A Slightly Underpowered, But Stylish and Comfortable Subcompact SUV
Mitsubishi’s subcompact Outlander Sport crossover SUV has been the automaker’s best-selling vehicle in the U.S until the larger three-row Outlander took over the spot this year. In the very competitive compact SUV segment, the Sport’s ES base trim starts at a very thrifty $20,295 (plus $895 destination charges), which is $4,645 less than the larger three-row Outlander ES.
Following in its big brother’s footsteps, the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is offered in ES, SE and SEL trim levels. As typical, each trim is available with either front- or all-wheel drive. Not typical, the base ES is offered with a five-speed manual transmission. All other models come standard with a continously-variable transmission (CVT). For motivation, the base ES is equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, while the balance of the lineup is standard with a more powerful 2.4-liter four.
Little brother wants you to know he’s here, too
Fuel economy plays a part in the decision to buy most vehicles in this class, and the Outlander Sport offers good, but not great numbers. The EPA estimates fuel economy for the 2.0-liter engine with the manual transmission at 23 mpg city/29 highway/25 combined. With the CVT, it’s 24 mpg city/30 highway/27 combined. Adding optional all-wheel drive (which requires the CVT) results in 23 mpg city/29 highway/26 combined.
Moving up to the larger powerplant is a small fuel economy penalty with front drive models returning 23 mpg city/28 highway/25 combined according to the EPA. All-wheel drive versions see 22 mpg city/27 mpg highway/24 mpg combined.
Underneath the Hood
For get-up-and-go, the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport relies on the two engines it started with in 2011. The base is a forgettable aluminum block 2.0-liter four that puts out a whimpering 148 horsepower and 145 pounds-feet of torque, which is overwhelmed by the car’s 3,200-pound weight. Unless most of your driving is on city streets, I don’t recommend this engine.
Don’t skimp when it comes to engine choice
Instead, get the available 2.4-liter four-cylinder. At 168 horsepower it’s no powerhouse, but it doesn’t have to work as hard to get the Outlander Sport moving, so it’s quieter as well as offering more punch. The CVT mimics a standard transmission with “shift” points and is fairly smooth. Opt for the SEL or GT trim and you’ll find paddle shifters that make up or downshifts convenient.
All-wheel drive traction is courtesy of Mitsubishi’s S-AWC system, an acronym for Super All Wheel Control. It automatically directs power rearward whenever the front wheels begin slipping, offering peace of mind on rain-slicked roads as well as snow-covered highways. While the S-AWC stystem doesn’t turn the Sport into a potent off-roader, it can lock all four wheels for added low-speed traction, and the 8.5-inch ground clearance makes it an acceptable vehicle for Forest Service trails and roads.
The Outlander Sport uses the same suspension setup as the larger Outlander—a MacPherson strut layout in front with a trailing multi-link at the rear. This configuration delivers a smooth ride quality but falls short when it comes to handling dynamics.
Stands Apart from the Crowd
Mitsubishi gave the Outlander a styling refresh last year. For 2018 it gets a revised front and rear bumper design with new LED running lights and new accent pieces.
For someone looking for something different
The 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport unabashedly stands out from the large group of cookie-cutter crossovers with a distinct SUV appearance that’s in tune with a design direction called “Dynamic Shield.” There’s simple chrome detailing on the grille and window line, and a rising character line that reaches from the front wheel arch to the back of the rear doors to break up the slab-sided look. The proportions are spot-on; with standard 18-inch wheels, it’s an aggressive design that looks good.
Inside, the Outlander Sport’s interior won’t grab any design awards, but beautiful cabin designs don’t always place the controls in intuitive places. Our test SEL cabin may not have been high art, but the controls were all pretty much where you’d want them to be and easy to understand. The hooded speedometer and rev counter featured crisp white backlighting and numerals that were easily read at a glance. The interior was complemented by piano-black accents, bright trim around the center stack and a new-for-2018 7.0-inch touch screen.
As for the materials themselves, everything I touched felt on the inexpensive side, but nothing felt flimsy either. The quality of the plastics wasn’t bargain bin, and nothing felt liable to break, but at the same time, it was pretty clear that materials quality trailed the competition.
Comfort and Surprise
Comfortable front seats were supportive over a long drive, and the accommodating back seat is a pleasant surprise. Despite this crossover’s compact dimensions, adults should have no problem getting comfortable in the second row. As for those with little ones, there’s minimal effort to install two car seats.
The interior of the Outlander Sport looks larger than it actually is. It’s practical with a low loading cargo floor and split-folding rear seat backs. Open the rear hatch and you’ll find 21.7 cubic feet of cargo space, which is more room than many of its competitors offer. Fold the rear seats down and this area expands to 49.5 cubic feet.
The Outlander Sport has some good surprises inside
The base 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport ES offers some solid features for its roughly $20,000 price, including leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, automatic climate control, steering-wheel-mounted cruise control and audio buttons, a four-speaker/140-watt AM/FM/CD system, LED taillights and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Our SEL with all-wheel drive brought keyless entry, fog lights, power-folding mirrors, a rearview camera, heated front leather seats, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, steering-wheel-mounted gearshift paddles, 7.0-inch touchscreen compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a six-speaker audio system with satellite radio. With the added Touring Package that included a panoramic glass roof, Fosgate audio system, forward collision mitigation and lane departure warning, the out-the-door price totaled $29,110.
Safety systems included hill-start assist, stability control, anti-lock disc brakes and seven standard airbags, plus a driver’s-side knee airbag. However, it offers no advanced driver assists, which typically include things like blind spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control.
On the Road
A tilt/telescoping steering column along with the power height adjustment made easy work of finding a comfortable driving position in our Outlander Sport SEL. Exceptional outward visibility and sight lines made it an easy car to drive on the freeway, in urban environments and crowded shopping mall parking lots.
Several competitors offer higher horsepower and torque numbers, but I found the engine to be more than adequate for the task of motivating the 3,200 pound cute-ute, although at 9.5 seconds, the 0-to-60 mph sprint wasn’t much of an adrenaline rush.
Acquitting itself well in a tough field
Overall, I was, and think most folks will be, pleased with the 2.4-liter four. It wasn’t a barn burner, but the car accelerated quickly enough for anxiety-free freeway merging. However, passing on two-lane roads required cautionary thinking. When hard, quick acceleration was needed, the engine felt a little sluggish, and the raucous drone created by the CVT was loud and annoying.
Although the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SEL doesn’t offer a sport-tuned suspension, it does have steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. The driver can activate manual shifting by touching one of the paddles (right for up-shifts, left for down-shifts). It will hold a down-shift when rounding a tight curve or when traffic ahead begins to slow.
The Sport’s suspension goes the middle road between firmness and comfort. It provided a controlled ride on the highway and smoothed out problems on the road, keeping its composure quite well on rough pavement, while dealing with potholes in typical small car fashion—jarring at times.
Mitsubishi’s electric-assisted power steering is better than most. It was light, yet accurate and responsive overall, and the little SUV felt competent when changing direction.
You can erase the word “sport” from your mind. The Outlander Sport is not a carve-the-corners, athletic small crossover, and it doesn’t try to be one.
When Mitsubishi delivered the Outlander Sport SEL, the fuel mileage readout was an even 24 mpg, the EPA’s estimated number. Our week of driving was fairly reflective of an average owner—a long freeway trip, in-town stop-and-go traffic and a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive in the country. After adding our 325 miles to the odometer, the pint-size crossover yielded 27.3 mpg, more than the EPA’s combined estimate.
In the Marketplace
For many shoppers, the best feature of the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport will be its price tag. While other subcompact SUVs offer a sub-$20,000 model, they won’t come with standard auto climate control and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Even a nicely equipped top-of-the-line SEL with all-wheel drive barely touches the $25,000 zone.
Maybe “Sport” should be replaced with “Value”
Despite the Outlander Sport’s low price and great warranty, there are a number of all-star competitors that are much newer, like the Mazda CX-3 which pleases with a zippy engine and superb handling. If fuel economy is a priority, Honda’s HR-V will hit the spot, plus its versatile rear seat can fit passengers just as well as it can fit a big-screen TV. For off-road enthusiasts, a little ruggedness is cool with Jeep’s Renegade. And then there’s the charming and affordable Fiat 500X, among others.
In the end, value is an eye-of-the-beholder metric. Buyers on limited budgets seeking escape through the maze of small crossovers will find much to like about the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport. Affordable, nicely equipped and solidly constructed, the 2018 Outlander Sport gives buyers a shot at driving something a bit less commonplace without risking worry about long-term reliability.
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Our other review of the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is here.
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