Fun and style in a pint-sized package
It was somewhere between the little man wearing a sombrero relieving himself on a Saguaro cactus and the cow in the road who we narrowly missed (more later) that I realized we were in a different country. Baja California, Mexico is a very unique place, though areas (such as lovely Cabo San Lucas) manage to offer most of the same conveniences of the U.S of A. I thought it fitting then that Mitsubishi invited us down there to drive the new Outlander Sport. A vehicle that much like Baja California, isn't radically different, but offers an experience that is completely its own.
2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport Rear" width="293" height="220" align="right" hspace="4" vspace="4" />The compact crossover market is still rather small. I find the segment a compelling solution for people who want the functionality and versatility of an SUV or hatchback, with the comfort and fuel economy of a sedan. They also tend to be rather fun to drive, so I won't complain. The Outlander Sport is a new offering from Mitsubishi, looking quite a bit like the full-size Outlander that had some of its back end lobbed off. It's actually smaller than it looks, which isn't really a bad thing in this case.
The best part of vehicles as of late has been interior accoutrements, and the Outlander Sport doesn't disappoint. The interior has a noticeably sporty feeling, with deep recessed gauges, a thick steering wheel, and swept-back dash. It's spacious with plenty of front head room, and a perfectly comfortable rear seat. Leg room was tight behind the front seats, but it was by no means cramped, and you could easily tote yourself and three buddies on a mountain bike trip. There'd even be room for the bikes on top and all of your gear in the back. The rear seats effortlessly fold flat for when you need to accommodate your weekend project or a Costco run. I quite liked the usefulness of such a small vehicle.
Driving the Outlander Sport
Interior amenities run the gamut in this small SUV. From a panoramic sunroof that stretches seamlessly from the front to well into the rear seats, to FUSE, Mitsubishi's new entertainment connectivity system. The system works great, with Bluetooth pairing simple and device connectivity via USB or headphone jack a no brainer. Like competitive systems, FUSE offers voice command controls that will complete basic tasks such as "next song", play artist "The Scorpions", or "call mom" (32 contacts can be called by name). I found the voice recognition to work without a hitch, and if you're in the market for a compact SUV, the Outlander Sport is currently one of the only options on the market with this technology.
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The standard audio system sounded perfectly acceptable, but if you like to crank the tuneage, the optional Rockford Fosgate sound system is a must. Personally, I found it to be a bit bass-heavy, though rap or techno music fans won't complain. It's a worthwhile upgrade for anyone that lists music as a remote priority and works perfectly for carefree windows-down "look at me" motoring. I should know; I got weird looks galore with Whitesnake blasting through rural Baja.
As you'd expect from a new car, interior materials and fit and finish quality comes standard, and that's important in a vehicle such as this. There is a lot of hard plastic employed, but there was nary a rattle or buzz as I blasted over Baja's less than stellar roads. I found the control layout to be intuitive with a clear separation of audio and climate controls, though the climate controls are a bit low, and in a manual transmission car (like my tester), adjusting temp and fan speed required some awkward reaches depending on your gear selection.
Outlander Sport Conclusion
Not that many people will drive a manual transmission car. While it's the value leader of the lineup, I suspect most people will opt for the CVT (continuously variable transmission) with paddle control. Not much to say about the CVT, it put power down like...a CVT. If you've never driven a CVT, it's a strange experience. There are no gears, so it doesn't shift. Instead, peg the accelerator, and the engine roars up to redline and you accelerate. That's it. The "manual" mode simulates gears, allowing you to "shift" with the steering column-mounted paddle shifter when driving briskly or climbing a hill. I didn't find the paddles to be terribly useful, and honestly a little gimmicky, but they do add to the sporty ambiance.
On the road, when passing or accelerating, the Outlander Sport would really benefit from a tad more juice. The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder could use a bump from its 148 horsepower, however cruising or less aggressive driving is fine. The suspension tuning aired on the side of sporty, which means it was a little stiff over bumps and cracks in the road. I was let down though, when the road got twisty, and the suspension let the body roll a little more than I'd care for. A canyon carver it isn't, a sporty looking practical runabout, it is. It's also worth noting that the brakes are great. I discovered this first hand when the cow I mentioned at the beginning of this review decided to take a siesta in the road. I'm sure Bessie was grateful, as is Mitsubishi (more now than before) for putting excellent brakes on the Outlander Sport.
While not a segment leader, the new Outlander Sport is a great choice for someone looking for a unique, sporty looking alternative to the conventional compact crossover. It does everything that a compact crossover should do, and it packs some innovative features for the segment. It's perfect if you're looking for something to compliment your active lifestyle, tote around friends, or cruise around town in. Just keep in mind that you won't be winning any drag races.
Factor in a starting price of $18,495, and a maxed-out price in the mid-20's, and the Outlander Sport becomes even more attractive option. You won't find this level of youthful sophistication elsewhere, and at the price, it's hard to pick a better alternative in the segment. Go anywhere and have fun doing it, the Outlander Sport fits the bill.