2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport - Review
It's efficient, looks good and delivers a stable ride. But will it help revive the struggling Mitsubishi brand?
- Reasonable prices
- Fuel efficiency
- Decent space for the size
- Weak engine
- Poor brand image
- Just another small crossover
The last 10 years have been pretty rough for Mitsubishi, and for good reason.
First, it ran an ill-advised "zero down, zero percent financing and zero payments for a year" program in the early 2000s to spark sales, a move that almost bankrupted the company when cash-strapped buyers started defaulting on the loans.
Then it let the Eclipse, Endeavor and Galant models grow so stale that they became little more than blips on the radar for most American consumers. Consequently, the company has announced it will drop all three from its stable by 2013.
Mitsubishi is now struggling to regain brand recognition, turning to one of its two remaining performers, the Outlander, for help. (The other shining light in Mitsubishi's lineup is the Lancer.)
For 2011, Mitsubishi is expanding the Outlander line with an all-new Sport model, which is expected to hit showrooms in October. Mitsubishi hopes to capitalize on the burgeoning compact-crossover market, which it believes will balloon in the next several years. While the Sport shares much of the same mechanical makeup as its 7-passenger sibling, the 5-passenger crossover is nearly 15 inches shorter and 400 pounds lighter. It also wears more shapely body panels, has a smarter interior and is more efficient.
On paper, the Sport appears to be a solid value. And we do find the Outlander Sport attractive and a step in the right direction for the struggling automaker. But we wonder if it's too little, too late to win back consumers who have become disillusioned with the brand. Let's see.
The 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is offered in two trims: ES and SE. The ES comes with only front-wheel drive, while the SE is offered with front- or all-wheel drive. Standard features on the $18,495 ES include cloth upholstery, manually adjustable front seats, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, air conditioning, power windows, power locks, power heated mirrors, remote keyless entry, Bluetooth cell-phone connectivity, 60/40 split folding rear seats, AM/FM/CD stereo, USB port, auxiliary input jack, trip computer and P215/70R16 tires on steel wheels with wheel covers.
The $21,695 SE 2WD adds automatic climate control, keyless access and starting, two additional speakers, automatic superwide HID headlights, fog lights, rain-sensing wipers and P225/55R18 tires on alloy wheels. The $22,995 SE AWC also gets heated front seats.
Options include a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system, a panoramic sunroof, Sirius satellite radio, a navigation system with a 40-gigabyte hard drive, roof rails, LED interior lighting and a rearview camera.
Standard safety features consist of dual front airbags, front side airbags, curtain side airbags with rollover deployment, driver knee airbag, active front headrests, tire-pressure monitor, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, traction control, electronic stability control and hill-start assist.
Under the Hood
The 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport comes with only one engine: a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that produces 148 horsepower and 144 lb-ft of torque. It is mated to either a 5-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable automatic transmission with an infinite number of gear ratios. The CVT also has six preset gear ratios so it can be shifted manually via the gearshift or a pair of magnesium steering-wheel paddles. EPA fuel-economy ratings are 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway with the manual, 25/31 with the CVT and front-wheel drive, and 24/29 with the CVT and all-wheel drive.
Mitsubishi's electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system sends about 90 percent of the torque to the front wheels during dry-road cruising. When it detects slip, it can transfer up to 70 percent of the power to the rear wheels.
Mitsubishi's media spin doctors say the Outlander Sport offers "more than expected." While that's a vague and rather lame statement, it happens to be true, and is backed up by the Sport's impressive list of standard goodies. The ES trim comes with features you might not expect at this price, including Bluetooth cell-phone connectivity, a USB port and a leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel. The SE trim adds the conveniences of keyless access and starting and automatic climate control. Mitsubishi also offers options often reserved for more expensive cars, such as a hard-drive-based navigation system with room for music storage, but if you load it up, the price approaches $27, 000, which seems high for a small crossover.
The interior environment is a step up from other Mitsubishis, with a nice soft-touch dash pad and some attractive silver and chrome trim. However, as expected, there is still an abundance of hard plastics. Overall, the look is appropriate for the class and price, and while some of the features surprise and delight, Mitsubishi's reputation for middling quality gives us pause.
We are impressed by the Outlander Sport's room, especially in the rear seat. The front seats have good headroom and legroom, and the tilt/telescoping steering column helps tailor a comfortable driving position. The rear seat is surprisingly accommodating. An average-size adult male can fit behind a tall front occupant. That's something you don't find in some midsize sedans. The front seats are well-contoured and have decent side bolstering for support in turns. But the rear seat is rather flat, and you need to choose the SE trim to get a fold-down center armrest.
While Mitsubishi has chopped 10 inches off the rear of the Outlander, it has also eliminated the third-row seat, so the cargo space is fairly useful. With all the seats up, there is 21.7 cubic feet of space, which will easily hold a week's worth of groceries. With the 60/40 split second row folded, cargo space expands to 49.5 cubic feet, which will appeal to active-lifestyle types. That's not as much room as larger competitors, many of which have about 65 cubic feet of space, but it's useful, nonetheless.
On the Road
The 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport doesn't exactly live up to its name. Despite its compact size, it's not particularly sporty. It leans a little more in turns than it should and doesn't feel quite as nimble as you might expect. On a positive note, the electric-assist power steering has little play on center and feels natural and direct. It's not sports-car quick, but the feel is right for a small SUV. Too bad the handling can't match the steering for driver involvement.
There are some other positive traits. The Outlander Sport feels stable at speed, with just a hint of float, and the ride is forgiving, especially with the base 16-inch wheels. The available all-wheel-drive system also provides solid traction on slick roads and a modicum of off-road ability.
The Outlander Sport's engine is the weakest offered in an SUV of any stripe. Though it is smooth and quiet for a 4-cylinder, it does whine at higher rpms. It makes so little power that high rpms are needed to draw any appreciable motivation from it. That means drivers will be accompanied by that droning sound all too often. Mitsubishi isn't giving zero-to-60-mph numbers, but it almost certainly takes more than 10 seconds.
Front-wheel-drive models are offered with a manual transmission, which is the best choice for getting the most out of this engine. The CVT offered with all-wheel drive can be slow to raise the revs necessary for passing. Fortunately, Mitsubishi provides six preset gear ratios controlled by well-placed and high-quality magnesium shift paddles. We recommend using them to downshift as far as possible before making any passing maneuvers.
The Outlander Sport gets good gas mileage. Its 31 mpg highway rating is as high as you can expect in an SUV. However, competitors such as the Chevrolet Equinox, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage get similar mileage with more usable power.
Right for You?
The Outlander Sport provides the same advantages as other compact SUVs: useful space for friends and cargo and the all-weather confidence of all-wheel drive. It also offers compact-car fuel economy in a maneuverable package at reasonable prices. For these reasons, it will appeal to young active singles and couples. However, other alternatives have more room and more power at prices only slightly higher.