Thumbs Up: It’s good looking and priced right, panoramic glass roof
Thumbs Down: Interior panel fit, oddly poor fuel economy
Buy This Car If: You like the styling and get a good enough deal
Unless you’ve been around the industry as long as we have, it would be easy to forget that Mitsubishi was once a full-line retailer, selling everything from compact pickups to luxury sedans and even some impressively advanced GT cars. In the early 1990s, models like the Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX and the Mitsubishi 3000 GT VR4 defined compact performance, while the Mitsubishi Galant VR4 was a surprisingly capable sport sedan, disguised as a mere grocery-getter.
Somewhere along the line, Mitsubishi’s fortunes in the United States took a turn for the worse, and today the once-proud automaker is best known for building inexpensive compacts, budget crossovers and mid-size rental cars. Sure, there’s the performance-oriented Lancer Evolution, but even Mitsubishi’s halo car fails to match the material quality of its primary rival, the Subaru WRX STi.
To satisfy consumer demand, Mitsubishi also builds a range of compact and affordable crossovers, like the Outlander and its baby brother, the Outlander Sport. Equipped with all-wheel-drive, both are more than capable of meeting the needs of families living in the snow belt, thanks in part to technology developed for the Lancer Evolution. We’ve driven several AWD Mitsubishis, and have always come away impressed with the sure-footed traction they deliver.
Mitsubishi builds front-wheel-drive crossovers, too, like the Outlander Sport tested here. As far as looks go, it’s a very attractively styled crossover, with the same angry-Samurai front end styling found on the Lancer models. There’s a just-right blend of blacked-out vents and chrome accent trim, and we like the way the grille’s lines carry back into the hood.
From the side, the Outlander Sport serves up bold character lines across the doors, a blacked-out daylight opening and small-but-stylish side skirts. The short overhangs at front and rear emphasize the “Sport” in the crossover’s title, as does the small roof spoiler and black side rails.
Even rear styling doesn’t disappoint, and the scowling taillights seem to carry over the theme established up front. The hatch contours give the rear a sculpted look, and several people asked us what it was we were driving. Above all else, the Outlander Sport offers up distinctive looks, which help it stand out just a bit in the ever-growing herd of compact crossovers.
Inside, we have no complaints about the Outlander Sport’s style. The dash uses a lot of black plastic, but Mitsubishi mixes it up by offering contrasting trim and textures. There’s a leather-trimmed steering wheel, too, but the quality of leather used was so poor that the wheel had wrinkles in various areas around the rim. Unfortunately, the cost-cutting theme carried over throughout the interior, and we can’t recall another modern vehicle with as many panel fit issues as this particular Outlander Sport.
We did like the crossover’s optional panoramic glass roof, which uses LED lights along both sides for an accent touch. The roof doesn’t open for ventilation, but a retractable headliner gives front and rear seat passengers a great view of the sky above. Although the glass is tinted, there’s still a significant amount of glare for daytime driving, but the glass roof works well when the sun isn’t directly overhead.
Mitsubishi did what it could with the instruments, which are trimmed with oddly-shaped chrome surrounds. We do like the large driver information display between the tachometer and the speedometer, which can be configured to show a fairly wide variety of trip information.
We’ll give Mitsubishi two thumbs up for wrapping the seats in a tasteful and comfortable fabric, and we wish more automakers would go back to using cloth seats in non-luxury vehicles. The front chairs in the Outlander Sport were comfortable enough for around-town driving, but their lack of adjustability (aside from height, seat back angle and position) made them less than ideal for the five hour drive from Miami to Jacksonville.
Rear seats come wrapped in the same fabric, but aren’t intended for more than short trips. Despite the Outlander Sport’s sloping roof, the rear seats deliver plenty of headroom, and there’s even a surprising amount of legroom to be had. Rear seats fold in a 60/40 split, and Mitsubishi even offers up a rear seat pass-through for long items such as skis.
As for cargo room, we’d call it adequate. It won’t be on par with some in the compact crossover class, but there’s an easy solution around that detail: if you need more cargo room than the Outlander Sport delivers, just buy an Outlander, which is just over a foot longer.
All Outlander Sport models come with the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine used in the Mitsubishi Lancer, which makes 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. While base Outlander Sport models are available with a five-speed manual transmission, higher trim models come only with a continuously variable transmission. Frankly, we’re not fans of CVTs in general, and the unit used in the Outlander Sport isn’t one of the better we’ve driven. It doesn’t help the Outlander Sport’s acceleration, and based on the fuel economy we saw (24.38 mpg on the highway), it isn’t particularly fuel-efficient, either. For the record, the EPA rates the Outlander Sport at 25 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, numbers we simply weren’t able to duplicate.
We have no complaints with the Outlander Sport’s ride quality, which we’d call firm but not harsh. As the name implies, it’s relative low weight (around 3,100 pounds) and firm suspension allow you to enter corners carrying more velocity than you probably should, with very little body roll. We’d stop short of calling it sporty, but it isn’t disappointing compared to others in the compact crossover class.
Would we recommend it? That depends entirely on your expectations. While the interior quality isn’t up to standards set by Honda, Hyundai and Toyota, the Outlander Sport starts at an impressively low $19,605, which makes it among the least expensive in the class. If the competition is priced beyond your means, the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport offers up an alternative that will likely deliver years of reliable transpiration for thousands of dollars less.
Mitsubishi provided the 2012 Outlander Sport SE for our review. Base price on our SE model was $22,805, including a destination charge of $810. Options included the $2,050 Premium Package (panoramic glass roof, black roof rails, Rockford Fosgate audio system, SiriusXM satellite radio, auto-dimming rearview mirror, back-up camera display in rearview mirror) and the $2,295 Navigation System Package (40 GB HDD navigation system and music server, real-time traffic) for a total sticker price of $27,150.
For comparison, a similarly equipped Honda CR-V EX-L with navigation would list at $29,575, while a comparable Toyota RAV4 Limited would sticker at $30,240.