What was it that prompted me to request the keys to the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport? Was it my inner contrarian challenging my employer’s “No Boring Cars” mantra? Was it my life-long habit of rooting for the underdog? Was it mere morbid curiosity? We may never know, but when I volunteered to write up Mitsu’s best-selling SUV, the looks of smoldering jealousy from coworkers who wished they had put their hand up first were conspicuously absent. In fact, I’m pretty sure I heard a snicker or two.
First introduced in 2011, the Outlander Sport was one of the first entrants in the burgeoning subcompact SUV segment, though whether it is properly classified as a compact or a subcompact remains open to debate. Size-wise, it’s kind of a tweener. At the time of introduction, it shared much with the Lancer sedan, including its platform, rakish nose, and cheap, plasticky interior.
A styling refresh in 2016 eliminated the handsome Lancer-like schnozz of which I was so fond, though the short rear overhang and jaunty angle of the rear hatch—my other favorite styling features—remained. For 2018, the Outlander Sport gets reshaped bumpers and an updated interior, with a new center console and touch-screen stereo to complement the nicer steering wheel that came with the 2016 facelift. All the new bits are made of high quality materials, and they stand in bold (and rather unfortunate) contrast to the horrible chintzy plastic that covers the dash and door panels.
Our test car was a top-of-the-line SEL AWC model, which meant it had the 168-horsepower 2.4-liter I-4 engine coupled to a continuously variable transmission and all-wheel-drive. The 2.4-liter makes the Outlander significantly scootier than your average subcompact SUV, though its EPA combined fuel economy estimate is an unbecoming 25 mpg. Compare that to the Honda HR-V’s 29 MPG rating, though to be fair, the HR-V is nowhere near as quick. The 148-horsepower 2.0-liter I-4 in lower-spec Outlander Sports is more frugal—27 MPG—but our colleagues down the hall at Motor Trend likened it to driving with the handbrake on.
I’m one of the few automotive writers who isn’t bothered by CVTs; I like the smooth, shift-free flow of power. That said, there were a couple of occasions I asked the Outlander Sport for a smidge of acceleration and was left empty handed, the transmission refusing to raise the revs until I prodded the gas more deliberately. Senior digital editor Kirill Ougarov, who is more critical of CVTs than I, drove the Outlander Sport as well (because why should I suffer alone?) and said he was impressed with the way it emulated a stepped transmission when he gave it the beans.
Handling is just okay; like most modern crossovers, the Outlander Sport holds the road well, though the body leans noticeably if you crank it up in the turns. The steering doesn’t offer great off-center feel, which is surprising since it can get quite darty on the freeway, though it didn’t help matters that our test car was out of alignment and pulling slightly to one side. The ride is comfortable but loses its composure on sharper bumps. Noise levels, while acceptable around town, start to get a little too shouty at highway speeds, though it’s easy to drown out the din with the optional 710-watt Rockford-Fosgate sound system.
Mitsubishi doesn’t get enough credit for its all-wheel-drive systems, which are quite good. Our tester had the optional All-Wheel Control (AWC) system, which allows the driver to select between front-wheel-drive, automatic all-wheel-drive, and AWD with the center diff locked. I’ve done some light off-roading in the Outlander Sport—intentionally, I assure you—and while it lacks the predictive electronics of the Super All-Wheel Control system in the bigger Outlander, it does a better job distributing power than many competing SUVs. While I imagine few people buy an Outlander Sport with the intention of serious off-roading, that kind of agility translates to better grip in bad weather. An Outlander Sport with a set of snow tires would be a great bet for winter in the Rust Belt.
The Outlander Sport does have a couple of high points. First is the tweener size: It offers more cargo space than most subcompacts, and the back seat is reasonably roomy, even with the front seats racked all the way back. The wall-to-wall panoramic sunroof is a treat, and it comes with a proper opaque blind, not one of those mesh affairs that fry folks with fair skin. The Outlander Sport is one of the few small crossovers that can be had with a manual transmission, albeit only in the front-wheel-drive base model. Base pricing is not too bad, either, but well-equipped models like our tester get pretty spendy.
But the best feature on the the Outlander Sport may be its epic warranty, which provides 5 years or 60,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper coverage. Not that I expect the Outlander Sport to spend a lot of its time broken, but for a buyer on a tight budget, it’s nice to not have to worry about repair costs while still paying off a car loan.
The problem facing the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is that it is a little fish in a big pond. Nearly every one of the Outlander Sport’s competitors, both compact and subcompact, does something (and usually several things) better than the Outlander Sport. There are plenty of more compelling choices, including Mitsubishi’s own new-for-2018 Eclipse Cross. And with its cut-rate interior, so-so driving dynamics, and tinny feel, it’s not as if the Outlander Sport can be called a good all-rounder. It’s not a bad vehicle; it’s just not a particularly good one.
2018 Mitsibushi Outlander Sport 2.4 SEL AWC Specifications
|PRICE||$26,835/$27,215 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||2.4L DOHC 16-valve I-4/168 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 167 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||13/28 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||171.9 x 71.3 x 64.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.5 sec|