When the Mitsubishi Outlander landed in the United States in 2003, it was love at first sight for many American consumers. The Outlander, a compact crossover, outhandled everything else in its class and actually was fun to drive. A few years later, the Outlander Sport came along. It didn’t take the corners as crisply as the original Outlander did, but its modest price, good fuel economy and warranty, and appealing style made up for its deficiencies. American motorists also appreciated the fact it was assembled by American workers in Normal, Ill.
Mitsubishi hasn’t fallen as far from its glory days as fellow Japanese automaker Suzuki did – the latter isn’t being sold in the United States anymore – but its struggles are apparent. An automaker that used to offer a full range of sedans, crossovers and SUVs now sells just five models, including the Outlander and Outlander Sport. And just last month, Mitsubishi announced it was closing the Illinois plant where it had been building Outlander Sports for several years.
The plant may be closing, but the Outlander Sport remains. It presents a puzzling combination of good qualities and aggravating deficiencies that have been yielding low ratings from most reviewers.
Here’s what we liked about our Octane Blue 2015 Sport: its modest price of $30,495 despite a full range of comfort and performance options; its better-than-advertised fuel economy of 28-plus mpg; its quick-off-the-line performance despite a modest horsepower rating; and its distinctive looks. It also has received high marks for safety – including the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick designation – and reliability. Finally, drivers enjoy unusually good visibility in every direction.
We don’t count ourselves among the harshest critics of the Outlander Sport’s handling. Having just turned in a larger Hyundai Santa Fe, we felt the Sport responded more eagerly to steering commands and gripped the road more tightly in the corners.
Mitsubishi doesn’t seem to have sweated the small stuff, however. The Sport was quite noisy on the highway, with road noise dominating, and its ride in urban areas was on the harsh side. The doors are short and lightweight, so the Sport does well in tight parking lots. But the doors and their handles feel tinny and cheap. Some of the interior materials show signs of cost-cutting, too.
In general, however, the interior is well designed. The front seat is roomy, and adults can sit comfortably in the rear seat as long as they’re no taller than 5-10. (Our six-footer’s head made contact with the ceiling in back.) Another design strength is the back seat. It folds down easily to expand the cargo area and does not catch on the back of the driver’s seat, even when it’s set all the way back.
The base Sport, with a 2.0-liter, 148-horsepower inline Four, starts at $19,595. Our test car had the optional 2.4-liter, 167-horsepower Four. Transmission choices include 5-speed manual and continuously variable shifter.
Steven Macoy (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
Engine: 2.4-liter inline Four, 168 horsepower, 167 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: continuously variable automatic
Ground clearance: 8.5 in.
Weight: 3,285 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 18×7-in. alloy
Tires: P225/55R18 all-season
Max. towing capacity: 1,500 lb.
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 21.7 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 49.5 cu. ft.
Towing capacity: 3,500 lb.
Fuel capacity: 15.8 gal.
Fuel economy: 23 mpg city, 26 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline