Mitsubishi Outlander Sport Falls Short of Segment Benchmark

Our biggest beef lies with the CUV’s sole engine choice, a wimpy and uncivilized 2.0L 4-cyl. that leaves the auto maker looking miserly.

James M. Amend, Senior Editor

January 12, 2011

6 Min Read
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LOS BARRILES, MEXICO – We really want to like the new-for-’11 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport cross/utility vehicle, which after all comes from the same folks who make the raucously fun Lancer Evolution.

Known internationally as the RVR and 1 ft. (0.3 m) shorter than the 7-passenger Outlander, the 5-passenger Outlander Sport boasts a number of delightful attributes including fuel-saving technologies, roominess, crisp handling and some cool design cues.

But these little CUVs are becoming as common as muck. In some ways, they are the stereotypical compact car for the 21st century with their underpowered engines packaged in an underwhelming design, yet oh-so tantalizingly affordable to own.

A decade ago, the small CUV segment included just two players, the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Toyota RAV4. Today, according to Ward’s data, the segment has swelled to 11 entries.

Sales in the small CUV segment continue to pale in comparison to the 1 million-plus small cars sold annually. Still, deliveries of the pocket-sized cargo haulers have more than doubled, from 145,773 in 2000 to 399,794 in 2007, the last big sales year in the U.S.

The overall CUV segment is the hottest in the industry today, and Ward’s middle CUV segment displaced upper-middle cas as the largest single segment in 2010.

So forgive us for sounding jaded, but turn a corner these days and another CUV pops out of traffic – more proof the playbooks at auto makers are disappointingly homogeneous.

It’s high time for a segment buster, but instead we get another likeable but low-risk effort with the Outlander Sport.

Front fascia borrowed from Lancer Evo.<link rel=

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Mitsubishi could use a hit. Through December, the auto maker sold a scant 55,683 vehicles, up 3.1% from 53,986 in 2009. Amazingly, the company sold more cars and trucks in 1984, its third year in the U.S. market.

Our biggest beef lies with the Outlander Sport’s sole engine choice, a wimpy and uncivilized 2.0L 4-cyl. that leaves Mitsubishi looking miserly.

A world engine from Mitsubishi’s former alliance with Chrysler Group LLC and Hyundai Motor America Inc., it’s sophisticated enough with its aluminum block and cylinder head, advanced electronic valve control timing and friction-reducing components such as resin-coated pistons and slippery smooth camshaft.

As a result, the Outlander Sport posts some awfully good fuel-economy numbers of up to 31 mpg (7.6 L/100 km) highway. We average about 27 mpg (8.7 L/100 km) along rural country roads here.

But the fuel efficiency comes at the expense of power, as the 2.0L engine’s measly 142 hp works overtime to propel the relatively light CUV down the road. Passing slower cars proves dicey at times, and we quickly learn to aggressively down shift our 5-speed manual before swinging out into another lane.

With each downshift comes a howl of disapproval from the engine bay, almost enough to scare us off the throttle. Shifting the 5-speed manual is akin to rowing in buttermilk.

Mitsubishi would be smart to add a turbocharged option and some sound damping. Americans are starting to embrace small, turbocharged engines and quiet cabins always will sell well.

’11 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport ES

Vehicle type

front-engine, 5-passenger FWD CUV

Engine

2.0L DOHC 4-cyl.

Power (SAE net)

148 hp @ 6,000 rpm

Torque

145 lb. ft. (197 Nm) @ 4,200 rpm

Compression ratio

10.0:1

Transmission

5-speed manual

Wheelbase

105.1 ins. (266.9 cm)

Overall length

169.1 ins. (429.5 cm)

Overall width

69.7 ins. (177 cm)

Overall height

64.2 ins. (163.1 cm)

Curb weight

3,032 lbs. (1,321 kg)

As tested

$18,495

Fuel economy

24/31 mpg (9.8-7.6 L/100 km)

Competition

Toyota RAV4, Nissan Juke, Jeep Patriot/Compass, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Chevy HHR

Pros

Cons

Good fuel economy

Weak, boisterous motor

Crisp handling

Also-ran interior

Likeable exterior

Yet another “cute-ute”

Inside, the Outlander Sport gets a heavy dose of plastic, although chrome- and nickel-like accents break things up nicely. Mitsubishi’s bright red instrumentation looks sporty against the dark interior of our tester.

But as with those compact cars of old, there are too many hard surfaces biting back at your elbows, and the fabric seats, which sport three different textures for a unique look, are not the most comfortable.

Interior fit-and-finish generally is good on our tester, except for an oversized gap where the doors meet the dash, and the rear cargo area already shows signs of wear.

Rear-cargo room proves more than sufficient for three people on a day trip to the beach. Choosing the top-of-the-line Rockford Fosgate audio system sacrifices some cargo space to accommodate a 10-in. (25.4-cm) subwoofer.

Mitsubishi thoughtfully adds an adjustable center head rest for the second row, making the CUV a true 5-passenger vehicle. It’s a roomy second row, accommodating a 6-ft., 3-in. (191 cm) colleague without pinning the driver against the dash.

Our tester is a base model. Moving up to an SE trim provides a number of option packages that include hot new items such as a panoramic roof, push-button start, magnesium-alloy paddle shifters and an eco-driving gauge on models with the continuously variable transmission.

The options add up quickly, pushing an otherwise inexpensive CUV to nearly $27,000 fully loaded. However, the high-intensity discharge headlamps come standard on all models, as do regenerative brakes, a high-efficiency alternator and fuel-saving electric power steering.

We find the EPS system to be one of the Outlander Sports’ greatest attributes, with solid on-center feel and the right amount of feedback. It responds quickly to driver inputs without feeling too light and also provides an excellent complement to the CUV’s perfectly sprung suspension.

The Outlander Sport should benefit from arguably the best-looking exterior in its segment, despite – with the exception of the Nissan Juke and coming Mini Countryman –a weak and dated field of competitors.

The frontend is particularly attractive, drawing on the jet-inspired fascia of the Evo.

Cat-like headlamps sweep into side body panels featuring athletic character lines. The roofline tapers as it moves rearward, further enhancing the CUV’s sportiness, and an available roof-mounted spoiler caps everything off. Rear taillamps again borrow from the Evo.

There’s an attention to detail in the styling, as well, such as contoured rocker panels for easier ingress and egress. Still, it’s difficult to call the exterior design daring, and with the segment expanding so quickly, it could look dated in a few short years.

Coupled with a cheap powertrain, Mitsubishi plays it too safe with the Outlander Sport, and that’s unfortunate because we want to like this one. We really, really do.

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