A week spent in the top shelf version of the compact SUV from Mitsubishi
Acceptable fuel economy
Aggressive exterior styling
Montana-sized glass roof
Interior still underwhelming
Outlander Sport part two
Back in July of last year we got our first chance to review the then-new Mitsubishi Outlander Sport. At the time, the model we were given to evaluate was a two-wheel-drive model in base ES trim. And by base we do mean base. It had no options other than what appears on the standard list and was equipped with a five-speed manual transmission.
After spending a week in the ES, we came to the conclusion that its looks, especially in front where it borrows from the Lancer Evolution, certainly make it stand out from the crowd. Inside, however, it was another story as the dark black plasticky interior was a turn-off.
Performance-wise, we found it a lot of fun noting that this was "no doubt aided by the 5-speed manual."
This time around, we got the chance to drive something at the opposite end of the spectrum – a top-shelf SE AWC with all the bells and whistles that bottom-lined at over $9,000 more than the ES.
As noted previously, the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is available in two trims – the two-wheel drive base SE, available with either a five-speed manual or optional CVT automatic or the uplevel SE, sold only with the CVT but available in either two-wheel or 4-wheel drive configurations.
The only available engine for either one is an all-aluminum 2-liter four-cylinder that produces a disappointing 148 horsepower and 145 lb.-ft. of torque.
Standard safety features include stability and traction control, hill start assist, 4-wheel disc brakes with brake assist, ABS, EBD and seven airbags – including a driver knee airbag.
Other basic equipment highlights include power windows, locks and heated mirrors as well as remote keyless entry and air conditioning. An audio system with CD/MP3 capability, RCA and audio input jacks as well as steering wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls are also featured all models.
Another nice touch is Mitsubishi's FUSE hands-free system which integrates all Outlander Sport models with any Bluetooth-enabled phone. Using this system, once you've paired your phone, you can, for example, call any number simply by touching a button on the steering wheel. The voice command will instruct you to say the phone number and will repeat it back to you before you give it permission to call – negating the need to download your phone book if you know the number you want to call.
As with our previous version, the exterior – specifically the front fascia - is the high point of the all-new Outlander Sport as its "shark nose" borrows heavily from that of the Lancer Evolution X.
Beginning at the front, creases from both upper corners of the front grille continue back along the hood, tapering until they meet the trailing edge. The upper edge of the headlight bezel slants downward in a scowl as it travels from the fenders to the grille, while a wide body-colored horizontal bar separates the upper and lower grilles.
Both front fenders are softly flared, and a character line beginning at the trailing edge of the wheel well flares extends along the side of the body, tapering and rising until it ends at the trailing edge of the rear doors.
In back, the taillamps mimic the headlamps, with their upper edges slanting downward, while a small lip spoiler extends across the trailing edge of the hatch lid.
One advantage the SE has over the ES: the cheap-as-J.C. Whitney-looking 16-inch wheel covers are replaced by handsome-looking 18x7JJ alloy wheels wrapped in meatier P225/55R18 Toyo A24 rubber.
Like the ES, the interior fit and finish of the SE is excellent. The intuitive controls are located within easy reach of the driver and work smoothly.
The headlight, fog light and turn signal stalk is located to the left of the steering wheel, while the right stalk controls the intermittent and speed functions of both the front and rear wipers.
The center stack is simple and straightforward. Buttons surrounding the large color touchscreen control the media and navigation functions, while a set of three knobs just below it control the automatic climate system.
The front seats are very supportive, while the rear seats fold on a 60/40 split and, with both down, offer a rear storage area of 48.8 cubic feet that easily accommodates a mountain bike.
The SE also addresses another area of concern we had with the ES. The materials used inside the SE appear to be pretty much the same: mostly semi soft-touch, and there still way too much dull black plastic for our tastes. However, our SE was equipped with the Premium Package that, among other niceties, comes with a fixed panoramic glass roof the size of Montana that does wonders to brighten up what would otherwise be the same dark cave-like interior we experienced in the ES.
But as was the case with the ES, even in the SE all good things must come to an end and, unfortunately for the Outlander Sport, it happens on the road – something we weren't expecting after having previously driven the ES.
Mitsubishi put a lot of effort into saving weight on the Outlander Sport. High-strength steel is used throughout the body and to save even more weight, the front fenders are fabricated out of plastic.
Where this paid off in the ES was in acceleration. The fact that, as we previously noted, that this might have been aided by that model's 5-speed manual proved to be correct. As for the SE, I found its performance to be lethargic, at best.
Equipped with Mitsubishi's INVECS-III CVT Sportronic, the Outlander Sport was anything but sporty. Putting your foot into it elicited little more than, to paraphrase the bard, much "sound and fury, signifying nothing."
Stepping off from a stop seems to begin briskly enough, but the revs quickly drop off and you're left with nothing other than the slow droning of the engine. Needless to say, this makes the SE version not very much fun to drive.
Body roll is noticeable and, in high winds, I found myself making a lot of steering corrections. There is, however, a decent amount of feedback from the Outlander Sport's electric steering – dialing in enough road feel and giving it just the right about of weight. Mitsubishi has also done a nice job with the braking system – it's easy to modulate the brakes and there is a reassuring amount of feedback through the brake pedal. Another bright spot - the Sport ES's suspension offers just the right amount of compliance – not too harsh for around town driving, yet not too soft for freeway cruising.
Unlike the ES, the fuel economy I experienced with the SE was only average – probably due to the fact that I was continually mashing on the accelerator to elicit some kind of performance out of the four-pot. Rated by the EPA at 24 mpg city, 29 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined, I averaged just 23.5 miles per gallon in mixed city and freeway driving.
New car prices for the 2013 Outlander Sport begin at $19,995 for a 2WD ES equipped with a 5-speed manual transmission and can top out at over $33,000 for a fully decked-out SE.
In addition to the base model's standard features, all Outlander Sport SE's come with HID headlights, fog lights, 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, push button start, auto dimming rearview mirror, heated front seats (on 4WD models), smart key with passive entry and upgraded seat fabrics.
Our CVT-equipped SE AWC (all-wheel control) model had a base price of $23,695. It also came with the optional premium package ($2,050) which includes the aforementioned glass roof and LED mood lighting, a 710-watt Rockford-Fosgate sound system, Sirius satellite radio and roof rails. It also featured the navigation/rearview camera option ($2,000) that includes a 40GB HDD navigation system with music and real-time traffic as well as a backup camera and aux video input jack.
In moving up to the Mitsubishi Sport SE from the ES, buyers gain a better looking and, if they opt for the huge glass roof, a much brighter and more livable interior. Unfortunately, that's just about as far as the plusses go.
Saddled with an anemic engine along with a joy and power-sapping CVT, the only things sporty about this Mitsubishi are its Lancer-like nose and the word "sport" in its name.