- Revised exterior looks sharp
- Small engine plus efficient transmission equals good mileage
- Ride quality is smooth and compliant
- Rockford Fosgate stereo can kick out the jams with the best of them
- Needs more power to be anything close to sporty
- Handling is way too soft for spirited driving
- CVT transmission drones under acceleration
- Interior is quite compact and looks dated
Outside of car enthusiasts, who revere the Lancer Evo and its “supercar on a budget” performance, most car buyers probably aren’t even aware of Mitsubishi Motors. With US market share at less than a half percent, the company has struggled to compete with larger manufacturers in what is an increasingly tough market.
One of the fastest growing segments is the small crossover SUV, and Mitsubishi hopes that it can convince buyers to pass on a CR-V or RAV4 and purchase an Outlander Sport instead. Featuring a revised exterior and very competitive pricing, the 2013 Outlander Sport could be just the model to help nurse Mitsubishi back to health.
Sport in name only
The Outlander Sport certainly looks athletic, with a prominent front grill and aggressive stance. Our uplevel SE test car featured 18-inch wheels and low-profile tires that add to the sporty crossover look. Unfortunately, actual performance is almost entirely missing.
The problems start under the hood, where the only available engine is the same 2.0L 4-cylinder motor found in the Lancer compact sedan. With a modest 148 horsepower on tap, the engine struggles to propel the car forward, and sounds like it’s working even harder than it is. Compounding things is a continuously variable transmission that is programmed to shift to the most efficient gear ratio possible.
Mitsubishi does throw in a pair of paddle shifters, which activate preset gear ratios that allow you to wring out every last available hp, but we found ourselves just leaving it in drive most of the time to help improve gas mileage. Luckily this is one area where the Outlander Sport shines, with an EPA estimated 25/31 mpg (city/hwy).
Handling is also far from spectacular, as the suspension is tuned more for ride quality than cornering. The aggressively sized tires provide decent grip, but more spirited driving leaves the suspension flopping around trying to catch up with what the wheels are doing. Needless to say, we weren’t inspired to push it much past Prius friendly speeds. On the upside, ride quality is quite good, even over rough pavement.
Extra-compact, entry level interior
On the inside, the Outlander Sport continues to be underwhelming. The numerous plastic surfaces range from hard to not quite so hard, and everything looks a bit dated. The optional Navigation system, with its low-res screen, looks especially last century. The cloth seats are reasonably comfortable, and nothing stands out as particularly bad, but you can’t help but feel like you’re sitting in an entry-level car. About the only standout is a nine-speaker, 710 watt Rockford Fosgate Punch sound system that easily kicks out the tunes above the noisy engine.
The Outlander Sport is one of the most compact small SUVs on the market, which definitely affects practicality. The trunk is quite small, and even with the rear seats folded down we could barely fit a bike in the back without full disassembly. Rear seat passengers will also find legroom to be a scarce commodity.
Fortunately, the amount of cash you’ll need to buy an Outlander Sport is also relatively small, especially when compared to other compact SUVs. The base model ES 2WD starts at $19,995, while a top of the line LE AWD is still only $24,895. Add a few options, though, like Navigation and premium sound, and you soon get close to the $30k mark, at which point the Outlander Sport seems like much less of a value.
What others are saying about the Outlander Sport:
Over at Wired.com, Matt Blum agrees with our assessment that the Outlander Sport, while not terrible, is just not a very well executed product. “The 2013 Outlander Sport is not a bad vehicle, but lacks power and in many ways seems to have had too little thought put into its design.”
Carrie Kim from Cars.com likes the exterior, but is also disappointed by the lack of performance and limited cargo space: “Although the 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport looks good and has a low starting price, it failed to win me over because of its underpowered engine and small cargo area.