A week spent in the updated compact crossover SUV from Mitsubishi
2014 Outlander Sport
The Outlander Sport is Mitsubishi's best-selling vehicle, accounting for 38 percent of the brand's sales so far in 2014. Although it was refreshed in 2013, Mitsubishi has given its smallest crossover a number of enhancements for the 2014 model year.
One of the high points of the Outlander Sport is its exterior – specifically the front fascia - as its "shark nose" design borrows heavily from that of the Lancer Evolution, and who wouldn't want to be driving a small crossover that could be mistaken for that tarmac-eater?
Once past the grille, however, the similarities quickly fade. The headlamp bezels may slant downward in a scowl above a pair of protruding fog lamps, but the sides look rather plain with a pair of mildly flared wheel wells, a single upper character line and a mildly scooped lower character line.
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.
A nice touch and new for 2014: all trim levels come with alloy wheels as standard equipment.
With soft touch surfaces on the dash and upper doors as well as some pleasing shapes, the interior is nice, but hardly luxurious. The fit and finish is excellent and, aside from the oddly-placed seat heater controls which are located on the inboard side of the front buckets between the cushion and the center console, the controls are all logically placed.
Instrumentation is clear, while the controls for heating and cooling are large and intuitive to use. New this year on SE models is a 6.1-inch touchscreen replete with backup camera that's fairly simple to use with software that features voice prompts for Bluetooth setup.
But in adopting the new system, Mitsubishi has eliminated most of the redundant buttons. For instance, the radio now features just a single knob for power and volume. All other adjustments, including station select, now require you to use the touchscreen – a step backwards, in our opinion.
There's plenty of space for four adults in the front and back seats, although a fifth in back might find the accommodations a bit cramped. The front seats are supportive and well bolstered and I found them comfortable in all driving situations. 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 views out the front and sides aren't bad, although the high beltline sometimes makes it difficult to judge exactly where you are in tight quarters, such as a parking lot. Views out the back and rear three quarters are also only okay, aided by the small quarter windows in the C-pillars and the standard rearview camera that comes with the SE trim level.
Under the hood
All Outlander Sports are equipped with a 2.0-liter inline-4 producing 148 horsepower and 145 lb.-ft. of torque. Entry-level ES 2WD models get a standard 5-speed manual (the transmission we'd choose), while all other trims, regardless of drivetrain configuration, get a continuously variable transmission.
Models equipped with the CVT are rated by the EPA at 24/29/26 city/highway/combined mpg, while my own observed fuel economy was really good at an observed 28.3 mpg in mixed driving. No doubt these numbers are aided by the fact that Mitsubishi put a lot of effort into saving weight on the Outlander Sport. High-strength steel is used throughout the body and, to reduce mass even further, the front fenders are fabricated out of plastic.
On the road
But despite the diet and even though it's called a "Sport", neither the handling nor the steering is especially sporty. The steering is responsive, but there's not a lot of feedback through the wheel. And while the soft suspension does a really nice job of absorbing road bumps and other imperfections making for a smooth and supple ride, it also lends itself to a fair amount of body lean through the corners.
At the same time, much of the blame for the Outlander Sport's other shortcoming, which is a distinct lack of sporting character, lies with Mitsubishi's INVECS-III CVT Sportronic transmission. Acceleration 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.
On the expressway the Outlander sport tracks fairly well down the road, although crosswinds and grooved pavement can affect its tracking. Braking, on the other hand, is excellent with great feedback through the brake pedal. I also found it very easy to modulate the brakes.
There's also more good news. Beginning with the 2014 model, the Outlander is the recipient of improved sound insulation materials and it has really paid off. While there's some tire noise and wind noise at freeway speeds, Mitsubishi has done a nice job of reducing wind, road and tire noise in the cabin. Even the drone of the engine when you put your foot into it seems further away.
As noted previously, the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is available in two trim levels. The base front-wheel-drive ES can be had with either a 5-speed manual or CVT automatic. All other versions – base ES all-wheel-drive and uplevel SE front- wheel drive and all-wheel-drive iterations – are available only with the CVT.
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 alloy wheels, power windows, locks and heated mirrors as well as remote keyless entry and air conditioning. A 140-watt audio system with CD/MP3 capability, RCA and audio input jacks, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob as well as a new steering wheel with cruise, audio and Bluetooth phone controls are also standard.
Mitsubishi's FUSE hands-free system, by the way, integrates with any Bluetooth-enabled phone. Using this system, once the phone is paired, 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 provided you know the number.
In addition to these standard features, all SE models come with HID headlights, rain-sensing wipers, fog lights, 6.1-inch touchscreen with rearview camera, automatic climate control, proximity key with push button start, satellite radio, auto dimming rearview mirror and heated front seats.
Pricing starts at $20,320 for a base 5-speed FWD ES and tops out at $33,780 for a fully-optioned, and accessorized, all-wheel-drive SE model. Our SE AWC tester had a base price of $23,995 and was equipped with the $1,000 premium package that added a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate sound system, auto dimming rearview mirror and power driver's seat bringing the total MSRP, including an $825 destination and delivery charge, to $25,820.
The Bottom Line
There's a lot to like about the 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport. The interior, though modest, is nicely thought out, the seats are very supportive and the additional work Mitsubishi did to reduce interior noise levels has paid off handsomely as it's really quiet inside for a vehicle in this class.
On the other hand, even if you don't mind the quirks of a CVT transmission – and for the most part I do, by the way – matching this type of transmission to 145 horsepower crossover SUV is clearly not a recipe to get the heart racing.
Having said all that, the bottom line is that the improvements made to the Outlander Sport make driving one a better experience as it's both more comfortable and quieter on the road. It's also a good looking vehicle. But the continuing lack of performance when coupled to the CVT automatic, unfortunately, relegate it to just mid-pack in the compact crossover segment.