- Nimble, responsive feel
- Spacious, versatile layout
- Clean, simple dash layout
- Ride comfort
- CVT is sluggish on the highway
- Drab interior
- Noisy inside (although improved)
The 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport isn't as refined inside as it looks from its exterior, but it maneuvers well and offers a surprising amount of functional space.
The 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport has little in common with its namesake, the Outlander. The Outlander Sport is no sportier, but instead focuses on cost-conscious urbanites with a smaller, more affordable package.
It's a better vehicle for those who don't necessarily need a third row of seats or a vehicle large enough to create the occasional parking challenge, though the Sport lacks some of the Outlander's more rugged capabilities. With traditional compact crossovers like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V creeping into mid-size territory, there's room now for the Outlander Sport, which offers similar space to compact hatchbacks like the Hyundai Elantra GT and Ford Focus.
There really are two different assessments of how the Outlander Sport drives—and it depends on how importantly you value acceleration and straight-ahead responsiveness. Although the manual is a better choice to make the most of the 148-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, this is not a particularly quick vehicle, and the on-road performance provided with the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is quite disappointing. Later in the model year, Mitsubishi is subbing 168-horsepower, 2.4-liter models (2.4 ES and 2.4 GT) models into the lineup, and we're anticipating that they'll be much better for drivability albeit at a fuel economy penalty. The CVT, by the way, is 'all-new' for 2015, so the story might be better than what we're essentially carrying over from previous model years. In any case it's a completely different story if you're talking about cornering; 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.
Compared to the Outlander, the RAV4, and that entire set of 'generous' compact crossovers, the Outlander Sport looks and drives quite differently than those other models, too, shying away from sport-utility cues and instead taking a sportier tack—looking (and feeling) more like a tall hatch. Last year, Mitsubishi smoothed over some of the bluntness of the shark-like front-end design, while the look was made just a little neater in back with a new bumper design and blacked-out lower-body trim. The look is clean and upright inside, but your intrigue at first glance might disperse to disappointment upon closer look, as the cabin packs in plenty of drab materials that aren't all that much more impressive than those in the Lancer compact sedan. But Mitsubishi is clearly making an effort to spruce up the look and feel somewhat; last year it introduced a new cloth upholstery, and this year there's a new black-leather seating option in the SE Touring Package.
The economy-class feel continues to the interior appointments, which have been a disappointment in past model years (Mitsubishi claims to have again redone some of the interior trims, so we hope to revisit this model soon). There are a few more soft-touch surfaces here than in some other rival vehicles, but it's mostly in the form of a padded dash cover; otherwise it's budget-sedan material. Packaging is where the Outlander Sport redeems itself, though; 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.
For safety, the Outlander Sport has been one of the better performers in this class—and among other vehicles its size and weight it has one of the top ratings in the tough new small overlap frontal test. Safety ratings for the Outlander Sport have otherwise been good, and it has all the features you'd expect in a vehicle that works for small families; a backup camera system is still sorely lacking on the base ES, but front knee airbags are included as an addition to the expected safety set for this kind of vehicle.
The Outlander Sport has, in previous model years, been one of the noisiest vehicles in this class; but last year Mitsubishi has added more noise insulation as well as a new engine balance shaft. We hope to revisit this model soon and report back on the level of improvement, but based on previous experiences there's been way too much noise and harshness—especially during passing or long mountain grades.
With a base price of around $20k and a fully loaded one barely reaching into the upper twenties, pricing and value are some of the Outlander Sport's main selling points. If you can overlook its economy-class accommodations and lack of refinement, you'll find that features are generous--with steering-wheel audio controls, remote keyless entry, alloy wheels, and a 140-watt sound system all standard. LED running lamps have been added for 2015.