Mitsubishi's Outlander Sport is neither an Outlander, like its bigger SUV sibling of the same name, nor sporty. But the Outlander Sport, which has been updated for 2013, is a compact SUV that can be had for slightly less than $20,000 in its base trim. In a refreshing change, we didn't get a manufacturer's fully loaded model.
Appearance: The look is athletic. Mitsubishi has made tweaks to the body including the front fascia, the rear LED taillights and the lower-body panels, which are now painted black. The Outlander Sport still carries the angry-looking scowl that looks much better on Mitsubishi's sporty Lancer. That chrome-trimmed grille, with a body-color bumper running through it, is the most striking feature of the SUV. The look definitely provokes a love-it or hate-it response.
Performance: Our ES trim came with Mitsubishi's 2.0-liter MIVEC inline-4 cylinder, which makes 148 horsepower. The 5-speed manual transmission shifts smoothly and quickly, and the clutch feel is light. We both thought this was one of the SUV's best features, and this transmission would be an easy one for novices learning to drive a stick. We deemed the engine, which is also used in the compact Lancer, adequate for city driving. Lyra found it an adventure on the highway, however, with pokey acceleration and lots of engine noise. Thank goodness for the manual, which probably allowed us to wring the most out of the engine. (The other transmission offered in Outback Sport models is a CVT.) The handling, too, is adequate. As Lyra noted: "It's certainly no road-carver." The estimated mpg is not too shabby at 24/30. The front-wheel drive ES trim is also now available with all-wheel drive, which also gets the CVT.
Interior: Let's talk about what our tester didn't have: panoramic sunroof with LED mood lighting, two-tone leather seats, chrome alloy wheels, navigation with music server and super wide-angle HID head lamps. Those features are available on the upper trim levels. The ES's plastic surfaces don't rise to the level of the stiff competition in the compact SUV class. But let's not forget this is a base model. The ES also has fabric seats, which we wished had more support as well as a tilt adjustment. The strength of the Outlander Sport's cabin is its spaciousness, with good head- and legroom for both front and rear passengers. That roominess doesn't translate to the rear cargo space, however, which fills up quickly on grocery runs. Better to put down the rear seats for more space. Overall, the car feels less than substantial; there isn't a significant thud when you close the doors. Lyra had to slam the rear hatch to get it to close properly (Peter had no such issue). We do like the simple design of the console and controls — dials for AC and buttons for audio. The instrument panel has a small color LCD display for driver information.
Our 3 favorites
Price point: It's an affordable SUV with the base model starting at $19,170 ($19,995 with destination fee).
MPG: Up to 30 mpg with the manual transmission.
Shifting: Easy, effortless clutching.
I'm going to have to agree with Lyra on all three points, which also were the features that stood out for me. As my wife remarked: "Well, there was nothing about it that I really disliked."
The bottom line: The Outlander Sport doesn't stand out among others in the competitive compact SUV class. Still, if you are looking for a spacious city runabout, the base model with the manual transmission is worth a look.