Don't confuse the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport with the Mitsubishi Outlander. They share a name, but these two vehicles are distinctly different. If you're familiar with Land Rover's Range Rover and Range Rover Sport, Mitsubishi's naming scheme might make sense. The Outlander Sport isn't necessarily sportier than it's bigger, older brother. Rather, it's a significantly smaller vehicle that competes in an entirely different segment. With two rows of seats, available all-wheel drive, and a frugal four-cylinder, the Outlander Sport is entering the crowded compact crossover market as a serious latecomer.
Fuel efficient, not fast
Since this is a compact crossover, fuel economy is a key attribute and the Outlander Sport posts some good numbers, with 31 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg in the city with front-wheel drive and the continuously variable automatic transmission. That'll beat most competitors by 3 mpg in the city and is among the best on the highway. With all-wheel drive, fuel economy drops to 29 and 24 mpg, respectively. Surprisingly, Mitsubishi achieves those numbers without direct injection or turbocharging. Instead, it's tapped fuel savings with electric power steering, a clutched alternator, and smart aerodynamics. The Outlander Sport also benefits from being among the lightest in the segment at 3098 pounds in the most popular trim.
It's also quite slow. Without the benefit of turbocharging or direct injection, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder delivers just 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. Acceleration is merely adequate. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on base models and with its good clutch feel and decent throws it makes the Outlander Sport more fun to drive. Most buyers, though, will opt for the continuously variable automatic that comes with magnesium paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. The available all-wheel-drive system offers three driver-selectable modes. There's a front-wheel drive setting, an auto setting for four-wheel-drive, and a mode misleadingly labeled four-wheel-drive lock that simply sends more torque rearward.
Predictable ride, surprising steering
Mitsubishi says the Outlander Sport cabin is quieter than that of the larger Outlander. That may be true when the Sport is wearing its standard sixteen-inch wheels, but the available 18-inch tires are seriously louder and transmit a significant amount of road noise. Wind noise is also plenty noticeable, but not obtrusive. The ride favors comfort, with a generous suspension travel. In aggressive turns, there is a bit of lean, and over rough roads the suspension can sometimes knock and clunk as if someone forgot to install a few bushings. The electric power steering, though, is excellent. In its first use of this popular technology, Mitsubishi has nailed the calibration. The effort builds naturally, there's great on-center response, and you actually get some road feedback through the steering wheel. Mitsubishi doesn't just have the best steering in the compact crossover segment, it betters many cars with much sportier pretentions.
A family affair
The front end of the Outlander Sport is unmistakably Mitsubishi, becoming the third vehicle to wear the trapezoidal maw first seen on the Lancer Evolution. It's a face that evokes speed and performance, but the rest of the car is a relatively conservative -- and attractive -- in both styling and dynamic prowess. There are family genes under the sheetmetal, too. The new Sport is based on the same platform as the larger Outlander and both cars have the same wheelbase. But here, Mitsubishi chopped the front and rear overhangs to make the Sport almost 15 inches shorter.
The Mitsubishi signature
Inside, it feels like the perfect size, with a respectable rear seat and cargo room. The interior is exactly what we've come to expect from Mitsubishi. That's to say there are intuitive, driver friendly controls surrounded by cheap-looking materials. While the dash and trim bits are certainly lacking, the good news is that almost everything you touch has been thoughtfully executed, from the standard leather-wrapped steering wheel to the comfortable armrests. And if you want to dress up the interior, Mitsubishi is offering piano black trim overlays for $265. The base ES model -- which is front-wheel drive only -- includes power windows and door locks, keyless entry, Bluetooth, a USB port, and an auxiliary audio input as standard equipment. The SE trim adds passive entry and keyless ignition, high-intensity discharge headlights, 18-inch aluminum wheels, and heated seats on four-wheel-drive cars. Optional equipment includes a fixed panoramic glass roof, ambient LED lighting, and a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system. Mitsubishi's available navigation system is still in need a knob or two to make it functionally tolerable.
Smaller, not sportier
Pricing for the Outlander Sport starts at a competitive $19,250 ($20,760 with the automatic transmission). Four-wheel drive models start at $23,760, and a fully equipped Outlander Sport can cost more than $27,000. The aggressive yet handsome styling is hardly a reason to buy, but it's a perk on top of good fuel economy and a reasonable price. If you're hoping for the small Outlander to deliver on its Sport name, you'll be in for some disappointment. But if you're merely a snob for great steering who needs a small crossover, this is your vehicle.
2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
Base price (with destination): $19,260
Price as tested: $27,560
Powertrain: 16-valve DOHC I-4
Displacement: 2.0 liters
Power: 148 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 145 lb-ft @ 4200 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual or continuously variable automatic
Drive: Front- or 4-wheel
Fuel economy: 24-25/29-31/26-27 mpg (city/highway/combined)
Steering: Electrically assisted
Turns lock-to-lock: 3.3
Turning circle: 34.8 ft
Suspension, front: Strut-type, coil springs Suspension, rear Multilink, coil springs Brakes, F/R: Vented discs/discs, ABS
Wheels: 18-inch aluminum
Tires: Goodyear Eagle LS2
Tire size: 225/55HR-18
Headroom, F/R: 39.4/37.9 in
Legroom, F/R: 41.6/36.3 in
Shoulder room, F/R: 56.2/55.7 in
Hip room, F/R: 52.1/51.6 in
Wheelbase: 105.1 in
L x W x H: 169.1 x 69.7 x 64.2 in
Track, F/R: 60.0/60.0 in
Cargo capacity (rear seats up/down): 21.7/49.5 cu ft
Fuel capacity: 16.6 gal
Est. range: 448 miles
Fuel grade: 87 octane