2016 Outlander Sport Review: Mitsubishi’s Last Samurai

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Mitsubishi Lancer fascia
Mitsubishi Lancer fascia | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Let’s raise a pint to Mitsubishi; a de-tuned rally crossover with a banging audio system is exactly the kind of thing it needs right now, and no one seems to take notice of the all-wheel drive compact SUV known as the Outlander Sport GT, instead paying full attention to its big brother, which is noticeably larger and more refined. Maybe it’s because longtime Mitsubishi lover Jackie Chan stopped promoting the brand for once, or perhaps ad campaign dollars just aren’t what they once were, but whatever the reason, the little CUV you see here could be one of today’s best kept automotive secrets.

Mitsubishi Outlander Sport GT
Outlander Sport GT | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

As Mitsubishi went from breaking the mold to breaking the rules, America has slowly but surely lost interest in the quirky tri-diamond brand. What started off with twin-turbo, AWD V6 action and oddly rewarding Diamond Star Motors collaborations has turned into a near complete sales disaster in the U.S. and elsewhere, as everything from sagging sales numbers to MPG cheating allegations have hampered the once-vibrant automaker. Yet now, in its darkest hour, you have an unassuming, cape-less hero. Finally.

Late to the draw but still packing plenty of firepower, the Outlander Sport GT is a vehicle that takes all the fun associated with rallycross and packs it into a capable little crossover. Even though I wasn’t completely smitten with some styling points and the simple 2.4-liter engine, Mitsubishi’s most compact crossover eventually ended up winning me over.

Compact crossover size
Compact crossover size |Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

While passing it on the road, one probably wouldn’t think twice about the Outlander’s outward appearance. It’s relatively nondescript, which can either be a boon or an issue depending on what a person wants. There’s a lot of Lancer in the nose, and once paired with a few touches like super-wide HID headlamps, power folding mirrors, 18-inch alloy wheels, and a blackened roof that includes luggage rails, the attraction score for the Outlander rises considerably. The only issue I found with the styling of the Sport GT was that it doesn’t brandish a lot of external upgrades over the base version.

Drivetrain-wise, the performance focused version of the Outlander scores high marks for its available, and incredibly engaging all-wheel control (AWC) system out of the infamous Lancer Evo. The way in which the 2.4-liter MIVEC engine puts all 167 foot-pounds of torque to the gravel when paddle shifters are in use is surprisingly rewarding, and even though you only have about the same amount of horsepower, the car feels a lot faster than it is. Unfortunately, without a turbocharged Lancer engine, the GT can’t truly compete with its most direct foe, the boosted Forester XT, regardless of how good its drivetrain may be. It’s a good example of a slow car that’s fun to drive fast.

2.4-liter MIVEC engine
2.4-liter MIVEC engine |Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

One of my biggest complaints about the Evo Final Edition — and a common sore spot for modern Mitsubishis — was how cheap its interior both looked and felt. Fortunately, not having things like a Brembo big brake kit or expensive aero has left the Mitsubishi team a little bit of financial cushioning in order to make the cabin of the Sport GT considerably nicer. It’s no Rolls-Royce or anything, but it has a surprisingly roomy rear seat, a good sized storage space out back, and both the heated leather seats and soft touch materials inside feel pretty nice.

Unfortunately, while the LED mood lighting, massive panoramic sunroof, and rally-grade metal paddle shifters were nice touches, there still were some cheap plastics here and there, and when compared to other crossovers in this price range, it seemed sparse. On the bright side, the tech end is surprisingly diverse, starting with an easy to use 6.1-inch touchscreen, and ending with a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate, nine-speaker sound system. In between that and Mitsubishi’s FUSE hands free system, you get things like hill start assist, on demand all-wheel drive, and a keyless passive entry setup.

Leather interior
Leather interior | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Driving the AWC-equipped version of the Outlander Sport GT for about half an hour was only the tip of the iceberg. It’s an engaging, planted CUV, and I found myself grinning ear to ear while behind the wheel. The absence of a turbo might leave you wanting for more low-end pull, but if you put those over-sized, column-fixed aluminum Sportronic shifters to work and build some RPMs, the enjoyability scale jumps significantly.

It may not be as planted as an Evo due to its ride height and proportions, but the brakes, steering feel, and traction you get are unusually rewarding. It’s an entry-level, rally-ready crossover, and its CVT works double-time to make sure that both power and efficiency are constantly being balanced or substituted for one another. This way drivers can choose front-wheel drive on the fly with a push of a button for increased MPGs, automatic 4WD for peace of mind, or a locked setting during inclement weather or when light off-road travel is necessary.

Rockford Fosgate speakers
Rockford Fosgate audio |Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

This is one of those cars that I will be looking to schedule for a week-long review down the line. Much like the rambunctious Jeep Renegade Sport from a few months back, the Outlander Sport is surprisingly engaging despite its low-key appearance and stature. It’s an impudent little pup, and with that 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio upgrade on deck, it can be a loud one at that. So what if it has a dusting of cheap interior plastics and an engine that is unable to top 200 horsepower? The buyer that wants this kind of car doesn’t typically mind too much, and outside of the sunroof being permanently affixed, neither did I.

Deep down, I feel that Mitsubishi should have tapped into this segment sooner, because in AWC trim the Outlander Sport GT is the kind of unsuspecting upstart that fires with both barrels and asks questions later. Mitsubishi could stand to gain a lot of customer traction considering the significance of the CUV market today, and the potential to fill part of the gap that the WRX hatchback left years ago. Sadly, it probably will never receive the attention it deserves, or the marketing dollars, but at least it’s here now, rewarding us with a $28,000 crossover that just might make a difference if it can somehow elevate itself to a level where it can spar with the Forester XT.