On the Road Review: Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

The subcompact class Outlander Sport is by far Mitsubishi’s top selling vehicle in America. This is not uncommon for several automotive brands — to have crossover wagons be the leading vehicle in their lineup. For Mitsubishi, formerly a much larger car company here, the Outlander Sport represents one of four remaining entrants in a vibrant market and begs viewers to wonder what direction the manufacturer will take here.

It is too easy to target Mitsubishi with negative outlooks; sales used to be much greater (many models have been discontinued) while the market is enjoying robust expansion. Drill down into the sales numbers and Mitsubishi is doing at least as well as Ford’s Lincoln Division, over 73,000 vehicles sold through the end of September, is outselling Acura’s car lineup, and is way ahead of Volvo and Porsche on the sales charts. The caveat is Mitsubishi is not competing for luxury car customers. Its customers are buying Nissans, Kias and Hyundais.

This past winter, we visited with the Outlander Sport 2.0. For fall, a 2.4-liter GT visits. The GT is a new trim level, packing the 168-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine from the slightly larger Outlander. Additional standard gear, plus the same optional AWD components that earned favorable praise many months ago are included. Like Kia and Hyundai, Mitsubishi throws a lot into the Outlander Sport and then backs it with a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty.

The larger 2.4-liter engine obviously packs more grunt. Running through a CVT automatic transmission, the larger engine generated better fuel economy than our previous Outlander Sport experience — from a low of 25.4 to a high of 26.7 mpg — while delivering quicker acceleration and stress-free passing power.

The same fluid controls are evident here as before — great thumb buttons for the steering wheel audio, nice rotary knobs for the climate system, easy to use cruise switches — plus the heated leather seats are effectively warm and comfortable. Add a 7.1-inch navigation screen — 1 inch larger than standard — with improved graphics and bigger rear camera view, plus a panoramic sunroof, and the Outlander Sport checks some popular consumer boxes.

Steering feel and handling remain nimble, light. Small low-speed turns and decent tracking and stability on the highway are evident. Bushwhacking on old dirt roads or rough beach trails did send some protest back through the steering wheel, the chassis stating that, hey, this is a front-drive car with some rear drive traction available, not a pickup truck.

High points in the Mitsu included a stellar Rockford Fosgate stereo with consistent Sirius satellite performance, the heated seats, the easy access, a flexible front console, as well as the agile road manners. The Mitsubishi gains points for having a locking four-wheel-drive switch (two position switch on the center console) great for extraditing yourself from deep mud or snow, plus the new front and rear accents and better lighting fixtures improve both styling and the car’s street stance. It’s important to note that after several XM-equipped vehicles, the Mitsubishi’s stronger Sirius reception was a huge improvement.

Nitpicks: the cabin can get noisy at highway speeds on older pavement, the rear seat is tight compared to newer rivals, and the $30,000-plus list price seems out of place in this segment — even with the plethora of components included in the GT model. Having said that, the average new car transaction price in America is approaching $32,000, so the Mitsu is still under that threshold.

Front-drive Outlander Sports start at $20,445 with the five-speed manual transmission. Jump up to AWD, with the CVT automatic, moves the needle to over $22,000 — very competitive with the rest of the class.

The rest of the class — subcompact crossovers — has recently expanded a great deal. The Mitsu now does battle against the Subaru XV Crosstrek, the new Jeep Renegade, the Fiat 500, the Honda HR-V plus Chevy’s new Trax. When the Mitsu debuted in 2011, none of these vehicles existed.

After failing to sell its American assembly plant in Illinois, Mitsubishi now plans to close the facility — which will mean that vehicles such as the Outlander Sport will be imported, at higher cost. Not unlike Suzuki, which decided to abandon the American car market, Mitsubishi will need to generate some new models, some new model excitement as well as higher volumes for the dealer network to remain viable and for the brand to stay relevant.

Building on the success of the Outlander Sport will be key to Mitsubishi’s continued position in this market.

Next week: Ford F-150 SuperCrew Ecoboost Pickup

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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