2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

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Mitsubishi works in mysterious ways…

On the one hand, it builds one of the world’s Top Five greatest Hell Rides – the turbocharged, all-wheel-drive EVO. Its tiny 2.0 liter engine produces more horsepower (291 of them) per liter of displacement than almost anything else turning a tire.

On the other hand, there’s the new Outlander Sport. It’s shorter- and about 700 pounds lighter – than the regular Outlander. It has EVO-like styling, too. Check. Green lights across the board. Ready for launch…. except…. it has no balls. No EVO engine. Not even a Ralliart Lancer engine. Just 148 hp. No turbo. No real performance, either.

If it only had more of the EVO’s goods instead of just the EVO-inspired looks… .

To quote Brando:

It coulda been a contender… .

WHAT IT IS

A shortened, lighter (by nearly 700 pounds) and more aggressively styled version of the Outlander crossover SUV.

Base price is $18,945 or about $3,050 less than the regular Outlander ($21,995).

WHAT’S NEW FOR 2011

The Outlander Sport is an all-new model for Mitsubishi.

WHAT’S GOOD

Exterior styling is EVO-ish and looks promising.

So does the much lower curb weight (relative to the regular Outlander).

It has some high-tech (and unusual) electronic features, including an airplane-like computer monitor that displays things like your altitude, barometric pressure and exterior temperature in real-time and over time (past several hours, etc.)

All models – including the $18k base trim – come standard with Fuse, Mitsubishi’s voice-command system for the stereo, communication and navigation.

Bet you can buy one for a lot less than MSRP.

Great warranty.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Acceleration/performance not very Evo-ish.

Standard manual transmission’s only a five-speed (it’s 2011 and it should be a six-speed).

The manual transmission’s not available with the optional AWD.

Likely freefall depreciation rates. 

UNDER THE HOOD

The Outlander comes standard with a 2.0 liter engine sourced from the Lancer – the base Lancer. Not the EVO and not the Ralliart – or even the GTS. It’s rated at a pretty toothless 148 hp – 143 hp less than the EVO’s turbocharged engine (291 hp), 89 less than the 237 hp version of the 2.0 liter turbo engine that’s available as a step-up option in the Lancer Raillart – and 20 hp off the pace of the 168 hp 2.4 liter non-turbo engine that’s available in the Lancer GTS.

Quick! Call Viagra… send a case. Overnight.

The Outlander’s soggy noodle version of the 2.0 liter engine can be teamed up with either a five-speed manual or Continuously Variable (CVT) automatic.

FWD is standard; AWD optional.

Another fly in the pie: If you want AWD, you have to go with the CVT automatic, and the CVT – a type of transmission invented chiefly to maximize fuel economy, not performance – further slows the car down.

The CVT does come with steering wheel paddle shifters and six driver-selectable gear ranges.

But zero to 60 takes around 9 seconds, no matter how furiously you work those paddles.

ON THE ROAD

The car press mostly gripes about the Outlander Sport’s less-than-sporty acceleration – and it’s a legitimate gripe.

Though not slow or underpowered (the similar in size Honda CR-V is a solid second slower, 0-60) there is a glaring mismatch between the car’s muscle car-looking exterior and its almost-economy-car performance. No one expects a CR-V to be quick. It’s not marketed as a sporty vehicle. Same goes for a lot of others in this general category, like the Chevy Equinox or the Subaru Forester. 

But when your marketing for a vehicle is built all around the idea of it being sporty – hey, it’s on the fender – it ought to be, you know, sporty. It should at the very least be able to outrun a Toyota Corolla.

But the Oultander Sport can’t do that. A Corolla would blow it away.

The manual transmission helps – but it really ought to be a six-speed, which would make the Outlander Sport feel a lot sportier and also cut the 0-60 time by a couple of tenths due to the more advantageous gearing.

What would really help, though, would be a turbo.

Even if it were just there as an available option.

Imagine: The Evo’s 291 hp turbo’d and intercooled four working through a six-speed stick and Mitsubishi’s slick driver-programmable AWD. That would put the “sport” into the Outlander.

It would also make this otherwise appealing vehicle a real threat to the new Kia Sportage – which in a couple of months will be available with a 274 hp turbocharged engine of its own, transplanted from the Optima sedan.

The bottom line is the Outlander Sport needs a power boost, for its image as much as everyday real-world driving. Though it is a very impressive 700-something pounds lighter than the regular Outlander, it’s still 3,032 pounds at the curb, empty  – far too much weight for 148 hp to move without signs of struggling.

Again, just for some perspective, the Kia Sportage weighs about the same (3,157 lbs.) but it comes with a lot more engine: 2.4 liters, 176 hp.

The handling needs to be tightened up, too. At first, it’s ok – which you can say about any new car, truck or SUV. At normal road speeds – or even 5-10 mph faster than the flow of traffic, any 2011 model anything will feel confident, safe, secure. But the test comes when you’re moving faster than that – and if the vehicle you’re driving touts itself as a sportster, it needs to get better the faster you’re driving it. Unfortunately, the Outlander Sport doesn’t. It starts to pitch and wallow; steering inputs seem to be on a time-delay. Bottom line, it doesn’t feel good when driven at faster-than-Corolla speeds. Truth be told, a Corolla feels better at faster speeds.

It needs work.

People – well, me (and anyone else who has driven an EVO or even a Lancer GTS)  expect more. And they’re likely to be disappointed.

But still, it has potential. The DNA is there; the engines (and suspension stuff) could be bolted in tomorrow…

AT THE CURB

Here’s an area where the Outlander Sport does well. It looks sharp. Ready to rock.

If only it could!

The interior, too, is spiffy – and the Outlander has some interesting features, such as the driver info readouts that come with the optional GPS/LCD screen. Tap the screen on the button for “environment” and you’ll get instant (and real-time) elevation, as well as barometric pressure and outside air temperature – which you can track over a period of several hours, to monitor trends. The standard Fuse voice-activation system is neat, too.

I am a big fan of the simple, easy to use rotary controls for the AC/heater. Buttons and mouse inputs for such functions are like trying to text while drive. Not good design – and not a good idea. With a knob, you can adjust the fan speed or temperature without taking your eyes off the road. Plus, it’s probably not going to break and if it does, replacing a plastic knob is going to cost you a lot less than replacing some over-the-top electronic keypad entry system, or mouse.  

Compared with its most direct competition – the Kia Sportage – the Mistu’s a little short on cargo space (49.5 cubic feet vs. 54.6 for the Kia) but it has slightly more front seat leg and headroom (39.4 inches and 41.6 inches vs. 39.1 inches and 41.4 inches). The Kia’s backseat legroom is significantly better, though: 37.9 inches 36.3 inches and it has about half an inch more backseat headroom, too (38.5 inches vs. 37.9 inches for the Mitsubishi).

THE REST

The space issues are relatively trivial. The extra 5 cubic feet or so of cargo space the Kia offers (and the slightly roomier second-row) would not matter to most likely buyers if the Outlander Sport were… sporty. And if it had the EVO’s 291 hp engine – or even the Lancer Ralliart’s 237 hp version of the 2.0 liter engine – well, it’d be game over.

People would be standing in line.

But with the Kia Sportage already being much, much sportier – and soon to be a serious head-kicker when Kia drops the Optima’s 274 hp into the thing – it’s already game over.

For Mitsubishi.

The final end zone dance? The Kia costs less.

Oh, the pain!

THE BOTTOM LINE

So much potential here. It coulda had class. It could been somebody…. it coulda been a contender.

And maybe it still can be.

Throw it in the Woods?

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Yes, the Kia costs less, and it comes without even the option of a 5-speed manual transmission and styling so foofy you will grow female parts driving the dull thing. Have fun!

    • Hi TJ,

      I try to stay away from commenting on styling because it’s such a subjective thing (unless, as in the case of say the Asstek, it’s hard not to laugh… or puke).

      I’m with you on the 5-speed (manual) thing. But most people – I mean 90-plus percent of buyers – prefer automatics. Which is why 90-plus percent of all new cars (including most if not all all new trucks) are automatic-only these days.

      I don’t like it, but that’s the market.

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