Modest Size Makes Mistubishi’s Outlander Sport a Good Enough ‘Round Town Zipper
In case you didn’t know, Mitsubishi’s 2011 Outlander Sport crossover looks “cute and zippy”. So says a 20-something female friend of mine. You know what? I’ll go with zippy.
In my lexicon zippy means agile and enthusiastic – not fast, just apropos for zipping from this spot to that. As a small crossover or cute-ute (you choose the category) Mitsubishi’s Outlander Sport zips from spot to spot pretty well. Fold its second row seats and you can even take a reasonable amount of stuff with you, 49.5 cu-ft. of stuff to be exact.
That puts the Outlander Sport in curious size territory, offering more cargo volume than straight hatchbacks like the Mazda 3 or Ford Focus and less than other small crossovers like Nissan’s Rogue, Kia’s Sportage, Toyota’s RAV4 or Ford’s Escape. In fact, the Honda Fit hatchback and Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagon will carry more cargo.
But really, who’s carrying all this stuff and how often? The Mitsu will accommodate mom, dad and two small children well enough and return 27 mpg on average in the bargain. That, and an approximately $21,000 starting price, has driven Outlander Sport sales which led Mitsubishi sales growth through the first quarter of 2011.
Though relatively diminutive, the Outlander Sport carries off an SUV look while incorporating Mitsubishi’s characteristic “open maw” grille. The exterior is cute without being too feminine, aided in SE trim by optional 18 inch wheels and little touches like its front quarter-panel marker lights. The sloping roof and side character line give it that “moving forward” visual sense that designers prattle on endlessly about.
Move forward it does but not with haste. The 148 hp 2.0 liter MIVEC four cylinder works hard to push the Sport’s 3100 pounds to 60 mph in about 8.8 seconds. The engine is smooth at idle but a bit buzzy as you move up the rev band. Some of the buzz is attributable to the continuously variable transmission. CVTs are not my favorite, tending to moo and hum with each throttle input. A lack of power means you’ll need to plan a bit in highway merge or passing situations The SE Sport comes with optional steering wheel mounted paddle shifters which are an odd feature on a CVT-equipped machine. An available five speed manual might inject a modicum of “sport” into this Outlander if not speed.
Nevertheless, the Outlander Sport has a tossable feel about it with reasonably direct steering. Opting for the 18 inch wheel/tire package not only yields aesthetic benefits but more grip. The body rolls and dives a bit but not distractingly so, due in part to the Sport’s relatively lower center of gravity. The result is a ride that’s firm enough with some give.
Another recent crossover drive reminded me of the virtues of simplicity and in that the Outlander Sport fares well. The interior seats five with 60/40 split folding second row that also has a pass-through. The black cloth seating is a bit hot in summer temperatures but the front buckets provide enough comfort for a couple hour stretch. Rear seats are roomy enough though a bit hard and short of thigh cushion. They don’t quite fold flat either.
For the driver there’s a straightforward instrument cluster with a centrally located digital display between the analog tach and speedometer. It displays average mileage, gear selection, fuel, temperature and a few other bits but doesn’t distract. Likewise, three rotary HVAC controls couldn’t be simpler and with practice enable no-look function changes. Unfortunately, the small buttons bordering the Outlander Sport’s touch-screen navigation/entertainment interface do require longer glances owing to their size and indistinct shape. The touch-screen itself is on par with most others, not my favorite but workable. The black plastic dash is hard but cleanly laid out. Cup holders in front of the center tunnel-mounted gearshift impress by not being in the way.
The Outlander Sport’s chief attractions are its fuel efficiency and smallish versatility. The Sport is best suited to shorter commutes and the kind of round-town errands we all have to run. Long distance highway runs are not its forte but in parking lots it’s wieldy and ready to swallow groceries or other freight along with a kid or two. In a week’s driving I found it all I needed for zipping over to the coffee shop or deli. Zippy is good.
Price as tested: $24,625
Engine: 148 hp, 2.0 liter MIVEC four cylinder
Curb weight: 3098 pounds
Fuel Economy: 25 city/31 highway