Mitsubishi has a problem with its current lineup. Unless you're looking for a Lancer, your options are limited to the Galant mid-size sedan and the Endeavor and Outlander crossovers. Right now, the Galant is contemplating seppuku and the Endeavor hasn't been fully redesigned since it first went on sale back in 2003. The Outlander, however, has something positive to offer. It seats up to seven passengers (in a pinch), has been named an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick, and tops out at 28 miles per gallon on the highway.
Mitsubishi knows having just two competitive vehicles to choose from isn't enough to compete in an industry eager to fill every niche, and the company appears focused on evolving the two lone bright spots in its lineup. The Lancer has spawned many variants, the latest being the Lancer Sportback, a fun-to-drive wagon that doesn't step on the toes of the top-trim Lancer Evolution. The Outlander, meanwhile, recently gave its name to the smaller 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, a five-passenger crossover looking to make its mark in a currently crowded segment.
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Related Gallery2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC: Review
2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC
Photos copyright ©2011 Jeff Glucker / AOL
If the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport had a favorite song, it would be Sister Sledge's "We Are Family." There's no mistaking this CUV for anything other than a product from the diamond-star family. The gaping mouth and muscular haunches leave no doubt that the Outlander Sport got the "good genes" after a night of passion between a Lancer Evo and the larger Outlander. And despite sharing the name "Outlander" with its larger three-row brother, the Outlander Sport is its own vehicle, a compact crossover different in size, shape and demeanor.
Up front, for instance, a jet-fighter nose kicks off an aggressive forward-leaning stance. Sharply cut headlights dig into the face of the Outlander Sport while the roof line pulls tightly rearward along the 169.1-inch long body. That length is almost 15 inches shorter than the larger Outlander, despite the two crossovers sharing the exact same wheelbase and almost the same width. Like a Beverly Hills housewife with a face-lift, this look has to be done correctly or things can quickly turn into a cat-faced disaster. Fortunately, Mitsubishi's corporate face survived the transplant with nary a scar to show for it. A set of 10-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels wearing Goodyear Eagle 225 55R/18 rubber shoes also sit neatly below the ever-so-slightly bulging fenders. These larger wheels come standard on our SE tester, while 16-inchers are standard running gear for the lower-trim ES.
2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC side view2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC front view2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC rear view
Inside, the Outlander Sport prefers muted tones, with dark plastic and black cloth the only interior color choices available. Fortunately, the controls are laid out in a simple manner, and we appreciate the climate controls relying on three traditional dials instead of being relegated only to touch-screen control. That screen is left to handle audio and navigation, which it does rather well being responsive to the touch with crips graphics. Pop into Reverse and you'll also get a nice view of what's going on behind the Outlander Sport thanks to the back-up camera that's bundled with the $2,000 nav system.
Unfortunately, laying down two grand for navigation also forces you to opt for the $1,800 Premium package that adds a panoramic glass roof, LED interior mood lighting, a Rockford-Fosgate sound system, Sirius satellite radio and an in-dash six-disc CD changer. All told, you're on the hook for almost $4,000 worth of options if you want the Outlander Sport to tell you where to go.
2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC interior2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC front seats2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC paddle shifter2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC tachometer
Sound from the optional Rockford-Fosgate audio system is pushed out to your ears courtesy of nine-speakers, a 10-inch subwoofer in the rear cargo area and 710 watts. Surprisingly balanced, this particular sound system has lost the overbearing bass that used to be a hallmark of Rockford-Fosgate systems.
If you plan on listening to your iPod, Mitsubishi also includes a connector that lets you control the device from the touch-screen or steering wheel-mounted controls. Annoyingly, however, the stereo takes about a minute to recognize the mp3 player each time you turn off the car, and once it does, playback starts from the first song on the unit. It's like teaching your dog to sit, and every time you turn around the pooch forgets where his butt goes. In a word: frustrating.
What's not frustrating is the level of supportive comfort provided by the front seats. Headroom is also a non-issue and visibility is great regardless of where you're looking. The cabin is relatively simple, aside from the touch-screen, but it works in the Outlander Sport's favor.
2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC audio system2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC audio system
If you go for a base two-wheel-drive ES model, the Outlander Sport starts at just $19,275. Our all-wheel-drive SE model starts at $22,995 (plus $780 in destination charges), and thanks to a few of those aforementioned fixings reaches $28,570. The Outlander Sport AWD SE's base price, however, is below that of the Honda CR-V EX-L ($26,645), Hyundai Tucson Limited ($26,345) and Kia Sportage EX ($24,795). Equipped like this Outlander Sport, the Kia and the Hyundai are just a few dollar bills away from $30,000 and the Honda climbs past by a Benjamin. So paying over $28,000 for this compact crossover becomes a little more palatable when compared to more expensive competition, and it's made even more so once you raise the hood.
Pull the lever and prop up the sheet metal and you'll see a familiar 4B11 face smiling back at you. Used throughout the Mitsubishi lineup, this 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine produces 148 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 145 pound-feet of torque at 4,200 rpm. That may not sound like much oomph to propel the all-wheel-drive Outlander Sport, but at just 3,263 pounds, it feels quicker than it should be.
2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC engine
The Outlander Sport isn't fast by any means, but the four-cylinder engine gets the job done while returning 24 miles per gallon around town and 29 mpg on the highway. Two-wheel-drive models do even better at 25 city/31 highway. By contrast, the 2011 Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage are 240, 103 and 92 pounds heavier, respectively. Each vehicle also produces more horsepower (32 hp for the Honda and 28 hp for the Kia/Hyundai) and torque (16 lb-ft for the Honda and 23 lb-ft for the Kia/Hyundai) yet return slightly worse fuel economy (21/27 for the Honda and 21/28 for the Kia/Hyundai).
It's not just the weight that helps the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport in the fuel-economy equation. Connected to that 2.0-liter engine is a Continuously Variable Transmission, or CVT, which can be manually "shifted" via a pair of steering wheel-mounted paddles. CVTs are notoriously buzzy contraptions, and the one employed in the Outlander Sport is no exception. Truth be told, the engine and transmission combination would be rather dull without those flippers for manually controlling the fun.
2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport rear 3/4 view
The Outlander Sport does have a few tricks up its sleeve besides being able to fake a gear shift. It handles surprisingly well for what's essentially a high-riding, tall-roof wagon. The brakes are quite responsive once you push past the first inch of light pedal travel, but over bumps, the tight Lancer-like suspension reveals some flaws in the Noise Vibration and Harshness department. There was some chatter inside the cabin of our test vehicle and, when rolled down a bit, the windows produced a slight rattle. We could chalk up the window rattle to press-car jitters, but the cabin chatter is probably there to stay.
Those problems aren't enough, however, to make us forget the sporty handling, accommodating interior and competitive pricing of the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC. Will it become Mitsubishi's third bright spot behind the Lancer and Outlander? The company is crowing that 1,290 units of the Outlander Sport were sold last month. That's peanuts compared to the Honda CR-V, which sold over 19,000 units, but does represent nearly a fifth of the entire brand's sales. That's remarkable for a model only a few months old, and tells us that Mitsubishi is giving buyers exactly what they want.