2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
October 1, 2012

The 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is space-efficient, comfortable, and very maneuverable, but its noisy interior and lack of refinement are limiting factors.

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.

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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.

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2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Styling

The 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is attractively styled inside and out, though its cabin materials tend toward the drab.

You could think of the 2013 Outlander Sport either as a lighter, shorter (about a foot) version of the Outlander crossover vehicle, with nearly the same overall width and height, or as a tall-wagon version of the Lancer sedan.

Whichever way you see it, the Outlander Sport's styling and details help frame its purpose as a practical, no-nonsense vehicle. But a few subtle styling changes for 2013 do aim to give this model a slightly more upscale touch than before. Most notably, the Outlander Sport gets a restyled front fascia and grille that looks a bit less aggressive and a little softer than before—smoothing over some of the bluntness of the aggressive, shark-like front-end styling that the Outlander Sport has in common with the Outlander SUV and the Lancer compact sedan.

Overall, the Outlander Sport ends up looking more like a tall hatch—sporty from some angles, a bit bulbous from others—and the different sheetmetal than the Outlander, and a rising beltline crease that helps keep from looking too slab-sided. The rear bumper follows a new design for 2013, serving with strategically blacked-out lower-body aero trim to help it look just a little sportier, perhaps.

Inside, up-close impressions of the Outlander Sport aren't always in line with first impressions from a few paces back. The Outlander Sport looks influenced by the more upscale Outlander by design, but it falls victim to the basic Lancer models' drab interior trims up close. Last year Mitsubishi added a little more bright trim, which helped somewhat, and this year seat materials have been updated.

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2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Performance

The Outlander Sport is nimble and responsive compared to other small crossovers, but its CVT makes the driving experience sluggish and boomy on fast-moving freeways or long highway grades.

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. 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.

With nice weighting and actually some feedback from the road, the Outlander's steering is one of the keys to that responsiveness. Mitsubishi got the tuning of the electric power steering right, and with good body control, the Outlander Sport handles better than other tall subcompacts like the Nissan Cube or the Scion xD or xB. Excellent brakes also add confidence.

What's missing from the package is solid, confident powertrain performance to match that. The 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), will undoubtedly be the most common combination, but it's not a good one, as while the CVT is quite docile during ordinary driving it brings out too much engine noise and there's a potentially annoying rubber-band-like delay when you need a burst of power. Mitsubishi claims to have finessed the CVT calibration for 2013, although we haven't yet sampled this improvement. The five-speed manual transmission may be harder to find, but it's a better choice.

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2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Comfort & Quality

The Outlander Sport hits the mark for size, space, and versatility, but the low-rent trims and noisy cabin are a letdown.

The 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander is by no means premium or luxurious, but it addresses nearly everything that matters to the practically minded shopper who wants a lot of space—and reasonably good comfort—in a small parking footprint.

From the inside, you might get to thinking that the Outlander Sport is nearly the same size as more mainstream compact crossovers, like the Ford Escape, even though it's really a half-size down. 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. 

A nice, low cargo floor and easy-folding rear seatbacks (split 60/40) combine to provide cargo space and versatility that's very impressive considering the compact exterior. There's also a slightly higher-up trunk pass-through that could accommodate multiple sets of skis. At the same place, there's a fold-down padded armrest with dual cupholders—a feature that's now standard on all Outlander Sports.

The red gauge illumination you get in the Outlander Sport is going to be polarizing, although we do tend to like the somewhat sporty look—including a number of subtle accent-lighting touches, such as how the large moonroof is lit around the rim.

Otherwise, the interior controls are mostly borrowed directly from the Lancer family, which is to say they're very straightforward and feel good—in a non-luxurious sense. 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 has until this year fallen flat with respect to interior materials; even compared to other on-a-budget small crossover alternatives, the Outlander Sport feels drab and plasticky inside. 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.

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2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Safety

Affordability and frugality don't get in the way of safety with this crossover.

The 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport has a decent safety roster, with all the features that are expected in an affordable small crossover wagon. Safety ratings have been good, too. 

With stability control, anti-lock brakes, and side and side-curtain bags all standard, as well as front knee bags, the Outlander Sport has all the now-requisite items, along with a little more. And we've noticed that, considering the rather thick rear pillar, the elevated seating position in the Outlander Sport offers pretty good outward visibility, although some moms might want to note the omission of a backup camera system.

Although the Outlander Sport hasn't been crash-tested by the federal government, it's earned top 'good' ratings from the IIHS for frontal and side impact—although it hasn't yet been tested in the IIHS roof strength test. .

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2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Features

You can get a lot of features for the money with the base Outlander Sport.

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.

Air conditioning, steering-wheel audio controls, remote keyless entry, and a 140-watt sound system are all among the features included in the base Outlander Sport ES, and for 2013 a new ES 4WD model makes all-weather security a little more affordable. Also for 2013, 18-inch alloy wheels are newly standard on all Outlander Sport trims.

Step up to the SE model and you get the FUSE Bluetooth hands-free system, plus automatic climate control and heated front seats and mirrors, as well as SiriusXM satellite radio. With the Premium Package comes a panoramic sunroof, Rockford Fosgate premium audio with subwoofer, a 6-CD changer, and black roof rails.

For nearly $26k, you can get a fully loaded Outlander Sport, and while that might also sound like a bargain, it's in the price range of a number of other somewhat 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.

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2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Fuel Economy

Frugal in town but thirsty on the highway, the 2013 Outlander Sport is a mixed bag for those who keep close watch on their carbon footprint—or fuel budget.

Vehicles like the 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport—tall in profile but subcompact in footprint—tend to get impressive gas mileage around town, but aerodynamics get in the way of good highway mileage.

The Outlander Sport is really no exception in this regard; with either the manual gearbox or the CVT, it gets EPA city ratings in the mid-20s and highway ratings around 30 mpg.

In a mix of driving, including some short trips, we saw 24 mpg on average with a CVT-equipped Outlander Sport; yet even with the cruise control set to modest speeds we were unable to average 30 mpg on the highway. Factor in the CVT's tendency to raise revs for even slight uphill grades, and this may be an economical urban daily-driver but it's not an efficient long-distance road-tripper.

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