2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport Long-Term Road Test


2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport: Smells Like Team Spirit

March 23, 2011

Outlander Sport-interior-web.jpg

After 6,000 miles, multiple drivers and a couple of road trips, a new car smell still - remarkably - permeates our Outlander Sport. Mind you, the scent is curiously like that of a giant Band-Aid, leading me to believe that one of the staffers recently loaded up the O-Sport with several hundred rolls of athletic tape. Either that or the seat fabric and dash plastics were cooked up in a Johnson & Johnson lab.

Regardless, the Outlander Sport appeals in a way that I'm still trying to pin down.

Maybe it's the utility. I'm a sucker for utility. It's why I still own a Jeep Cherokee that I bought new in 2001, despite the Significant Other's protests every time a significant repair comes due. The Outlander Sport states its usefulness as soon as you climb in. The coarse texture of the synthetic seat fabric assures you it's no big deal if you track some sand, snow or mud on the seats. And you might feel a little wanderlust looking down at the 2WD/AWD/Lock dial, thinking that the Sport could be your ticket out of the humdrum. You could probably drive to Pavones in this thing.

The widescreen sunglass is a genius stroke and seems to add three feet of headroom. Probably be pretty sweet to drive through the redwoods and glance up through that glass.

I found the Sport's sweet spot on the highway the other day. Winter kissed off with a low-pressure front that brought steady rain, fast wind and thunder through the area, hanging around long enough to complicate the morning drive. As it progressed from drops to downpour, and the mist started to hamper visibility, I slotted the Sport into AWD and cruised between 40-55 mph. It felt solid and planted. No engine whine, no agitation about trying to keep up with regular highway speeds. Total enthusiasm for mowing straight through pooled water in lane depressions. For a minute, it seemed capable of chasing tornados.

But then, there's the bad. The non-adjustable lumbar lump in the driver's seat. The Bluetooth phone connection that outputs your caller's voice through the passenger side door speaker. Which then forces you to lean to the passenger seat, balancing on the armrest and your left-hand on the steering wheel at 12 o'clock, just to hear. And you'll need to lean alright, because that buzzing four-cylinder and CVT combo behind the firewall isn't gonna quiet itself. Nothing sporty about it.

How Mitsu sent the Outlander Sport into the world so thoroughly undergunned baffles me. Pushing it out of the nest at 3,200 pounds, yet with only 145 hp and 148 lb-ft to its name -- well, it's the parental equivalent of sending your child into the workforce with an English degree.

The CVT does all it can to sap the engine of any spirit. With a little practice, you learn to nearly bounce it off redline in "first," grab the paddle for a shift while applying more throttle in "second," until the last torque reserves catch up and you finally feel like you have some acceleration on demand.

I know that the Sport fits a new paradigm of small-engine sport-crossover-wago-ute, and that its underwhelming locomotion probably helps Mitsubishi's fleet fuel economy average. Maybe they're saving the real power for the Pajero, a global favorite and an SUV we'd like to see in the States. Maybe the current O-Sport is simply marking time until Mitsu can deliver some kind of gas/electric Outlander. But from a company that traditionally does turbo well, it's disappointing not to have put some boost under the O-Sport. Purpose maybe, but no power.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

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