Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, 2012: Overlooked, sporty SUV warrants attention

James Raia

“Mitsubishi” and “often-overlooked” long have belonged in the same sentence. The automaker lacks the advertising firepower, dealer number and model-loaded product line of better-known nameplates in America.

But Mitsubishi has come up with innovative models, and so what if its vehicles aren’t on everyone’s shopping list? Some folks don’t want to drive the same vehicles they see al the time, which include Outlander Sport rivals Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.

Don’t confuse the aggressively styled Outlander Sport with the larger Mitsubishi Outlander. For instance, compared to the Outlander, it’s more than a foot shorter and doesn’t have a third-row seat. However, they share the same 105.1-inch wheelbase.

At approximately 3,000 pounds, the Outlander Sport is one of the lightest vehicles in its class. It’s a sporty looking crossover with chiseled aerodynamic bodywork and an aggressive looking “shark nose” front end from the hot Lancer Evolution sports sedan. It’s mainly aimed at those who want an affordable, fairly fuel-stingy utility vehicle that looks good.

The Outlander Sport was introduced for 2011 and has become one of Mitsubishi’s top-sellers. Improvements for 2012 include recalibrated engine and transmission mapping, new wheel designs and improved engine noise management.

Estimated fuel economy with the manual-transmission version is 24 miles per gallon in the city and 31 on highways. The numbers with the CVT are 25 and 29. Those

figures are pretty good for a crossover. High fuel economy isn’t a strong point of any crossover.Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, 2012: Overlooked, sporty SUV warrants attention 1

Outlander Sport prices range from $18,795 for the base front-drive manual-transmission ES model, which I tested, to the top-line $23,295 SE with all-wheel drive and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

You can equip the front-drive ES with the CVT for $19,795. And a front-drive version of the front-drive SE with the CVT lists at $21,995.

The Outlander Sport is the most fun to drive with its five-speed manual transmission. It’s one of few crossover/smaller SUVs to offer such a transmission, which has a precise shifter that works with a good clutch.

The transmission shifts accurately, with well-defined gates, but the fastest freeway/highway passing must be done in third gear, although fourth will do if you’re not in too much of a hurry.

Third gear also is best for quick moves in city traffic. Fifth is strictly an overdrive open-road gear.

The Outlander Sport with the CVT doesn’t isn’t quite as lively as the manual-transmission version, especially with the all-wheel drive feature, and the engine is a bit noisier during fast acceleration.  

The base ES has air conditioning, steering-wheel-mounted cruise control and audio switches, AM/FM/CD/MP3 head unit, telescopic steering column, keyless entry, a 60/40 split fold-down rear seat and power windows, locks and large, heated power mirrors.

The SE adds such items as the CVT transmission, climate control and wider aluminum wheels.

Options include a panoramic glass roof, navigation system with a rearview camera and a sport package with a larger rear spoiler.

Safety items include lots of air bags, including a driver knee air bag.  

The Outlander Sport shares its basic underpinnings, powertrain and other components with Mitsubishi’s entry level sedan, which gives it a carlike driving feel.

Power comes from a 2-liter four-cylinder engine with 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque available across a wide powerband. The sophisticated engine has dual overhead camshafts and variable valve timing, although some might want more power if the Outlander Sport is loaded with passengers and cargo.

The electric power steering is precise. And the all-independent suspension provides a supple ride, which occasionally gets a little bouncy on uneven pavement. Handling is good, with a stability control system helping out. There’s noticeable body lean when driving fast on curving freeway ramps, but the Outlander Sport hangs right in there.

The all-disc brake setup has good pedal feel and electronic brake force distribution for surer stops.

The quiet, average-looking interior has supportive front seats and easily read gauges and user-friendly dashboard controls, although some audio controls are small. Front door pockets have bottle holders. Front cupholders are nicely placed in the console. But my test model wasn’t equipped with a rear center arm rest containing cupholders—although the armrest is available.

There’s decent room for four tall occupants in two rows of seats. They sit high, although the step-in height is reasonable. However, narrow door openings make it more difficult to slide in or out of the rear.

The cargo opening is wide, but rather high for quick loading or unloading. The cargo area is moderately roomy, and seatbacks flip forward and sit flat for an impressive increase in cargo space.

The Outlander Sport has drawn more folks to Mitsubishi showrooms, which need all the buyers they can attract.

Pros: Nicely sized. Sporty styling. Roomy. Decent economy. Supple ride. Available all-wheel drive.

Cons: Only moderately sporty. Narrow rear-door openings. Rather high cargo opening. Occasionally mildly bouncy ride.

Bottom Line: Fairly New Outlander Sport has become one of Mitsubishi's top sellers.

Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 yaers. To read more of his new and vintage car views, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.

Article Last Updated: July 17, 2012.

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