The rules of being fashionably late to a party are undefined but absolute. There's no question at this point that Mitsubishi is late to the compact crossover party. It's had the three-row Outlander for the correct amount of time, but the Outlander has never been a mainstream contender in the market segment. And so with the introduction of the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Mitsubishi has to crash this party right.
There are two parts to being late and still making the right kind of entrance. First, you've got to look the part. And with an Evo-style trapezoidal grille, sport bodywork and an aircraft-style fuel door, there's something definitely cool here. Second, you've got to be interesting enough to carry the momentum from the front door through the rest of the night. And that's where we come in. The smaller, cheaper and slightly cooler 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is late to the party and we've got 12 months and 20,000 miles with the new compact crossover to see if it can hang with the established partygoers.
What We Got
Like every Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, our new 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC is equipped with a 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. In the ES, the lowest trim level which retails for $18,495, the power gets routed to the ground via either a continuously variable transmission (CVT) or an enthusiast-friendly five-speed manual and only through the front wheels in both cases. In our fancy AWD (AWC, but we'll get there) SE model, the only available transmission is a CVT with magnesium shift paddles. This reduces the fuel economy to 29 mpg highway from the 31 mpg highway offered by the five-speed.
At the ES end of the spectrum, the Outlander Sport comes acceptably equipped with seven airbags, Mitsubishi's Fuse hands-free communication system with Bluetooth streaming audio and USB input and the same mechanics we see throughout the line. Up the ante to the SE 2WD and you shell out $21,695 but end up with FAST-key passive entry and one-touch start/stop, 18-inch wheels and auto on/off HID headlights. The final step in the Outlander Sport family is the SE AWC (there it is again), which adds heated front seats, an available (and giant) transparent panorama roof and Mitsubishi's All Wheel Control all-wheel-drive system.
The AWC system is Mitsubishi's driver-adjustable electronically controlled four-wheel-drive system. Spin the console-mounted knob to 2WD mode and the Outlander Sport is set for best fuel economy and easiest driving. Twist the knob to 4WD and you get all-wheel drive with limited power sent to the rear wheels. Flick it one notch over and you're in LOCK and there you get as much as 60 percent of power sent to the rear wheels. (This setting is for fun.)
But that's all standard stuff. When our 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport showed up it had some $6,000 in extras. The Premium package was $1,800 and came with the panoramic glass roof, black roof rails, a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate stereo and Sirius Satellite Radio. The navigation system and rearview camera package is $2,000 and comes with navigation, a rearview camera and an aux video input. Finally there are the Cargo package and the wheel locks for $185 and $55, respectively.
All said and done, this 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC stickers for $28,810. We didn't pay that, however, since Mitsubishi provided the vehicle for the purpose of this test.
Why We Got It
The Mitsubishi Outlander has always been a staff favorite. Sure, the third row is a bit of a disaster, but it's there if you need it. But the real secret of the Outlander is (especially with the AWC turned to LOCK and taking full advantage of the magnesium paddle shifters) that you can really drive it. In fact, the Outlander makes us think that Mitsubishi might even know what it's doing with sporty, all-wheel-drive vehicles. (Shock.)
But the Outlander Sport is a different beast. It doesn't have the V6 power of the Outlander GT V6 in the long-term test fleet. But can a smaller, lighter package make up for that?
20,000 Miles To Go
In our full test of a front-wheel-drive 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport ES, we wrote, "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?"
And the short answer is "Everything." We've already noted that Mitsubishi's late to the party, so it's tried to make up for lost time by equipping the Outlander Sport with virtually everything a driver could want in a small crossover, including an electronically activated all-wheel-drive system. But can this new Mitsubishi hang in the quality and reliability departments? Is the small 2.0-liter four-cylinder hooked to a CVT going to be enough power for reasonable driving? When the Mitsubishi product planners shrunk the Outlander, did they shrink its fun, too?
Stick around for our Long-Term Road Test blog, where we'll put 20,000 miles on our new 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport over the course of 12 months. We'll see if showing up late was better than not showing up at all.
Current Odometer: 1,679
Best Fuel Economy: 26.8 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 18.6 mpg
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 22.1 mpg
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.