Mitsubishi's Outlander Sport is only four years old, but it feels older. Its comfort, interior space, cargo capacity and performance fall well short of the mark set by most of its competitors. It scores points for admirable fuel economy and a generous warranty, but these aren't enough to overcome the numerous drawbacks.
What Is It?
The 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is a five-passenger compact SUV that shares its underpinnings with the larger Outlander SUV and Lancer sedan. Prices start at $20,420 for the base model ES trim with a manual transmission. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is available for an additional $1,200.
Our SE trim tester is only available with the CVT and starts at $23,620. For the additional cost, you get xenon headlights, keyless ignition/entry, heated front seats, a rearview camera and a 6-inch touchscreen interface.
Added to our Outlander Sport SE was the optional Touring package, which includes a panoramic sunroof, navigation system, leather upholstery, premium audio and a power driver seat. In this configuration, the as-tested price rose to $28,545. All-wheel drive is also available on all trim levels for another $1,400.
How Does It Drive?
The only engine offered in the Outlander Sport is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. In Edmunds testing, 9.2 seconds (8.9 seconds with 1 foot of rollout, like on a drag strip) were required to reach 60 mph, which is on the slow side for the class. More significantly, it feels even slower than it is as the CVT reacts sluggishly and makes poor use of the available power.
When accelerating from a stop, the Outlander Sport starts with an immediate burst, but that fades rapidly. It takes a very light touch on the pedal to avoid a clumsy lurch forward and in stop-and-go traffic it quickly becomes tiresome. Merging on the highway requires flooring the pedal and you'll need a large gap between cars to keep from obstructing the flow of traffic.
Coming to a stop isn't much better as the soft brake pedal does little to instill confidence. In panic brake tests, the Sport came to a halt from 60 mph in 119 feet, which is about average among compact SUVs. More concerning was an occasional and unnerving side-to-side shimmy and the tendency for road imperfections to lengthen this distance by another 10 feet.
Broken pavement really becomes an issue on the open road, though. Rather than absorbing ruts and cracks, the Outlander Sport rattles over them like a shopping cart. In these conditions, it feels as though the tires momentarily lose contact with the road. Larger bumps are met with more compliance but the result is lingering body movement or "float." Encountering road irregularities while cornering further spotlights this shortcoming as the car reacts with an unsettling and stiff shudder that is felt and heard in the cabin.
Compounding matters is the vague steering. There's little steering effort, minimal feedback reaching the driver and a noticeable dead spot on center. This, in combination with the other deficiencies, makes the Outlander Sport anything but sporty.
Is It Comfortable on the Road?
The Outlander Sport feels like it's intended for smaller drivers. The average 5-foot-10-inch adult will immediately notice that the lack of telescoping steering wheel travel demands they sit closer than they'd prefer.
Seat cushioning is adequate, but all of the aforementioned road imperfections are still noticeable. Rear seats are similarly small, with short cushions mounted low to the floor. There's also a distinct lack of headroom for 6-footers.
Even for those who fit, comfort is further compromised by cabin noise. The engine drones loudly when accelerating, but quiets down once highway speeds are reached. That drone, however, is replaced by intrusive wind noise. The lack of padding for elbow touch points is yet another source of irritation.
How Refined Is the Interior?
Unlike the aggressive exterior styling that echoes the aging Lancer, the interior lacks any visual interest. The controls are laid out clearly, but none of them look like they are part of an overall theme. And even with the optional leather upholstery, materials quality falls well short of the competition.
Included in the $4,900 Touring package is a larger 7-inch touchscreen, a navigation system and premium Rockford Fosgate audio. Unfortunately, operating these systems is both inconvenient and aggravating. Physical and on-screen buttons are small and with the display mounted low in the center stack, even simple operations require taking your eyes off the road. More advanced functions like voice activation, Internet streaming radio and restaurant reviews and reservations — all of which are available on competitors — are not offered.
One of the most significant gripes we had with the system is the amount of time it took to connect to iPhone media via the USB port. Upon startup, it took an average of four minutes to begin playing music and even then, the connection was unreliable. Even worse, it required this extended wait every time you get in the car. We eventually gave up and opted for the Bluetooth streaming audio instead.
Only 21.7 cubic feet of cargo space is available behind the rear seats. That's between 20 and 40 percent less than the Outlander Sport's primary competitors. With the seats folded flat, the capacity grows to 54.6 cubic feet, which is also significantly less than rivals. Up front, storage space for personal items is merely adequate.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Can You Expect?
If there's a bright spot to the Outlander Sport, it's fuel efficiency. The EPA estimates it'll achieve 28 mpg combined (25 city/32 highway), which is better than most competitors.
More importantly, we managed to not only confirm these estimates, we exceeded one of them. In its time with us, the Outlander averaged 24.6 mpg, but on a highway-heavy evaluation drive over 100-plus miles it produced 36.8 mpg.
What Safety Features Are Available?
In addition to the typical items found in all new vehicles like stability control and antilock brakes, the 2015 Outlander Sport also adds a driver's knee airbag. A rearview camera is standard on the SE trim, but not offered on the ES. Front and rear parking sensors are an option on both models. Noticeably absent are features like a blind-spot warning system, frontal collision alerts, emergency telematics and rear cross-traffic alerts, which are offered by most competitors.
The federal government gave the Outlander Sport four out of five stars in its overall crash test rating. It received four out of five stars in frontal and rollover protection and five stars for side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded it its top score of "Good" in moderate overlap, side impact, roof strength, head restraints and seat tests. In the demanding frontal small overlap crash test, the Sport received the second-best score of "Acceptable," which is better than most competitors.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
The Mazda CX-5 earned the only Edmunds "A" rating in the segment for its engaging driving dynamics, high fuel economy and roomy, comfortable interior. It's well built and generally feels like it's more expensive than other crossovers. Even without the upgraded 2.5-liter engine, it remains competitive with the Mitsubishi in terms of feature content and price.
The Ford Escape offers a similar list of standard and optional features at a price that remains competitive with the Outlander Sport. The Escape gains an advantage for its better driving dynamics, higher-quality cabin and abundance of trim and engine options.
The Kia Sportage delivers a wealth of standard features, sporty handling and a powerful engine option. The ride quality is on the firm side and the rear seats and cargo area are smaller than the Ford or Mazda but still larger than the Outlander Sport.
Why Should You Consider This SUV?
The 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport has an advantage over most competitors when it comes to fuel economy and its 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty coverage. If you log many highway miles, it's about as efficient as small SUVs get.
Why Should You Think Twice About This SUV?
Compared to most other compact SUVs, the Outlander Sport comes up short in terms of refinement, overall comfort and utility.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.