By on May 27, 2011

No one out-zombies Mitsubishi. Quite a few manufacturers have had brushes with death, only to bounce back strongly with competitive new cars. For Mitsubishi there’s been no bounce. Yet they’re still alive. Assuming Mitsubishi’s people aren’t actually brain dead, they must be in crisis mode. And cash must be short. So if they employ their scant resources to add a new model, the Outlander Sport, there must be something terribly compelling about it, right? Well, Mitsubishi didn’t exactly swing for the fences. The basic concept behind the Outlander Sport: remove a foot from the rear overhang of the Outlander CUV, cut $3,500 from the base price ($1,000 of it by making a CVT optional), make Bluetooth and USB connectivity standard, and hope the kids bite.

The Outlander Sport’s exterior styling is…different. Severely truncating the tail yields a hatchback profile, but with the ride height and chunkiness of an SUV. (The spirit of AMC lives!) Up front, the Outlander Sport wears the most aggressive grille to ever front a 148-horsepower 2.0-liter four. Mitsubishi has teased about killing the Evo. Perhaps they want to milk any remaining equity before doing so?

Inside the Outlander Sport, Mitsubishi has made some effort to keep pace, with soft-touch surfaces sparingly deployed on the instrument panel and doors. A leather-wrapped steering wheel is standard. But too many parts of the unremittingly black interior seem sourced from the lowest bidder. Some can be excused as having an honest simplicity—they are what they are, with no pretense of being something else—but the large HVAC control knobs, while easy to use, look and feel dreadfully cheap.

Mitsubishis often have a frisky character, and Outlander Sport’s hatchback shape promises sportier driving dynamics than the typical CUV. Hop into the driver seat, and hope immediately starts to fade. The firm front seats are high, and the instrument panel is deep. Even at rest there’s a sense of bulk. The manual shift lever is very tall, effectively communicating that the Outlander Sport aspires to be a truck, not a sporty hatch. A dead pedal is positioned too close. The rear seat is very roomy and comfortably high off the floor, but roomy rear seats are the rule rather than the exception among compact crossovers, so no big win here. Despite the truncated tail there’s a little more cargo space than in the typical compact hatch.

With 148 horsepower motivating 3,000 pounds and the truck-style long throws of the manual shifter, the Outlander Sport isn’t designed for hustling. Around town it gets about plenty well enough, though, and never feels slow. A manual transmission can be worth 20-30 horsepower in perceived acceleration, and this is one such case. If the trip computer can be believed, fuel economy pushes and occasionally even tops 30 in suburban driving. The EPA, using different methodology, reports 24 city, 31 highway.

The major disappointment arrives upon turning the steering wheel. For a 3,000-pound, 169-inch-long vehicle, the Outlander Sport feels surprisingly large and heavy, even clumsy. The tires no doubt deserve a fair amount of the blame. The manual transmission is offered only in the base model, and this model is shod with 215/70HR16 Yokohama Geolander G033s. With a design that optimizes something other than handling (what I don’t know), these tires feel squishy and roll over onto their tall sidewalls with little provocation. The steering has a dead zone on-center, and feels slow and numb. Despite these handicaps, the handling retains a basic competence—there’s a good chassis somewhere in there. With credit due the tall sidewalls, the Outlander Sport usually rides smoothly and quietly, though the tires clomp a bit loudly and reactions to tar strips and expansion joints can be abrupt.

The base Outlander Sport ES lists for only $19,275, which is lower, even much lower, than any other Japanese CUV. Adjusting for standard features tends to widen the Mitsubishi’s advantage. The Outlander Sport’s Jeep cousin, the Compass, lists for $720 more and, according to TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool lacks about $900 in features, for a feature-adjusted difference of about $1,600. A base Sportage undercuts the Outlander Sport by a few hundred dollars, but adjust for features and the Mitsubishi emerges with a miniscule advantage at MSRP but a $450 advantage at invoice (the base Sportage has a very small dealer margin). Mitsubishi even matches the Koreans with its warranty, which is 5/60 bumper-to-bumper and 10/100 powertrain (for the original owner).

Unfortunately, there’s a good reason for the low price: the Outlander Sport does nothing particularly well, while falling far short in handling and interior materials. When developing this vehicle, Mitsubishi’s mind was clearly elsewhere—the MiEV perhaps? If you’re searching for a surprising amount of truck flavor in an inexpensive, compact, fairly economical package, the Outlander Sport might be worth a look. But there’s a reason competitors have become ever more car-like in both styling and handling: that’s what most buyers want.

Mitsubishi provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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58 Comments on “Review: 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport...”


  • avatar
    segfault

    Those are some ugly hubcaps.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      True, but those are some nice HVAC controls.

      After cars like the Regal, S60 or, god forbid, the Explorer, it’s nice to see controls that you can use right way, and feel safe using while driving.

      • 0 avatar
        PenguinBoy

        Those look like a cost reduced version of the HVAC controls found in the (possibly related?) Sebring.

        That said, I really liked the ease of use of the Sebring HVAC controls. Simple to operate, even while driving with gloves. Too bad about the nasty interior plastics.

        It would be nice to see a similar approach used in more vehicles, only featuring nicely finished substantial feeling knobs. The Mitsubishi HVAC knobs unfortunately look like a step down from even the Sebring knobs. Great design, poor implementation.

      • 0 avatar
        MikeAR

        They are good, wish more cars used HVAC controls like that.

      • 0 avatar
        Russycle

        Although I’m a huge fan of the brain dead simple 3-big-knobs HVAC control, I have to agree with Michael that in this case they look really cheap.

    • 0 avatar

      +1

      3 Knobs is perfection in HVAC system controls. Anything else is just fixing what’s not broken.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Parked in front of a toy store…just a coincidence?

    Even if car-like styling and handling are what most buyers want, this new Outlander Sport is selling.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    In Canada, this is sold as the RVR. I’m not sure why it’s different in the US.

    It seems a nice enough trucklet, just five years behind the game.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    Another dead brand walking?

    Man, Mitsu sure isn’t trying, even the hubcaps are the generic ones one can buy at Walmart or something.

    What’s really happening at Mitsubishi, anyone knows? With no really new products, hardly any news coming from the headquarters… Do they intend to survive in the increasingly tough car market? How?

    I wonder if this is what Studebaker was like near the end of their existence…

    • 0 avatar

      I think they recently announced that they were shifting their focus to EVs…

    • 0 avatar
      roar1

      The CEO had made several announcements about the U.S. market. New Lancer, New Galant, New subcompact car, new EV applications to current models. Muti Million dollar investment in the Normal plant. I do not think you will see Mitsu folding up it’s tent.

      • 0 avatar
        bomberpete

        BS! Mitsubishi’s last stand is with EVs as a niche. I really think they’re done with a standard ICE car/truck line. The revolving door of U.S. executives has been making the same round of pronouncements every few years since their peak of 1999-2002. And each time, the message is even weaker.

        For what it’s worth, Mitsubishi’s last peak in the early 2000s was partially due to some really good products (Galant, Eclipse, Montero Sport), but mainly to something more dubious — giving credit to deadbeats. I know, I was there. At least the miscreants who perpetuated it, COO Pierre Gagnon and sales head Greg O’Neill were quickly pushed out.

        Mitsubishi’s U.S. problem is that it’s been a revolving door of low-level talent sent from Normal Illinois and Tokyo to “deal with” the situation. No one has been able to motivate or get the investment to turn things around the way they did at Hyundai, for example. Based on this review and their regular-line product plans, I don’t see how anyone can.

  • avatar
    twotone

    Is it available with AWD and manual transmission? If so, I would consider it just for that in the AWD and slush-box only world (Subaru not included).

  • avatar
    roar1

    The Outlander, Outlander Sport and the Lanncer sell ok and the numbers for Mitsu are increasing. They are spending big dough on the plant in Normal for new products over the next 24 months. Mitsu is a huge corporation with many businesses including the Bank of Toyko, it is a very profitable company just has not paid much attention to the U.S. market for the last few years. Looks like the company is in position to sell some cars in the coming years in the U.S., today this market is on the back burner for them, they sell cars elsewhere and make more money.

    roar

    • 0 avatar

      Granted, Mitsubishi sales are up about 50 percent this year, but from a very low base. They sold 1,401 Outlander Sports in March and 3,756 in the first quarter. About one-third of these sales were cannibalized from the Outlander. On May 1st dealers had an 87-day supply on hand, an indicator of slow sales.

      Hyundai and Kia EACH sell about three times as many Tuscons and Sportages. NIssan sold about ten times as many Rogues AND thee times as many JUKEs. Many people figured Jeep would kill the Compass, but 3,703 of those were sold in March.

      In other words, nearly every other CUV outsells the Outlander Sport many times over. The exception: Suzuki’s Grand Vitara.

    • 0 avatar
      HerrKaLeun

      Being part of a larger corporation isolates Mitsubishi cars from the overall car trouble… but at some point the mother company wants to see profits. Hyundai also is a large corporation (with cargo ship yards, steel mills etc)…. however, their car section doesn’t sit on the other sister’s laurels.

      I don’t get the point of that vehicle… trunk space looks like it is less than My Mazda 3 hatch, which already is pretty pricy for its size, but has premium interior and driving dynamics.

      good I’m reading TTAC.. otherwise i would have missed the news that “Mitsubishi Cars” still exists…

      • 0 avatar
        colin42

        “Being part of a larger corporation isolates Mitsubishi cars from the overall car trouble”

        They are not part of a larger corporation
        from wikipedia
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitsubishi
        The Mitsubishi Group (Mitsubishi Gurūpu), Mitsubishi Group of Companies, or Mitsubishi Companies is a Japanese conglomerate consisting of a range of autonomous businesses which share the Mitsubishi brand, trademark and legacy

    • 0 avatar
      bomberpete

      roar1,

      I know you’re no fanboy. It’s pretty obvious that you’re working for Mitsubishi Motors. Hey, that’s OK by me. There was a time I’d have done the same thing for them because that’s what I got paid for. Business is business.

      My friendly warning is that if you’re gonna plant all this happy-shiny stuff on the message boards, be prepared to be labeled a troll for your efforts.

      • 0 avatar
        roar1

        I do not work for Mitsu but know people who do, the company looked like it was going to leave the U.S. but decided to stay. Lots of issues for the company and those who work and sell the brand. The point I am trying to make is they are staying and working on moving the brand ahead, it will be a long journey.

  • avatar
    akitadog

    If they wanted to do it right and really pull in those who value “Sport” anything, it should have been AWD, manual trans and the 2.0 Turbo from the Lancer Ralliart. Along with lowered, stiffer suspension and +1″ diameter alloys standard, with optional +2s.

    THEN we’d have something to consider.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    This is why Mitsubishi is a zombie.

    And I don’t believe that 30 mpg suburban fuel economy number for a minute – the computer must be afflicted with irrational exuberance.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually I’m quite sure it’s the right number, it just drops to zero at every stop light and that affects the average.

    • 0 avatar
      SunnyvaleCA

      Small modern engine, 3000 pounds, 2WD, and stick-shift should make 30 MPG possible under the right conditions.

      I’m just amazed they bothered certifying a stick-shift in a vehicle that “drivers” wouldn’t otherwise want.

      • 0 avatar

        It lets them cut the base price by $1000. And part of the manual transmission market are people interested in low total cost.

        The 30 MPG was the average, not instantaneous. For those who know Michigan geography, the trip computer reported 30.6 for a drive from Royal Oak to northern West Bloomfield using mostly Woodward and Long Lake. So a light every mile or two.

      • 0 avatar
        HerrKaLeun

        Trip computer makes too many rounding errors and often is 3-4 mpg off. Did you measure by actually dividing miles driven by gallons filled up?

  • avatar
    Tosh

    Like the exotic Capybara it is styled after, it must also be coprophagous?

  • avatar
    Bridge2farr

    Boy, talk about an uninspiring vehicle. Boring. Only the stick shift keeps this thing from looking pure rental car.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Sad thing is that shifter looks like it’s in a good spot too. Not practically mounted on the dash like some FWD vehicles.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        If it was mounted on the dash (a la the 6th-gen Civic) it might not have such a truckish action.

        The dash shifter is part rally (so you don’t need to take your hands as far from the wheel). Though, in a minivan and the like, it’s to free up console space. Nothing wrong with either, really.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        In my fiance’s Vibe the 5 speed manual is in an un-naturally far away location with un-naturally long throws. Screams “ecnocar, slow the hell down” to me.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I can’t really bury this car.

    I like the exterior (although I think it needs two exhaust outlets), the paddle shifters with the CVT are very well executed, it gets good fuel economy, the steering wheel is decent, the optional stereo system is positively kickin’, and Mitsubishi dealers are willing to negotiate.

    It is very slow though.

    • 0 avatar
      MusicMachine

      This review could be about my 1994 Mitsubishi Expo! Change the name and the photos and…presto. Lackluster handling, boring in every way, mostly utilitarian and good on gas. Oh! Let’s not forget–RELIABLE. As a matter of fact, the Expo had a very important niche in my life the years I owned it from 2002-2011. I can’t really bury this car either.

  • avatar

    I wonder how much revenue Mitsubishi gets from licensing. Lots of Chinese companies use Mitsubishi designed drivetrains and the Pajero is made all over the place by a bunch of companies if I’m not mistaken.

  • avatar

    Why it is called “Sport” exactly? Is it the same thing as a sport sedan?

    Mitsu is a global company. I assume they sell lot of micro cars in 3rd world countries. I would prefer it to Tata any day. But why USA? What we did wrong to deserve it? (I know Americans all possible wrong ways before doing right thing, but still we deserve some respect).

    One more thing. There is simply not enough population and especially engineers to support so many auto companies in Japan. Some will die or move to other countries (China?). Japanese population ages quickly so problem will get worse over time. And then million young and energetic engineers in China and India – they sooner or later will figure out how to design cars.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s sport as in “Montero Sport” and “Outback Sport.”

      • 0 avatar

        I still can not figure out what “sport” does mean. There are sport sedans which I understand means motor-sport, or fast cars with good behavior on the track. But calling “sport” the SLOW lumbering SUV which will turn over on the track and have a hard time to merge into freeway? What that supposed to mean?

    • 0 avatar
      MrWhopee

      Do Mitsubishi make micro cars at all? Maybe you’re confusing it with Suzuki, which does. Some of Mitsu’s kei cars are rebadged Suzukis, I think.

      Mitsubishi is most well known for its SUVs and pickups, I think. In Indonesia they’ve had some success with Pajero Sport, which is a SUV version of the L200/Triton pickup. Basic, traditional diesel body-on-frame rugged SUV, with a ride to match. Their sedans (Lancer) ain’t selling. They’re very successful as a commercial vehicle makers, though, but I believe Mitsubishi Fuso is owned by Daimler nowadays, separate from the carmaker, though they’re usually sold by the same dealership/importer. That’s why the trucks are usually branded as “Mitsubishi Fuso” nowadays, where they used to be just Mitsubishi.

      • 0 avatar

        Mitsu makes a ton of kei cars, or at least made as late as 2 years ago.

      • 0 avatar
        bomberpete

        Yes, Mitsubishi makes terrific pickup trucks and is known globally for its solid engines. The Pajero Sport is an updated version of the Montero Sport last sold here in 2003. Fuso continues to do well.

        Daimler no longer has a role in Mitsubishi Motors. In 2000, Jurgen Schremp – the same Daimler-Benz meglomaniac CEO who bought Chrysler in a “merger of equals” — made an impetuous, ill-advised buy for 36% of Mitsubishi MOtors. It was almost the same debacle as DaimlerChrysler. Daimler took a huge loss on Mitsubishi and walked away from it, same as they did with Chrysler….and Jurgen Schremp for that matter.

  • avatar
    roar1

    You say the Outlander Sport is slow, I think 0 to 60 it as quick or quicker than the CRV and Sportage. I have been reding a number of long term reviews that seem to like the vehicle. The vehicle will be built in the U.S. in the next couple of years, time will tell how succesful it will be.

    • 0 avatar

      Are you replying to one of the comments? In the review I explicitly said that the Outlander Sport doesn’t feel slow. But none of these cars are quick, either.

      No need to wait to see how successful the Outlander Sport will be–it’s been at dealers for months.

  • avatar
    windnsea00

    Mitsubishi has been kept alive by fleet sales as of more recent. Their Galant, Eclipse and Endeavor are so far behind the competitors that it is comical. I can buy the 2012 Galant ES for $16.3k and the 2012 Eclipse Spyder GS Convertible for $19.3k…that is without even haggling yet!

    • 0 avatar
      roar1

      Fleet is less than 1500 units a month for Mitsu, they have a near term goal of getting to 100,000 units and are planning on retooling Normal to build 200,000 units a year. Endeavor is gone as is Eclipse and Galant may also go. The game will be about Lancer, Outlander, Outlander Sport, a new compact sedan.

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    I don’t understand why anyone in the market for a car like this would choose it over any of several better and much more sporty hatchbacks. The “off-road” pretentions of vehicles like this apparently go far with the car ignorant masses.

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    A pointless car from a pointless company. Mitsu’s fall from grace in the last decade has been like watching a spider in a toilet bowl… when is someone going to finally flush?

  • avatar
    shaker

    This car was hyped at car shows as being a nimble, frugal and stylish “little brother” of the Outlander, and I’ll admit that it’s stylish (in the medium-blue metallic auto-show color). But as Michael (and Consumer Reports) says, it’s just a shrunken, cost-cutter knock-off of the Outlander, with no special advantages. And, if you choose AWD and up-level trims, it’s not all that inexpensive, either.

    Swing-and-a-miss, Mitsu.

    (I also ran out of hyphens with this post)

    • 0 avatar
      bomberpete

      The Outlander/Outlander Sport strategy is the same as what was used with the now-defunct Montero/Montero Sport in the 1990s. The big Montero was somewhere in between a Ford Explorer and a Toyota Land Cruiser and sold in small numbers to the off-road faithful. It was a damn good SUV. To get volume, though, Mitsu brought out the Montero Sport in 1997. It was sized like the Explorer/Blazer/Grand Cherokee/4Runner that were selling like hotcakes then. It was smaller, less expensive and the strategy, though somewhat confusing with the two names (kind of like Oldsmobile with all those Cutlass variations), it worked for awhile.

      Nowadays, I’m not so sure that the brief-lived “magic” of that time can be recaptured. There is just so much better product out there. Karesh’s review hammers that point home.Making it even worse is that the Galant, Eclipse and standard Lancer are ridiculously uncompetitive.

  • avatar
    MarcKyle64

    The last time I went into my local Mitsubishi dealer I was totally and completely ignored, not one saleshark walked up to me and asked how he could help me today. I spent 15 minutes there browsing the showroom and brochures and left. They’ve since closed up shop.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Ironic that Toys R Us is in the background of the first picture because that is where those cheap plastic wheels must have come from. It’s really amazing that we have lost around 6 car companies but this zombie Asian one somehow still exists.


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