Ah, Mitsubishi. This once proud Japanese automaker has been in a state of seemingly inexorable decline for decades.
|Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes 148 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: A five-speed manual gearbox or a CVT.
Fuel Economy: The Outlander Sport SE with AWD stickers at 24 MPG city, 29 highway and 26 MPG on average.
Pricing: This vehicle starts around $20,400, including $850 in obligatory destination fees but the model we tested cost $25,820 out the door.
Back in the 1990s they used to tussle with the likes of Honda and Toyota, but today the company is an emaciated shadow of its former self, rocked by scandal, blasted by economic fluctuations and gutted by poor business decisions.
The triple-diamond used to field formidable nameplates; vehicles like Galant, Montero and Eclipse were popular and competitive products, but these days their lineup is as sparse as a help-wanted listing during the Great Depression. They offer no van, pickup truck or even midsize sedan.
Still, the company is trying to lure customers back into showrooms by offering strong warranties, attractive sticker prices and lots of bang for the proverbial buck. Arguably the Outlander Sport is one their strongest vehicle offerings today, but is it competitive enough to survive in America’s cutthroat automotive market?
This vehicle battles for the hearts, minds and monthly payments of consumers interested in small crossovers like the Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox or Volkswagen Tiguan. Not surprisingly the Outlander Sport is for the most part sized appropriately to compete. Of course it’s a junior sibling to the larger Outlander utility vehicle.
It rides on a 105.1-inch wheelbase, which is about two inches greater than the Honda’s but seven inches less than the Chevy’s span. Despite this relatively generous figure overall body length is much less than these competitors, clocking in at roughly 170 inches.
Thanks to its somewhat truncated dimensions cargo space suffers. Maximum capacity is a whisker less than 50 cubic feet. By comparison the Equinox offers nearly 64 cubes and the CR-V almost 71. Advantage: the competition.
No Coupons Necessary
An entry-level ES model with a five-speed manual transmission can be yours for about $20,400, including $850 in obligatory destination fees. By comparison the Chevy kicks off north of 25 grand while the Honda’s cheapest version costs around $24,000. Advantage: Mitsubishi.
For that dollar-store price you do get a few attractive features including automatic headlamps, 18-inch alloy wheels, heated side-view mirrors, power windows and hill-start assist with the stick shift. For an additional $1,200 more you can get a continuously variable transmission; for $1,400 beyond that you can also snag all-wheel drive. Out the door our SE AWC model cost $25,820.
Higher-end SE models also come with some attractive extras. Paddle shifters are standard with this trim level, as is push-button start and HID headlamps. You also get a 6.1-inch touch-screen audio system with a rear-view camera so you don’t inadvertently back over a bike.
The 2014 Outlander Sport SE we evaluated featured all-wheel drive, an automatic transmission and a number of other niceties. Out the door, it stickered for a not-unreasonable $25,820 including delivery fees.
Shire Horse or Shetland Pony?
Technically the Outlander Sport offers two transmissions (though the manual is only available in the cheapest variant) but just one engine is on the menu. All versions of this compact crossover are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder.
Sporting all-aluminum construction, the company’s MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing Electronic Control) system and a balancer shaft for smooth operation, it churns out 148 hp and 145 lb-ft torque. If those figures sound rather tepid it’s because they are. Even an efficiency-maximizing CVT can’t make the Outlander Sport feel responsive, but more on that in a few paragraphs.
With four-wheel drive and a gearless automatic transmission this vehicle stickers at 24 miles per gallon in traffic-clogged urban driving and 29 on sometimes equally mired highway routes; combined it ought to average 26 MPG. Front-drive variants are slightly thriftier.
Sweetening things even further, the Outlander Sport is backed by a generous 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Additionally the body is protected against corrosion for seven-year or 100,000-miles and it’s got an appealing five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. Mitsubishi is clearly trying to prove its products are built for the long haul by offering such generous coverage, but so far it doesn’t appear to have done much to improve their sales.
The Outlander Sport is the best-selling model in Mitsubishi’s lineup. In fact U.S. dealers delivered more than 15,300 of these American-built crossovers during the first six months of 2014, volume the brand desperately needs. But sales numbers are all relative. Sure that showroom performance is huge compared to the number of cars Lotus moved during the same time period (around 84) but it’s paltry when measured next to true volume-sellers.
Take the perennially popular Camry for instance. Toyota sold nearly 41,000 of them… in the month of June. Advantage: I’m sad.
And things don’t get any more exciting when you put the Outlander Sport in drive. Its lackluster output figures severely hamper performance; the vehicle feels weaker than Clinton’s “I did not inhale” defense.
It will scamper from zero to 60 eventually. The time it takes doesn’t have to be measured with a calendar but it does take uncomfortably long seconds. This vehicle isn’t dangerously slow but passing maneuvers take careful planning, a full weather report as well as a decent downhill grade, and that’s without any passengers or cargo. If you’ve got a full load think twice about overtaking. Calling it “Sport” feels downright deceitful.
Fortunately the engine is supremely smooth and beautifully isolated. Scarcely any vibration makes its way into the cabin. Paddle shifters allow you to manually run the CVT through six simulated ratios. Surprisingly the transmission responds very quickly to requests, dropping virtual cogs in the blink of an eye.
Unwanted powertrain harmonics may be kept at bay but tire and wind noise are a little more prevalent. Both sources of ruckus are elevated in the Outlander Sport’s cabin, but don’t be dismayed because they’re hardly deafening. The vehicle only seems loud because so many other new cars on the market today are incredibly quiet.
This Mitsu’s engine performance may be lackluster at best but its electrically boosted steering is even less pleasing. The tiller is initially quite heavy on center, but if you crank it a few degrees to either side it suddenly becomes very light, which makes the Outlander Sport difficult to place while driving through twists and turns. The vehicle also wanders in the lane; it’s somewhat difficult to keep pointed straight ahead. Steering feel is one area that needs serious work.
The optional all-wheel drive system offers some nice functionality. In addition to an automatic setting it can be left in front-drive mode for increased fuel efficiency or locked in four-wheel-drive for maximum traction in slippery situations, though don’t expect the Outlander Sport to keep up with a Jeep Wrangler off road.
In spite of its driving deficiencies this crossover earned a prestigious Top Safety Pick+ rating from the folks at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the highest score available. Crashworthiness is an important factor for families, especially ones with small children; the Outlander Sport should keep everyone well protected.
As for its interior, the design is about as generic as can be. There are no eye-catching elements to be found, just simple shapes and easy-to-use controls. Materials quality is pretty good; there’s soft stuff on parts of the dashboard and front doors that has an attractive, low-gloss texture. Regrettably the headliner looks extremely low-rent; I’ve seen better stuff fished out of a clothes dryer’s lint trap.
The optional Rockford Fosgate stereo system absolutely jams! It’s available on SE models as part of the $1,000 premium package, which also adds an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and a power driver’s seat. The stereo is very loud and the sound remains undistorted when you crank it up.
On paper the 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport doesn’t look like a bad vehicle, but once you get out of the driveway this budget-priced bloom starts to whither.
The driving experience and on-road performance it offers are complete let downs; acceleration is tepid and the handling is frustratingly artificial. Are there better small crossovers available today? Absolutely, in fact most of them outclass this Mitsubishi. But the Outlander Sport isn’t all bad. It offers a compelling warranty and top-notch safety ratings plus value pricing that should help it appeal to cash-strapped drivers.