2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

The Eclipse, Galant and Endeavor are gone, initial quality and dependability scores are substandard and the hopes of Mitsubishi persevering in the U.S. have been pinned to a small electric car called the i.   Everything the company offers us now is based off the Lancer and this derivative is the 2012 Outlander Sport…a small 5-passenger SUV slotted below the Outlander.

Like most Mitsubishi test drives, my eyes fed my brain hope when I saw this top-trim Outlander Sport SE all-wheel drive.  With bright 18” wheels, a compact, pugnacious appearance, highlighted by this huge grille, and draped in awesome laguna blue paint, the Outlander Sport leads the segment in style.  You’ll notice it’s small…despite its long wheelbase the Outlander Sport’s overall length is almost 10” shorter than a CR-V leading to a significant reduction in cargo volume with only 21 cubic feet with the rear seats up.  Using the Honda as an example, with the rear seats folded, the Mitsu offers 20 cubic feet less space.

For 2012, the Outlander Sport sees a number of engineering improvements including engine noise isolation and a recalibrated continuously variable transmission for improved acceleration.  I didn’t drive the 2011 model so I can’t speak of changes specifically but it’s hard to believe these areas were worse before. This CVT is a poor fit in the Outlander Sport, with a huge power dropout during moderate acceleration at low RPMs giving you the feeling of pushing on the gas pedal but going nowhere. The 2.0-liter MIVEC engine makes 148 horsepower but fights with the CVT as it moans and groans its way around making for one of the most unpleasant sounding cars I’ve driven.  And it’s loud inside so you hear everything.  There are quality paddle shifters with fabricated shift points but it adds little to improve the experience.  There’s a good deal of torque steer at full acceleration as well.  Gas mileage is rated at 23mpg city/28mpg highway.

(Stand-up)  And this is the Outlander Sport’s highlight moment.  Most SUVs of this ilk aren’t into giving driver’s such choices, but this one does and it’s off-road where I saw this Mitsu’s personality comes to life.  It feels rugged, has an impressive 8.5” of ground clearance and its once bemoaned tidy dimensions make for an easy fit on the trail.  The all-wheel control knob can be dialed into 4 lock mode for off-road capabilities most of the class can’t match.  For the outdoorsy type, I can see the Outlander Sport as a reasonable alternative.

I like the black and chrome look of the interior, too.  And there are quite a number of convenience amenities to keep you happy though quality implementation still eludes the brand.  For example, the optional 40GB hard disk drive navi unit is packed with resources and features but is dark and difficult to read. And according to the non-profit group Ecology Center, this vehicle contains some of the highest amounts of potentially toxic chemicals on the market.

Equipped like this, the sticker reads $26,400.  The Outlander Sport is one of Mitsu’s newest vehicles and accounts for half of their business.  But good looks can only take you so far.

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