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Now that crossover vehicles like the Subaru Forester, Honda CR-V, and Toyota RAV4 have grown into frugal family-sized vehicles—some even offering a third-row seat—there's an even smaller class of crossovers arriving. And among the first few is Mitsubishi's Outlander Sport, a vehicle that takes after the larger Outlander in some ways, yet aims at city-dwellers with limited space and a tight budget.
It wouldn't be altogether true to call the Sport a lighter, shorter (about a foot) version of the Outlander crossover vehicle, but you could think of it that way. The two have nearly the same overall width and height. It's actually a bit closer to a tall-wagon version of the Lancer sedan. Regardless, the Outlander Sport looks and drives quite differently than those other models, shying away from sport-utility cues and instead taking a sportier tack—looking more like a tall hatch. This year, Mitsubishi has retouched the front end to look just a little more upscale, smoothing over some of the bluntness of the shark-like front-end design, while a new bumper design and blacked-out lower-body trim help give it a neater look. Inside, the Outlander Sport takes after the larger Outlander in design, with clean, upright look that's also a bit sporty, although up close the interior disappoints with drab materials that aren't any more impressive than in the Lancer small-car family. There's a new cloth upholstery that may help spruce up the cabin somewhat.
The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport drives with a light, responsive feel—more like a compact sedan than a larger crossover—and this is a good pick for those who want compactness and maneuverability, not all-out ruggedness. In fact, ruggedness is beside the point, and the Outlander Sport's all-wheel drive system is oriented toward snowy driveways, not off-road trails. As such, powertrains are strictly economy class, with on the road performance limited by a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that can be sluggish and boomy when pressed. Although the manual is a better choice to make the most of the 148-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine.
This is a vehicle that tends to feel roomier inside than you might expect, considering its very compact exterior. Front seats feel fairly snug but supportive, and in back there's real space for two adults or three kids. And with seat height just right for what many aging shoppers (or busy moms) seek—a little higher than a sedan, yet lower than a larger SUV—you get get in by merely sitting and turning, or load children in without straining your back. Materials have been a disappointment; don't expect anything more than what you'd find in a budget compact sedan cabin, although there's a little more soft-touch here—mainly in the form of a padded dash covering.
Mitsubishi notes that it's introduced new interior fabrics on pretty much all Outlander Sport models (ES and SE) for 2013—as well as new chrome door trim accents. We plan to revisit this vehicle soon and let you know whether it makes a meaningful difference.
One thing hasn't changed much, and it's perhaps the biggest drawback to the Outlander Sport, outside of its sluggish CVT powertrain: There's a lot of road noise, with tire and road rumble ever-present, and becoming obtrusive on the highway.
On the plus side, safety ratings for the Outlander Sport have been good, and it has all the features you'd expect in a vehicle that works for small families; Front knee airbags are included in addition to the usual safety set, and outward visibility is quite good, although a backup camera system has been omitted.
Price and value are two of the main selling points for the 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport. With a price that starts well under $20k for the base model, including a feature set that works for a small family, the Sport stands out as a good deal. That is, if you can overlook its economy-class accommodations and lack of refinement.
And while a loaded $26k Outlander Sport might sound like a bargain, there are now a number of other alternatives that might suit your niche a bit better—like the Subaru XV Crosstrek for outdoorsy types, the Ford C-Max for green shoppers, or the upcoming Buick Encore for those who want a more upscale vehicle this size. what more upscale vehicles (such as the Buick Encore) that might be able to offer nearly the same feature set but with a lot more refinement.