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The Outlander Sport is a lighter, shorter version of the Outlander crossover vehicle—about a foot shorter but the same in wheelbase, with nearly the same overall width and height. But it looks and drives quite differently—and with its parallel-parking-friendly packaging, it aims at those in the city rather than the suburbs.
Mitsubishi has shed most of the sport-utility cues in the 2011 Outlander Sport, making it look from most angles more like a tall hatch. The blunt, sharklike front end looks just as good here as it does in the Outlander and Lancer family—and it could be mistaken for a serious performance vehicle by those not in the know. From the side, the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport gets all-new sheetmetal, with a rising beltline crease that helps keep from looking too slab-sided, but this vehicle is disappointingly bland and ordinary-looking from the rear.
A lot of the heft is gone from the experience, replaced by better responsiveness, and it feels a lot more like the Lancer sedan, which also shares some underpinnings. This is the first Mitsubishi to get electric power steering, but they've managed to tune it to feel almost exactly the same as their excellent hydraulic units. Outlander Sport's 3,100-pound weight and that excellent steering contribute to the light-and-nimble feel, no doubt, and drives a class smaller than most compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, or even the Kia Sportage—but it also doesn't feel as anesthetized as the Scion xD or xB in their standard tune.
That's the good. 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. And while the stick might be a good choice, the CVT that most come with is a little sluggish and disappointing when you want to tap into all the power. In the city, it's at ease, but on the highway the powertrain feels boomy and overwhelmed (fuel economy isn't impressive on the highway either). Adding to that impression is a whole lot of road noise from inside the cabin. Interior plastics and trim, while they're better than those in the Lancer, are still less than inspiring.
Otherwise there's lots positive to point out in the Outlander Sport's excellent interior packaging. From the inside, it doesn't feel much smaller than smaller compact crossovers, like the Sportage. Front seats feel fairly snug but supportive, and in back there's real space for two adults or three kids. 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 pass-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.
If you can look past the Outlander Sport's boomy interior and just-adequate powertrain performance, the Outlander Sport stands out as quite a deal—especially for the base front-wheel-drive model, at $19,275 including destination. Even loaded SE models with AWD total less than $26k, including premium audio, automatic climate control, heated seats and mirrors, and a panoramic sunroof. In all, if you can overlook the road noise and sluggish powertrain, the Sport is quite a great deal.