injection or turbocharging. Instead, it's tapped fuel savings with electric power steering, a clutched alternator, and smart aerodynamics. The Outlander Sport also benefits from being among the lightest in the segment at 3098 pounds in the most popular trim.

It's also quite slow. Without the benefit of turbocharging or direct injection, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder delivers just 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. Acceleration is merely adequate. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on base models and with its good clutch feel and decent throws it makes the Outlander Sport more fun to drive. Most buyers, though, will opt for the continuously variable automatic that comes with magnesium paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. The available all-wheel-drive system offers three driver-selectable modes. There's a front-wheel drive setting, an auto setting for four-wheel-drive, and a mode misleadingly labeled four-wheel-drive lock that simply sends more torque rearward.

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Begs for a turbo, which would probably put it close to $30k. Whoa....

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