2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport - Diamond Star in the Rough
2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport (U.S.)/RVR (Canada)
A preconceived notion — or simply, a bias — forms easily when correlations exist to support it.
While the Japanese automaker has seen recent sales success, their newest nameplate — Mirage — has become the butt of many jokes and is often associated with a group of buyers one degree removed from the “Buy Here, Pay Here” crowd. Whether the Mirage deserves that reputation is another story.
The company’s largest model, the Outlander, recently received a refresh that is more than skin deep, but still not very dramatic. A new front fascia and revised rear sheet metal bring up the visual appeal a notch, and Mitsubishi does say numerous engineering changes have been employed on its latest and greatest crossover, but the crossover still houses the same, tired, premium fuel-drinking V-6 engine as always.
The recent news that Mitsubishi will shut down its manufacturing operations in Normal, Illinos, a plant that’s been open since 1988, also doesn’t help optics on the surface. And, unfortunately for the automaker, stories about sales gains just aren’t sexy enough to grab the attention of the average consumer.
Therefore, with all this bad news and bad press, you’d think the Outlander Sport (RVR in Canada) is just another zit on the face of the Japanese automaker.
But you’d be (mostly) wrong.
There’s a reason the Outlander Sport was the best-selling Mitsubishi last year. In a hot crossover and SUV market, it brings value (depending on where you live and how you option it), a pretty stellar 10-year/100,000-mile warranty and a “Made in the USA” badge affixed to the doorjamb — at least for now.
While the 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport looks the same as it has for the last few years, it does receive a new engine under the hood as part of a mid-year update. Previously, the compact SUV was only available with a 2-liter four cylinder that produced less than 150 horsepower. For 2015, the larger 2.4-liter 4B12 MIVEC four-cylinder engine, with 168 horsepower and 167 lb-ft of torque, is available on the base ES trim and standard on the GT (SE is 2.0 only). In Canada, only the upper Limited and GT trims are offered with the larger motor, and only as an option.
Other updates include some changes to interior trim pieces — fairly minor stuff.
Since its debut in 2010, the Outlander Sport hasn’t changed much. Putting the 2011 model beside the newest version underscores how subtle its redesign was in 2013.
Up front, the Outlander Sport shows its own version of the Mitsubishi corporate face shared with the lesser Lancer. The headlights and grille are distinctly Mitsubishi. When the design first broke cover, it was sharp and aggressive — especially on the compact sedan. However, after six years on the market, the sheet metal has gone stale.
From the side, you’d be forgiven if you thought the Outlander Sport was a Volkswagen Tiguan. While the Mitsu isn’t nearly as slab sided as the VW, the proportions and silhouettes of the two are uncannily similar. Even the wheel designs on some trims would confuse the average VWVortex member.
At the back, again, the story hasn’t changed much. Sloping rear glass gives the Outlander Sport a bit of a froggish stance, but the sharp angles of the taillights and around the license plate recess have gone out of fashion. Even on the larger-engined 2.4 GT AWC tester we had, there is only a single exhaust outlet.
Overall, the Mitsu is as close as makes no difference to what arrived in 2010. However, there should be a new model for 2017. Here’s hoping Mitsubishi has the cash to give it a decent suit.
I’m going to choose my words very carefully here.
The Outlander Sport’s interior is, at best, logical and usable; at worst, it’s unfortunate. The interior isn’t bad, but it definitely isn’t good. In its defense, the poor Mitsu is going on six years on the market now, and even when it arrived it didn’t have best-in-class materials strewn about its cabin.
Brightening up the situation is a panoramic glass roof. Unfortunately, it’s a fixed piece of glass. There are no hands-out-the-sunroof shenanigans happening in the Outlander Sport.
However, I’m glad Mitsubishi gives the option of fabric or leather in its top-trim models. Nothing infuriates me more than top trims forcing you into leather seating. For those of us with pets that get hauled around to the park and on trips, leather might be easy to clean, but it gets damaged in a hurry. With fabric, all you need to do is vacuum it whenever the pup has been in the car and maybe hit it up with an upholstery cleaner for the bigger soils.
Open the rear hatch and you can easily carry the week’s shopping or a few boxes behind the rear seats with the 20.1 cubic feet of space available when equipped with a subwoofer like our tester (21.7 without). Drop the rear row, which unfortunately doesn’t fold completely flat, and you’ll more than double the available space to 48.8 cubic feet when equipped the panoramic roof (49.5 without).
The Outlander Sport is far from the most cavernous vehicle in the segment. If you need more space, the Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Chevrolet Equinox, Subaru Forester/Outback, GMC Terrain and Hyundai Tucson are all up to the tasks of carrying an additional gig gear if needed — some could even fit a couple extra monitor speakers. Only the Jeep Renegade and Nissan Juke offer significantly less cargo space. The Jeep Patriot/Compass, Chevrolet Trax, Subaru XV Crosstrek, Kia Sportage and (aha!) Volkswagen Tiguan are about on par.
This all makes sense. The Outlander Sport is a bit smaller on the outside versus others in the compact crossover class and it translates on the inside to less empty spaces you can fill.
For the sake of comparison during the rest of this review, let’s say the Patriot/Compass, Trax, Crosstrek, Sportage and Tiguan are our competitive set here.
If you are looking for the latest and greatest in infotainment and audio, you’re reading the wrong review.
To drive this point home, the above image — supplied by the manufacturer — is the clearest one I could find of the infotainment system for 2015. I had to source it from the manufacturer because I didn’t remember to take a photo of it myself. That’s how much of an impression it left on me.
If the current crop of infotainment systems are akin to iPhones and Androids, the system in the Outlander Sport is a Handspring Visor Deluxe.
That said, the nine speaker, 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system is decent for a semi-higher-end option that costs nearly nothing (it’s part of the $2,100 Premium package on the SE trim, which also includes the panoramic roof, auto-dimming rearview mirror, power driver’s seat and roof rails).
The 2.4-liter four cylinder in the Outlander Sport may be new for the model, but it’s far from being a new power plant. Therefore, there’s no direct injection or other fancy, modern technology bolted on. It makes a respectable 168 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of torque. Adequate.
Without whiz-bang drivetrain technology, the 2.4-liter mill relies on the Sportronic continuously variable transmission to eke out decent fuel economy. And before you bash it, try it.
In my review of the Jeep Renegade, I slammed the powertrain for being too rough, too lazy and too revvy to deliver an acceptable driving experience. The engine in the Renegade is related to the one found in this Mitsubishi. Yet, in the Outlander Sport and paired with the CVT, it’s actually quite enjoyable.
The exhaust note is better than most four-cylinder engines on the market. The CVT is far from horrible. And, to my surprise, the combination of the two really suits the car. Acceleration is smooth and the CVT does its best to keep revs low.
Better yet, the Outlander Sport returns better fuel economy than the Jeep Compass/Patriot (2.4L CVT w/ 4WD), Volkswagen Tiguan (2.0T 4motion) and Kia Sportage (2.4L AWD). It’s only bested by the Chevrolet Trax AWD — and its miserable 1.4-liter turbocharged four — and the Subaru XV Crosstrek with its 2-liter boxer four, from our earlier-defined competitive set.
While everything above may point to a compact crossover that comes out average, the Outlander Sport has one wicked trump card: ride quality.
During the week I had the little Mitsu, I was reminded why I hate the Toyota RAV4 so much. You see, the RAV4 — which used to be a go-anywhere, subcompact offroader and turned into a go-someplaces, compact softroader — has one of the stiffest suspensions in the segment. And for what? It literally has no sporting intentions whatsoever. People who buy RAV4s aren’t going to drive them down anything more severe than a graded, gravel road to get to the cottage. And when have you ever seen someone take a RAV4 around a corner in anger?
The Outlander Sport nails it. Yes, it can do some softroading just like the rest of the compact crossovers on the market, but it isn’t going to punish you for it (at least in the ride quality department).
Inside, sure, it feels like 2008 and there are an assortment of hard plastics and questionable design decisions. And yes, the outside is old and boring and completely inoffensive. Yet, for someone who isn’t caught up in brand cache, wants a long warranty, has no kids (or a very small kid), yet still wants a vehicle with a bit of pep and a good compromise between ride and dynamics, this really nails it.
Now if they can just do this with the Outlander.
More by Mark Stevenson
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