2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 27, 2012

If you do most of your driving in the city, the 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is a pleasant, nimble runabout that offers strong value for the money.

Not too many years ago, a host of compact crossover vehicles—like Mitsubishi's own Outlander—arrived on the market, providing more efficient alternatives to larger SUVs. Now, there's another wave of somewhat smaller vehicles (Mazda CX-5, Ford C-Max, or the latest Kia Sportage) arriving, targeting those who need even better maneuverability and parking ease—not a third-row seat.

Among them is the 2012 Outlander Sport. The Sport is essentially a lighter, shorter (about a foot) version of the Outlander crossover vehicle, with nearly the same overall width and height. But it looks and drives quite differently, and clearly aims at those in the city rather than the suburbs.

The Outlander Sport also shies away from sport-utility cues. From most angles, it ends up looking more like a tall hatch, and the blunt, sharklike front end looks just as good here as it does in the Outlander and Lancer family. With different sheetmetal than the Outlander, and a rising beltline crease that helps keep from looking too slab-sided it looks sporty from the front, yet from the rear it's disappointingly bland and ordinary-looking. Inside, the Outlander Sport looks influenced by the more upscale Outlander, but falls victim to the basic Lancer models' drab interior trims. Mitsubishi has already added more bright trim to the 2012 model, which helps somewhat.

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Behind the wheel, the Outlander Sport is a lot more like a compact sedan than a larger crossover. There's a light, responsive feel—and not much heft—and we really like the tuning of the electric power steering here (trust us: so many get it wrong). Overall, it feels perkier than the likes of the Scion xD or xB in base tune, yet drives a full class smaller than class leaders like the Honda CR-V or Ford Escape.

That's all good, but we're certainly not in love with the powertrain. The 2012 Outlander Sport comes powered by a 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, paired with either a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) or a five-speed manual gearbox. The stick is a good choice, but the CVT that will be easiest to find at the dealership can make the engine sluggish and boomy when you want to tap into highway passing power—though in the city, it's quite docile. Adding to that impression is a whole lot of road noise from inside the cabin.

[Note: Mitsubishi has recalibrated the CVT and added more noise insulation for 2012; We'll bring you an updated drive as soon as we can.]

In terms of size and space, there's quite a lot to like here for the practically minded. Although the Outlander Sport is a size (or half-size) smaller than the compact crossover mainstream, it doesn't feel so much so. 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.

There's nothing lacking in the Outlander Sport's safety roster; it includes the expected stability control, anti-lock brakes, and side and side-curtain bags, and the Outlander Sport also comes with front knee bags. It's also earned 'good' ratings from the IIHS for frontal and side impact.

At well under $20k for the base model, the Outlander Sport stands out as a good deal—especially if you can overlook some of its issues with refinement. At the top of the line, loaded SE models with AWD total less than $26k, including a panoramic sunroof, automatic climate control, premium audio, and heated seats and mirrors.

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2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Styling

The 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport lives up to its name on the outside, but it's a little drab inside.

The Outlander Sport is essentially a lighter, shorter (about a foot) version of the Outlander crossover vehicle, with nearly the same overall width and height. But it looks and drives quite differently, and clearly aims at those in the city rather than the suburbs, and its styling and details help frame that difference in purpose.

From most angles, it ends up looking more like a tall hatch, and the blunt, sharklike front end looks just as good here as it does in the Outlander and Lancer family. With different sheetmetal than the Outlander, and a rising beltline crease that helps keep from looking too slab-sided it looks sporty from the front. From the back, the Outlander Sport could be taken quite differently; it looks a little more bulbous and chunky, and we wished the designers would have given it a less anonymous tail to match the bold front.

Inside, the Outlander Sport looks influenced by the more upscale Outlander, but it falls victim to the basic Lancer models' drab interior trims. Mitsubishi has already added more bright trim to the 2012 model, which helps somewhat.

7

2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Performance

The Outlander Sport drives like a light, responsive small car; but the CVT automatic makes it feel sluggish on the highway.

Behind the wheel, the Outlander Sport is a lot more like a compact sedan than a larger crossover. There's a light, responsive feel—and not much heft—and we really like the tuning of the electric power steering here (trust us: so many get it wrong). It handles with the poise of a lower vehicle--perkier than the likes of the Scion xD or xB, and smaller in driving feel than the Honda CR-V or Ford Escape--and has particularly good steering compared to other vehicles in its class, with nice weighting and actually some feedback from the road. Brakes are excellent, too.

That's all good, but we're certainly not in love with the powertrain. The 2012 Outlander Sport comes powered by a 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, paired with either a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) or a five-speed manual gearbox. The stick is a good choice, but the CVT that will be easiest to find at the dealership can make the engine sluggish and boomy when you want to tap into highway passing power—though in the city, it's quite docile. Adding to that impression is a whole lot of road noise from inside the cabin.

7

2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Comfort & Quality

Somewhat plasticky, low-rent trims are the only letdowns in a package that hits the mark for size, space, and versatility.

In terms of size and space, there's quite a lot to like in the Outlander Sport for the practically minded.

Although the Outlander Sport is a size (or half-size) smaller than the compact crossover mainstream, it doesn't feel so much so. Front seats feel fairly snug but supportive, and in back there's real space for two adults or three kids. And seat height is at the right level to allow what many aging crossover shoppers seek: easy entry that's just a matter of sitting and turning. 

The back seats are split 60/40 and fold down easily with just one arm. Plus, 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.

Ths Outlander Sport is lit inside in red—an aesthetic choice that's going to elicit polarized responses, no doubt. We like it, as well as how the very large moonroof is even lit around the rim—a subtle touch that you might notice when parked but not when driving.

Unfortunately, Mitsubishi misses some other important, more broad-ranging details: The interior is a bit too drab and plasticky for most tastes, and more importantly for those who plan to do a lot of highway driving, there's a lot of road noise; in a test vehicle, tire and road rumble was present in the vehicle as long as it was rolling, and it became obtrusive on the highway.

Otherwise, you do get what you pay for inside; interior controls are much like those of the Lancer family, which is to say they're very straightforward and feel good...in a non-luxurious sense. There's a little more soft touch here—mainly in the form of a layer of padded material that's been added to the dash—don't expect anything above the feel of a budget-priced compact sedan cabin.

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2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Safety

Based on the information available, the 2012 Outlander Sport is a secure pick.

There's nothing lacking in the Outlander Sport's safety roster; it includes the expected stability control, anti-lock brakes, and side and side-curtain bags, and the Outlander Sport also comes with front knee bags. It's also earned 'good' ratings from the IIHS for frontal and side impact.

There's not yet any other occupant-protection information available regarding the Outlander Sport. It is based heavily on the larger Outlander, which has received some pretty good ratings for safety, but at a foot shorter and with different seating, sheetmetal, and even a significantly different structure, it merits its own crash-testing throughout. We'll update this entry if either major U.S. safety agency tests the 2012 Outlander Sport.

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2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Features

The base model of the 2012 Outlander Sport offers a lot of features for the money.

At well under $20k for the base model, the Outlander Sport stands out as a good deal—especially if you can overlook some of its issues with refinement.

The base 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport has an impressive list of standard equipment, including air conditioning, steering-wheel audio controls, remote keyless entry, and a 140-watt sound system.

The SE model steps up to the FUSE Bluetooth hands-free system, plus automatic climate control and heated front seats and mirrors. An additional $1,800 Premium Package includes a panoramic sunroof, Rockford Fosgate premium audio with subwoofer, Sirius satellite radio, a 6-CD changer, and black roof rails.

While the base model might seem a steal, the competition is bound to be more intense if you're shopping the SE. For instance, the soon-to-arrive 2013 Buick Encore likely won't start all that much higher than the SE's nearly $26k.

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2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Fuel Economy

The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is fuel-efficient in the city, but surprisingly thirsty on the highway.

Small crossover vehicles like the 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport—with a tall profile but a small-car footprint—have one typical issue: While they get small-car fuel economy around town, they can't even do as well as a mid-size sedan on the highway.

With either the manual gearbox or the CVT, the Outlander Sport gets EPA city ratings in the mid-20s and highway ratings around 30 mpg.

The CVT automatic that most Outlander Sports will likely come with does return good mileage in the city—we saw 24 mpg in about 120 miles of mixed driving and short trips, but even with the cruise control on we had trouble even hitting 30 mpg on the highway. It's a tall top-gear ratio, but the CVT will need to raise revs for even slight uphill grades. 

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April 14, 2015
For 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Great smaller SUV

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Great on gas. Features are great. Just wish it would tow.
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