When it comes to brand perception in the United States, it’s hard to think of a car company that’s fallen further in the last 20 years than Mitsubishi. In the late 1990s, performance vehicles like the Lancer Evolution, 3000GT, and the Eclipse solidified its position as a performance leader, but as 2000 rolled around, Mitsubishi cancelled the 3000GT and cursed the Eclipse with an underwhelming redesign. With a well-respected four-wheel-drive system, its SUVs earned plenty of respect for their off-road performance as well, but again, later redesigns were underwhelming.
Fast forward to today, and Mitsubishi’s cars have all but disappeared from America’s roads. It still technically sells six different models in the U.S. for now, but the Lancer Evolution is about to be killed off, and most people probably couldn’t name someone they know who drives any of the others. The Mitsubishi Mirage has also received a good bit of press for being an exceptionally poorly built economy car, scoring only a 29 out of 100 in Consumer Reports’ testing. It’s also one of the least safe vehicles on the road according to the IIHS.
Considering Mitsubishi’s current reputation, when I was offered the chance to review a Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, I was fascinated. I’d just driven the redesigned Nissan Rogue, and while I knew the Outlander Sport was also a two-row crossover SUV, everything else was a mystery. Would it be a complete piece of junk? Would it be a great option for people wanting a CUV on a budget? Would I be surprised how much I liked it? Would it be sporty enough to take on the likes of the Mazda CX-5?
I had no idea, but hey, that’s what car reviews are for. I took the keys and prepared for a week behind the wheel.
Looking at the CUV as it was parked in front of my house, I was a little surprised at how attractive the Outlander Sport was. I’m not a fan of the Mitsubishi Outlander’s new look, but the Outlander Sport is an entirely different model, and I actually really liked the Evo-esque styling on the Sport. I still don’t think it’s quite as attractive as the Mazda CX-5, but Mitsubishi has a design that works well, and it’s appropriately sporty. I obviously knew that it wouldn’t drive like an Evo, but the design gave me hope that the drive would at least feel a little Evo-inspired.
Before I could find out how it drove, I had to sit down inside. Considering everything I’d heard about Mitsubishi’s interiors, opening the door was a bit intimidating. What would I find? The exterior looked competently designed and well built. Would the interior be surprisingly well-appointed?
As it turned out, the interior was the perfect example of a mixed bag. No one is going to give the Outlander Sport’s interior any design awards, but beautiful interior designs don’t always place the controls in intuitive places. My test car’s cabin may not have been high art, but the controls were all pretty much where you’d expect them to be and easy to understand.
As for the materials themselves, everything I touched felt cheap, but nothing felt flimsy either. The quality of the plastics wasn’t the bargain bin horror story I was partially expecting, and nothing felt liable to break, but at the same time, it was pretty clear that costs had been cut. The interior materials may not have been particularly high quality, but my test car certainly offered quite a few features.
The best feature by far was the Outlander Sport’s panoramic glass roof. It let in tons of light, making the car feel bright and open. The glass itself didn’t actually retract, but that was unsurprising and not necessary at all. I didn’t close the shade the entire time I had the car, and I doubt most owners will either. It was probably the most premium feature the car offered, and it was much appreciated.
The panoramic glass roof was part of the Touring Package that also offered black roof rails, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, leather seats, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, a seven-inch touch screen infotainment system with navigation, and an upgraded Rockford Fosgate sound system.
The SE trim level also included all-wheel-drive, heated side-view mirrors, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated front seats, automatic air conditioning, a rear view camera, Bluetooth, cruise control, anti-lock brakes, stability control, and traction control. All in all, the list of features was pretty compelling.
My biggest frustration, however, was with the infotainment system. I dislike most infotainment systems, but this one was exceptionally difficult to use. The touchscreen was a nice touch, but the system itself was extremely slow, and even a basic task like pairing my phone was unnecessarily complicated. The sound system was pretty good, but I spent half the time driving in silence because it wasn’t worth the trouble it would take to reconnect my phone.
Infotainment shortcomings and cheap-feeling materials can easily be forgiven on a car that’s enjoyable to drive, but unfortunately, the Outlander was only competent at best. The handling itself was actually pretty good. It felt more like a tall wagon than a sport utility vehicle, and while it wasn’t particularly sporty, it was also easy to maneuver.
The engine, however, was a 2.0 liter, four-cylinder powerplant that only made 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. Paired with Mitsubishi’s continuously variable transmission, there really wasn’t much power there, which meant I really had to rev the heck out of it in order to get going. Around town, that meant I averaged around 16 miles per gallon, which was much lower than its 24 miles per gallon city rating.
Mitsubishi also offers a 2.4 liter engine that makes 20 more horsepower, and I imagine it would be well worth paying the higher price both for the extra power and for the better real world fuel economy. Hopefully the 2.4 liter engine is more refined as well, because the 2.0 liter version was pretty coarse. Since I had to rev it pretty hard to keep up with traffic, I ended up with a lot of unpleasant engine noise in the cabin.
Overall, though, there was nothing truly terrible about the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport. It didn’t offer much of a premium or sporty driving experience, but it certainly wasn’t a bad car. Most buyers aren’t going to be concerned with how sporty their CUV feels, and not everybody wants a near-luxury car. A lot of people just want to get a great deal on a competent vehicle that can transport their stuff and them comfortably enough.
For around $25,000, even without the more powerful engine, I would certainly recommend the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport to someone who wanted a fairly small crossover SUV that offers modern features and doesn’t break the bank. Considering that Mitsubishi’s powertrain and bumper-to-bumper warranties match Hyundai and Kia at 10 years or 100,000 miles and five years or 60,000 miles, respectively, it’s a great way to give buyers peace of mind that they won’t be risking expensive repair bills by buying something that isn’t a Honda or Toyota.
Unfortunately, the Outlander Sport I had didn’t sticker for $24,945. Its actual MSRP was $29,945. For that kind of money, you could buy the Nissan Rogue SV I just got done testing and still have $1,655 in your pocket. That car didn’t have a panoramic glass roof or leather upholstery, but a Rogue with both would still only cost $2,500 more than the Outlander Sport. Having driven both back-to-back, it’s hard to see someone else doing the same and not preferring the Rogue.
To look at it a different way, $29,945 is almost in BMW X1 or Mercedes-Benz GLA territory. For just a few thousand more dollars than the Mitsubishi, you could have an entry-level German CUV with significantly more power and prestige. Ultimately, the Outlander Sport comes up short, not necessarily because it’s such a bad vehicle, but because it’s just more expensive that it should be.