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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.
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.