Styling-wise, the Outlander Sport looks more like a tall hatch, and not at all much like a utility vehicle, especially from front angles. The blunt, sharklike front end looks just as good here as it does in the Outlander and Lancer family, and from pretty much any angle in front, it looks very nicely proportioned. The sheetmetal has a bit more excitement than that of Mitsubishi's other vehicles, with a gradually rising beltline crease that serves to interrupt the otherwise slab-sided look. From the back, the Outlander Sport can look a little more bulbous and chunky, and we wished the designers would have given it a less anonymous tail to match the bold front.
The 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport comes with either a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) or a five-speed manual gearbox, with a 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine for all versions. Based on our recent driving experience with the Lancer GTS, as well as other Mitsubishis with a manual transmission, the stick will probably provide more driving satisfaction. The majority of buyers will probably go for the CVT, which is what our test car had; and in moderate, suburban-style driving, the Outlander Sport does just fine with the combination—neither sluggish nor overtly quick.
CVT is fine, but we'd pick the stick
But like many CVT boxes in four-cylinder applications, it can get a little buzzy and boomy sometimes, especially when in rapid stop-and-go driving, passing, when accelerating into high-speed traffic, or anything that brings revs around 4,000 rpm or beyond. The other issue is that even when you lock in one of the gears with the steering-wheel paddle-shifters, the Outlander Sport still has that loosey-goosey slushbox feel. On the positive side, its top gear ratio is nice and tall, keeping revs under 2,500 rpm at 75 mph.
The CVT keeps consumption in check, too. EPA fuel economy ratings for the Outlander Sport are 24 mpg city, 29 highway, and over about 120 miles we managed to hit 24 mpg in a mix of driving, with most of it urban and suburban short trips.
Sporty, space-efficient interior design
The design of the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport interior is pretty sweet; from the inside, it doesn't feel much smaller than smaller compact crossovers, like the Sportage. Front seats feel fairly snug for my rather thin frame—which means they'll be too tight for larger occupants—but they have a fair amount of mid-back support, which is unusual in inexpensive vehicles, and the coarse cloth upholstery feels grippy and durable. In back, the seating position is quite firm and upright—and it's only passable for two adults across—but it's a perfectly good package, overall, for four adults going across town for an event or away for a few hours.
The back seats are split 60/40; there's a nice, low cargo floor, and the larger seatback includes a separate, slightly higher-up trunk p[ass-through that would be good for multiple sets of skis. Built into the same enclosure is a fold-down, padded armrest with two cupholders built in.
We really like the way the Outlander Sport is lit inside, too. Although it's red lighting, there's a lot of attention to detail, and the very large moonroof is even lit around the rim—a subtle touch that you might notice when parked but not when driving.