- Versatile, spacious layout
- Straightforward dash layout
- Responsive, nimble handling
- Grim, economy interior
- Remains unrefined, noisy
- Sluggish on highway
The 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport has ample room in a practical interior, but it's let down by economy-car materials and noise.
The 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is on the small end of the popular compact crossover utility segment, though it has useful interior room and practicality for its size. It's only incidentally sporty, despite the name—but it will suit value-minded shoppers who prize its size. It's let down by its crude interior and noisy, unrefined operation at speed, but at a starting price around $20,000, it's clearly the price-leading play in the segment.
Trim levels for the Outlander Sport start with the base ES, move up to the SE and SEL versions, and top out in the high-spec GT model.
With traditional compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 creeping toward mid-size territory, the Outlander Sport offers interior space that's closer to compact hatchbacks like the Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra GT, or the hatchback-based (and very popular) Subaru Crosstrek. It has little in common with its sibling the Outlander, a larger and more rugged mid-size utility vehicle.
The basic vehicle is now in its sixth model year, and for 2016, it gets a new nose design to bring it into the latest Mitsubishi styling idiom—it's called a "Dynamic Shield" front end—and closer to its Outlander big brother. The result is busier and less harmonious than on the bigger SUV, and it's debatable whether it's an improvement over the blunter, more aggressive front end it replaces. The rest of the vehicle remains as it was, looking and feeling more like a tall five-door hatchback than a truck-like utility vehicle. The lines are starting to feel a little dated, though, which is more acceptable in a car offering value over freshness.
Inside, the look is clean and straightforward, but despite some modest upgrades to plastics, upholstery, trim materials, and features, the cabin remains on the drab side, closer to economy sedan than to modern utility vehicle. Soft-touch materials are mostly limited to the dash padding, though for 2016 there's a new light-gray interior option, which may lighten the cabin over the previous all-black offering.
But it wins on packaging, with the Outlander Sport turning out to be roomier inside than you might expect, considering its very compact size. The front seats are snug but supportive, and in back there's enough space for two adults or three kids. The seat height is just right for what aging shoppers or busy parents—a touch higher than a sedan, but lower than larger SUVs that require a deliberate step up to enter the cabin. You can enter the small Outlander merely by sitting down and turning, and you can load children and car seats without straining your back.
Two engines are offered in the Outlander Sport, along with optional all-wheel drive for either. A five-speed manual gearbox is available only on the base 2.0 ES model with front-wheel drive; every other version uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter inline-4 is far from quick with the manual, and the lack of acceleration and responsiveness provided by the CVT is downright disappointing. The optional 168-hp, 2.4-liter engine gives better performance at the price of sub-par fuel economy, surprisingly even with the CVT.
On the road, the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport drives and corners with a light, responsive feel—more like a compact sedan than a larger, taller crossover. If you value compactness and maneuverability, rather than all-out ruggedness, it represents a good alternative for urban dwellers and those who use their cars primarily for local, lower-speed errands where acceleration is less important than agility. But at higher speeds, it remains noisy and harsh, despite last year's addition of new sound insulation material. (The competition hasn't sat still on that front either.)
The Outlander Sport gets good, if not perfect, safety ratings, and for 2015 it was deemed an IIHS Top Safety Pick. It received an "Acceptable" rating (one notch below a perfect score) in the IIHS's new and tough small-overlap frontal impact test, impressive for a design that predates that test altogether. These days, however, buyers may notice that the Outlander Sport lacks any of the active-safety systems that are increasingly available on others in the segment, from adaptive cruise control to lane-departure warning systems, as well as blind-spot alerts and collision warning with automatic braking. A rearview camera is standard on all but the base SE trim level.
At a base price around $20,000, it's hard to push an Outlander Sport to $30,000 fully equipped. That means pricing and value are one of its main selling points. If you can overlook its lack of refinement and economy-class accommodations, you'll find that features are generous—with Bluetooth, heated mirrors, steering-wheel audio controls, 18-inch alloy wheels, and a 140-watt sound system all standard. Added for 2016 are an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and a redesigned steering wheel.
The SE version adds fog lights, heated front driver and passenger seats, automatic climate control, illuminated vanity mirrors, a 6.1-inch touchscreen display, satellite and HD radio, two more speakers, a rearview camera, and remote keyless entry. Moving up to the SEL version, you will add automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, power-folding side mirrors, an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat, black leather upholstery, aluminum pedals, and silver and glossy-black interior trim. Finally, the top-of-the-line GT model layers on high-intensity discharge headlamps, a panoramic glass roof, a nine-speaker 710-watt Rockford Fosgate premium sound system, and an optional factory navigation system with a 7.0-inch touchscreen display and real-time traffic data.
Fuel economy ratings for the smaller Outlander range from 24 to 28 mpg combined, with the larger engine and all-wheel drive producing lower ratings.