So some of you might, surprisingly, ask “Mitsubishi still makes cars?” or “What cars do they make?”. Glad you asked!
Granted, there’s been a lot of turmoil and turnover in the auto industry this century, what with Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Hummer, Saab, Isuzu (yep, they sold cars), and Saturn all going to auto heaven, so many that I run across are surprised to know that there are still some small automakers (small in the US, but bigger elsewhere) still selling here. For example, Mitsubishi and Suzuki both have some worthy offerings, but just don’t have the mass marketing, dealership network or history that their fellow Japanese and American counterparts do.
For those of you with some Mitsubishi knowledge, you probably knew them best by their two biggest sellers: the Eclipse and Galant. Well, both of those top-sellers are GONE. Why in the world would an automaker kill off its bread and butter? Well, even though I helped my grandmother buy a Galant, that was over 10 years ago, and the 2003 model hadn’t changed since then (she has a 2002 model). It was a dinosaur. And the Eclipse just couldn’t keep up with the 2-door, 2-seater competition, even though there’s very little of it. Mitsubishi is refocusing its efforts on producing “what America wants”. And right now, that’s a compact car (Lancer), compact crossover (Outlander Sport), 2 and 3-row crossover (Outlander), and a small, electric city car (i-MiEV).
What is the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport?
Today’s focus is the 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC, a crossover devised by cutting down the regular Outlander, fitting a different engine and other bits, and making it more stylish and aggressive, especially the front grill (see above). I know I greatly simplified it, almost like saying my Honda Ridgeline is just an extended Honda Pilot with a truck bed, but it helps for me to understand where the Sport came from. I was actually surprised that I was getting this vehicle as I was supposed to get a Kia, but it was unavailable, so it was a pleasant change of pace. Also, I got a shiny, new Sport with only about 450 miles on the odometer, so I really got to find out first impressions.
You can do a comparison on Mitsubishi’s Website to see how the two Outlanders stack up in size and power, but basically, the Sport is over 14 inches shorter, barely narrower, lower and about 700lbs lighter. The biggest difference is that the regular Outlander can add a 3rd row, while it’s not an option in the Sport. The extra length also means the Outlander has a good bit more cargo capacity than the Sport, but it does compete against a different class of vehicles. Another difference is the engine:
Outlander Sport: 2.0 liter I4 with 148hp and 145lb-ft torque
Outlander: 2.4 liter I4 with 168hp and 167lb-ft torque
Why do I point out the engine? I’ll get to that later.
Features and Pricing
I’m a numbers guy, as you could tell from my previous reviews of the Kia Rio and Mazda3, so I want to get straight to the facts and figures. There are tons of specifications I could list out and compare, but I’ll focus on just a few standout options and standard equipment that were high and low points in my 1 week test drive.
The basic Outlander Sport starts at $19,995 after destination and handling. The SE AWC model I tested had a window sticker of $28,570, nearly fully loaded (starting price $24,520 w/dest.). That gives me $4,050 worth of options tacked on. If I checked all the boxes on the “Build Your Car” configurator, the max price I could get was $32,050 w/dest. That would have added leather, park assist (beeping when you’re close on the front/back), some cargo area options like a shelf and netting, all-weather mats and mudguards and some other interior/exterior appearance tweaks.
Every Outlander Sport has the following standard options, according to Mitsubishi’s site:
- 148-hp, 2.0-liter MIVEC engine
- Color LCD multi-information display
- 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels with P225/55R18 all-season tires
- Electric Power Steering (EPS)
- FUSE Hands-free Link System™ with USB Port
- Seven airbag¹ safety system including a driver’s knee airbag
- Tilt and telescopic adjustable steering column
- Active Stability Control (ASC) with Hill Start Assist
Our SE AWC (All-Wheel Control) adds the following:
- All-Wheel Control (AWC)
- Drive mode selector (2WD / 4WD Auto / 4WD Lock)
- Super-wide range High-Intensity Discharge (S-HID) headlamps (which were excellent AND vertically adjustable…for instance, if you’re in fog and need them to shine lower) and foglamps
- One-touch Start/Stop (OSS) engine switch
- 140-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3-compatible audio system with 6 speakers
- SiriusXM™ Satellite Radio with free 3-month subscription
- FAST-Key electronic start system with panic feature (i.e. no need to take the key out of your pocket. Love the feature. Our MINI has it, the Kia had it and I want my next car to have it. Too bad the replacement keys cost a fortune on vehicles equipped with it!)
- And I’ll add that it also had heated cloth seats, which were very welcome on the way to the gym in my shorts on a very cold fall morning. However, the button for the seat heaters, both driver and passenger, were placed just in front of the seatbelt clip. If you have wide hips, or are just heavy enough to push the seat bolsters down, you may not even know the button is there or even toggle it. I would prefer the button be placed elsewhere more convenient and noticeable. The photo below, although not focused well, was while I was seated and obviously buckled in. Can you spot the button?
Overall, though, I think the model they provided with the Premium Package and Navigation w/Rearview Camera were completely adequate enough for my needs. The two packages were:
Premium package $2050:
- Panoramic glass roof with LED illumination (AWESOME!)
- Black roof rails (so you can add crossbeams to haul stuff on the roof above the glass)
- 710 watt Rockford Fosgate Punch Premium Sound System w/9 speakers and a 10-in subwoofer (proudly displayed in the cargo area). Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” came on, which happens to be one of my favorite songs, and I turned up the bass and it was ROCKIN’ in there!
- 6CD/MP3 in-dash head unit (although you had to push a button for the stereo face to swing out to load/unload the discs)
- Auto-dimming rearview mirror (I like this IF you can turn it off like I could in my 2002 Acura TL-S. Sometimes at night, I need to see clearly what’s behind me, not just headlights)
- Rear camera system (also oddly included in the next package. I think these systems are a necessity, whether you have the nav system or not, simply for safety. However, I NEVER rely just on the screen when backing up. I use it for final positioning and to ensure nothing is behind me).
Navigation w/Rearview Camera $2000:
- 40Gb HDD Navigation w/Music Server & Real Time Traffic (with subscription to Sirius Satellite Service)
- Rear Camera Monitor (I guess I need this package just to get the screen so I can use the camera system provided in the Premium Package?).
I’ll comment quickly on the All-Wheel Control (AWC) option. It appears to work similarly as my Ridgeline where it’s always enabled, but the front wheels drive primarily, and the rears are engaged only as-needed. You can lock it into 4-wheel drive if needed, but I didn’t have the need or opportunity to test it out. There is a HUGE button in front of the cup holders (see below) to toggle the settings from Auto->FWD->Lock. I did test out FWD-only for a few trips, and it SEEMED to give slightly better fuel economy, but that was a very unscientific test.
Now, here’s where the “smaller” manufacturers beat out the big boys: the warranty. When Hyundai first entered the market, what did they promote the most? Style? Heck no. Reliability? No. Price? Yes. WARRANTY? HECK YES! And that’s also what Mitsubishi offers: a 5 year, 60,000 bumper-to-bumper warranty and a 10 year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty. Based on Edmunds.com records for the 2012 model, the Outlander Sport gets average to above average marks in all categories except for its powertrain (2/5 stars). That’s for both the front-wheel and all-wheel drive models. In comparison, the 2012 Kia Sportage EX AWD (non-turbo), this Sport’s competition, gets 4-5 stars on its powertrain; not something it got just a few years ago mind you! Therefore, it’s good to have the longer warranty, as Kia owners from its early to recent years know. But remember, you can get a lemon or, well, the opposite of a lemon, with any vehicle, so numbers only tell part of the story. I recommend getting information from many sources including owner forums, and industry and consumer reports.
Likes and Dislikes
Ok, so here’s the guts of the article where I’ve gotten past what the car is and has, and now I get to be opinionated about how it drives, etc.
Disclaimer: I’m used to driving a V6 truck (and car before that), and my wife’s MINI is turbo-charged and tiny, so driving a “normally-aspirated” four-cylinder has taken getting used to, but I’ve had the Kia Rio and Mazda3 to help acclimate me. So while some/many of you are used to driving lower-powered 4-bangers, I’m not, and neither are the numerous professional auto journalists whose reviews you’ll run across on sites like MotorTrend, Edmunds, Cars.com, etc. Moving from a 250hp+ vehicle to a 148hp CUV is a big change.
So, with that in mind, I need to get this off my chest up front: the engine is too weak! In the guise of getting more MPG, they lowered the output of the engine and “gearing” of the transmission (it’s a CVT, so I have to put gearing in quotes), but I think it goes against the addition of the “Sport” moniker on the badge. While the drive is nimble and confident, the engine should at least have been the same one as in the regular Outlander (i.e. more POWERRRRRR!!!). I would bet that with proper tuning of that engine, the Sport could get similar MPG because it’s not tiring itself out hauling its own weight around. Or at least put a turbo on it if you’re going to call it “Sport”!
But on a good note, this was probably the first CVT transmission (it basically uses belts instead of gears) that I liked. It shifted silently and smoothly, and the manual shift option using either the shifter handle or, better yet, the giant shift paddles behind the steering wheel, allowed me to get more power almost instantly by downshifting. I’m often annoyed that manufacturers include the self-shifting automatic transmissions on cars that really don’t need it. The Kia Rio was an example. It’s not a sporty car at all, and the automatic transmission does its job just fine. Heck, even on my Acura, I only used it to downshift the engine to use less brakes when coming to a light (might explain the need for a replacement transmission). But in the Outlander Sport, the giant shifter paddles were a welcome addition. Now if only it could shift a “sporty” engine…
I’ll also repeat something I love in cars: entertainment. The Sport had a 40Gb hard drive (I wonder if you can upgrade it to a bigger size), Sirius satellite radio (which I must have on my next vehicle), USB port (didn’t test it though), Bluetooth Media (like Pandora through your phone) and the normal FM/AM. There were some songs preloaded on the “Music Server” hard drive, and I didn’t test out adding more, but it played instantly and without problems. And while most vehicles with Sirius offer only 6 preset options, this one had 24! You can have your rock, talk, hip-hop and oldies all separated so they aren’t fighting with each other! And yes, that’s PSY with Gangnam Style playing on the photo below 🙂
As for the Bluetooth, I have praise and some suggestions. Praise for its ease of pairing to my 2-year-old droid and playing Pandora. Pandora sounded great, unlike on some vehicles that treat Bluetooth media as a second-class citizen. But there were some issues regarding the phone. The Kia Rio downloads your entire phonebook (if you allow it), while the Mazda3 requires you to enter every single number one-by-one through its voice system (I refused to even do it). The Mitsubishi seems to have taken the middle ground by allowing you to send contacts via Bluetooth into the system and recording their name, which is some duplication, but not completely horrible like in the Mazda3. I refuse to get any entertainment system that doesn’t download my entire phonebook though, because I refuse to sit there and re-enter hundreds of numbers and then risk them being wiped out if the battery dies or something. So, Bluetooth works greats overall, but improvements can be made on the phonebook syncing.
One feature that dazzled myself and passengers alike, and also served a functional purpose on one roadtrip, was the 2-row panoramic glass roof. It extended from the driver’s head all the way back to just about the rear headrest. And unlike some vehicles I’ve tested that have this feature, the Sport provides a power cover to block the glass in case it’s too hot or to provide a bit more sound insulation. A neat feature was the embedded LED lights running along both sides of the glass roof, whether the cover was open or closed, that you could dim or turn off. It added a little class and ambiance to the interior, especially at night.
I also mentioned the glass roof had a functional purpose. During the week I had it, my parents came to visit and we took a trip to Annapolis, MD for brunch (about 50 miles away). On the way there, my mom sat in the front, with the seat the whole way back, while my 6’2″ or so dad sat behind her. While I will say he had to straddle the back of the seat, he didn’t complain, but he wouldn’t have been happy like that for a long trip. But the extra head room and the open air view above him didn’t make him feel cramped and jammed into a little vehicle. It was hard to capture the size of the panoramic glass roof, but here it is from inside, with the rear seats folded down:
Speaking of the rear seats, while my dad’s first comment was that they looked cheap, both my parents said they were quite comfortable on the 100 mile roundtrip trek to Maryland’s state capital. I’m interested, though, in whether the leather option would increase the feel of quality in the cabin. Although I noticed many cheap plastics in use, most blended well into the overall design and not a part I touched while driving.
While some reviews of the Sport complain about the interior room, I didn’t have a problem with it. It’s what you expect out of a compact SUV. That’s why they call it COMPACT. I found that with the rear seats both up and down, I probably have enough room to do 95% or more of the tasks I ask of my truck:
And the rear leg room with front seats all the way back:
Where the heck am I going???
And onto my final topic: the $2000 navigation system. While the navigation pointed me the right way flawlessly, and was very easy to read, I found it to be severely outdated. For example, a sub shop that closed (moved) about 3 years ago is still listed .3 miles from my house when it’s now about 2 miles. It doesn’t have roads that were finished at the beginning of this year. For goodness sake, this is a 2013 model! It should have roads from the future! It should be simple enough to get updated maps, and it’s nice to have the traffic warning system, but for a few hundred bucks, you can get a portable nav unit with lifetime updates AND traffic notification. While it’s nice to have the unit embedded in the car so you don’t have to hide it when you park to prevent it from being stolen, it’s also nice to save $1500 or more when you know you’ll have the latest maps.
I want to note that due to the vehicle size, pricing and engine output, Mitsubishi doesn’t compete with the likes of the Honda CRV, Toyota RAV4, etc. Instead, it competes with the Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson and oddly, according to their own comparison page, the Nissan Juke (which is more of a MINI Countryman competitor). It’s smaller, cheaper and less powerful than the CRV/RAV4, so it wouldn’t be fare to compare. But when looking at its true competition, the pricing and features fall compare very well, often coming in slightly cheaper than the competition.
So the summary of competition is to go out and drive them yourself. Also try out the slightly larger segment that includes the Honda CRV, but remember that one is a sub-compact and the other is a compact crossover. If fuel economy and price are top considerations, opt for the smaller class which includes the Sport. If size and power matter, then go up a level, but remember it comes at a price.
I did want to note that I didn’t get a good gauge on fuel economy because it seems the trip computer reset itself between each trip. I thought I found the way to manually stop it from doing this, but I’m not sure it worked. And since I didn’t need to refill the gas before returning the Outlander Sport, I couldn’t tell what the overall fuel economy was for the trip. I will say, though, that I didn’t seem to do better than about 22mpg in town or 25mpg on our highway drive (loaded with 3 adults), even though the EPA says I should get 24/29 with 26mpg combined. Other reviews do rave about the high fuel economy for the Sport, especially in the crossover segment, but I’m not sure if they’re going by the window sticker or reality. I would test it out in both city and highway at the speeds you normally drive and determine for yourself.
All in all, I really liked the exterior styling of the Outlander Sport, as did my wife, and the interior materials, finish and styling were adequate or above par. I’ve driven a Kia Sportage for a week as a rental last year, so I am able to mentally compare the two, but I would rather do a real-time, side-by-side comparison test to really determine a winner, and so should you. The Subaru Forester and Nissan Juke are also listed as competition, although they’re styled differently (and the Juke just seems to be in its own category. I would think the Rogue would be the competition).
Mitsubishi, I commend you for a good entry into the compact crossover market, hope you take some of my advice to heart, and continue to bring us well-styled, priced and featured vehicles with excellent warranty coverage. I also want to see you stay in the game here in America because the more competition there is, the harder other manufacturers need to work to please the consumer. Lets hope the plan to trim and change the lineup works and we see even better offerings in the near future!