Maybe 'Sport' Means Something Different in Japanese
Positive affirmations are part of our daily routine. "I think I can. I think I can," we chant, throwing one leg after another out of bed as the alarm goes off. "Nothing can stop me now!" we reassure ourselves as the morning commute slogs to a standstill on what should be an open freeway. And then there's the final, "I'm good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!" we recite, with a wink, into the mirror-finish elevator doors that lead to the Inside Line office.
But the trick with affirmations is that, without at least a chance of being true or of coming to pass, an affirmation is but a prayer whispered into the wind. Whispering fiercest of all is Mitsubishi and the so-called "Sport" variant of its Outlander crossover. The 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is an Outlander stripped of its third row, its V6 engine and most of its front and rear overhang. This Mitsubishi did in an effort to compete directly with the big-volume compact crossovers of the world. Fine. But Mitsubishi also stripped the Sport of essentially everything that could support Mitsubishi's mantra of Sport.
Small = Sport?
The 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is built on basically the same platform as the familiar three-row Outlander. It rides on the same 105.1-inch wheelbase as its non-Sport big brother. Whip out the measuring tape, though, and you'll find the Outlander Sport is 14.6 inches shorter in length. Hence no third row. Hence shorter overhangs. Hence tighter turning circle. Hence Sport! Wait, that logic leap doesn't work.
While the Outlander Sport retains the "signature shark-nose" appearance Mitsubishi is looking to be known for, its rhinoplasty and butt-sculpting are more than cosmetic. The new nose is plastic instead of metal, which cuts weight. Our test car, full of fuel and oil and with a five-speed manual transmission, weighs only 3,009 pounds. That's 836 pounds lighter than a 2010 Outlander GT. Hell, it's 88 pounds lighter than a 2010 Volkswagen GTI.
Other than weight, a new nose gave those rascally CFD (computerized fluid dynamics) engineers a chance to show their power over the infuriating resistance of air as square things try to rip through it. Math and men got together and devised a shape that's not only aggressive and distinctly Mitsubishi, but also yields an impressive 0.32 coefficient of drag. Perspective: The 2010 Chevy Camaro SS and 2011 Subaru WRX STI eke out 0.35. And they're cars, not crossovers.
Low drag and low weight combine on this entry-level front-wheel-drive ES model with a small motor for an EPA estimate (the vehicle has not been fully evaluated by the EPA as of this writing) of 31 mpg highway. They should also lead to a sportier Outlander Sport...wait, "small engine?" Forget it.
Slow = Sport?
Thirty-one highway miles per gallon from a crossover, even a dinky one, isn't easy. Mitsubishi got the weight down. It even got the aero right. The third leg of the fuel-economy stool, then, is the powertrain. The 2.0-liter, 148-horsepower inline-4 looks lonely and a bit sad in an engine bay large enough to hold a beefy 3.0-liter 230-hp V6. And, unfortunately, the disappointment doesn't stop with the visual inspection.
On the open road this motor, the result of a joint engineering venture involving Mitsubishi, Hyundai and Chrysler, is underwhelming. Merging and passing require deliberate forethought and a downshift or two. This isn't necessarily as bad a thing as it might seem since the five-speed manual — a continuously variable transmission (CVT) is standard but let's just say that won't make this Sport any sportier — has a light, rewarding action and the motor is Jergens smooth. The sound it makes is uninspiring, but there's not a hint of vibration or resistance in this motor. The engine sounds the same at 2,000 rpm as it does at 3,000 rpm or at its 6,500-rpm redline. Only the volume increases.
Let the volume increase under the supervision of a trained test-driver with a few thousand feet of open pavement ahead of him and a VBOX III collecting the inputs, and the 2011 Outlander Sport ES chugs to 60 in 8.8 seconds (8.5 with 1 foot of rollout like a drag strip) and crosses the quarter-mile almost exactly 8 seconds after that, turning in a 16.6 @ 83.9 mph. The Sport squats slightly under acceleration, but the experience doesn't exactly exert much force on the driver, making it feel slower than it actually is.
Start to work on the turning and stopping portions of our test regimen and things get even less sporty. Essentially, any test here that requires use of the 215/70 R16 Yokohama Geolander all-season tires is a challenge for the Outlander Sport. These tires are to sporty what a gallon of mayonnaise is to sexy. The Outlander Sport circles the skid pad grip with 0.74g of outright grip and meanders through our slalom at 59 mph. We're not saying that a sportier set of tires would make the Outlander Sport an Evo, as there's still plenty of body roll, but surely it would bump those numbers above those achieved by a commercial van.
Different tires would surely shorten the Outlander Sport's miserable 141-foot stopping distance, too. Most small crossover utes can stop 20 feet shorter. That could be the difference between some minor heart palpitations after an emergency stop and the comprehensive rearrangement of that pretty "signature shark nose." The significant brake dive and extended stopping distances had us rethinking our daily braking points.
All of the body roll and dive during instrumented testing looks bad, but in the real world, the Outlander Sport and its miles of squishy suspension bounds and careers down bumpy roads like an old Cadillac. It's not sophisticated or well controlled, but it's not harsh and it's not loud. Not exactly our preferred variety of "sport," then.
Quiet, Comfortable and Functional > Sport
We have to praise Mitsubishi here for not following the trend of alphanumeric vehicle naming convention. It's a Lancer Evolution, not a LE4B T AWD. The 2011 Outlander Sport may be an exception; we'd tolerate 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander QCF — quiet, comfortable and functional.
With 21.7 cubic feet of storage space, the Outlander Sport isn't going to replace your storage shed. In fact, it trails the Honda CR-V's 35.7 cubes and even the Nissan Rogue beats it with 28.9. But it's enough to get four people and their gear to the beach without anyone having a cooler on their lap. The rear seats fold almost flat to allow significantly more stuff, but significantly fewer people.
This 2011 Outlander Sport lacks space and power, but has something the rest of the Mitsubishi lineup doesn't: a telescoping steering wheel. That's right; connected to the surprisingly good electronic power steering (for fuel economy, not sport) is Mitsubishi's first telescoping wheel. If you're over 6 feet tall and have been in a Mitsubishi before, you'll understand the significance of being able to touch the wheel and the pedals at the same time.
It also hits the mark when it comes to options. Not only does it come with the standard power windows, remote entry, leather-wrapped wheel and the Band-aid lipstick-on-a-pig soft-touch materials on the otherwise plasticky dash, but all Outlander Sports come with Mitsubishi's FUSE hands-free system with USB input. This is Mitsubishi's answer to Ford's Sync, and offers voice control of USB items (likely, an iPod) as well as Bluetooth telephone and streaming audio. Such features are no longer a revelation, but having this standard on an $18,495 crossover that manages 31 mpg highway is no doubt a selling point. Big spenders get even more. Those willing to part with $21,695 for an Outlander Sport SE get halogen lights, keyless start/entry and automatic climate control standard. The all-wheel-drive system costs an additional $1,300.
So the 2011 Outlander Sport isn't great at either of the things its name implies. It's cheap, though. And big enough for gear, small enough to park, easy on gas and comes with an iPod adapter standard.
What more do kids want from a car these days, anyway?
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.