2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4L AWD
In some ways, the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport reminded us of the Wagon Queen Family Truckster of National Lampoon’s Vacation fame. With tacked-on fender vents and a creaky driver’s seat that rocked fore and aft with each prod of the throttle and stab of the brake pedal, it seemed a parody of a contemporary crossover vehicle.
The smallest SUV in Mitsubishi’s lineup, the Outlander Sport is also the brand’s oldest offering. Introduced as a 2011 model, the aging Outlander Sport has managed to maintain some relevance thanks to updates for 2013 and 2016, and now the model welcomes a handful of exterior and interior enhancements for 2018.
Changes outside include an updated grille and a lightly revised fascia, along with tweaks to the rear styling. Inside, the 2018 Outlander Sport receives an improved center-console design and a new shift lever. Most models also see the addition of a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, while the USB port moves from the center console to the base of the center stack.
Mechanically, though, the Outlander Sport is largely familiar. Lower-level ES and LE models make do with a wheezy 148-hp 2.0-liter inline-four that mates to a five-speed manual (in the ES only) or a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Higher-end SE and SEL trims come equipped with a 168-hp 2.4-liter inline-four that pairs exclusively with the brand’s latest CVT. Front-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel drive is a $1500 option on CVT-equipped models.
Bigger Is Much Better
Compared with a 2.0-liter, all-wheel-drive Outlander Sport LE we tested last year, the 2.4-liter engine in this all-wheel-drive Outlander Sport SEL was a revelation. Whereas the smaller four-cylinder needed 9.5 seconds to reach 60 mph and 17.5 seconds to get through the quarter-mile at 82 mph, this 2.4-liter Outlander Sport hit 60 mph in 7.9 seconds and completed the quarter-mile in 16.2 at 87 mph. Those figures put the Mitsubishi near the top of the subcompact-crossover class.
Despite what the stopwatch says, however, the 2.4-liter Outlander Sport doesn’t feel particularly quick from behind the wheel. Blame the uncouth CVT that sends the engine zooming toward its 6000-rpm power peak and holds it there. It’s an unnerving sensation that fills the cabin with 75 decibels of engine groan at wide-open throttle. This transmission doesn’t offer manual control nor does it mimic the sensation of shifts to mitigate the engine’s monotonous drone like in a Subaru.
Still, the new CVT contributes a modest gain to fuel economy, with EPA estimates of 23 mpg city and 28 mpg highway—1 mpg better in both measures than last year’s all-wheel-drive 2.4-liter model. (Front-wheel-drive 2.4s are rated at 23/29; the city figure is unchanged, but the highway number is up 1 mpg from last year.) We observed 23 mpg overall and 26 mpg on our 75-mph real-world highway fuel-economy test—a figure matched by a quicker, heavier, and much larger Mazda CX-9 with all-wheel drive. In fact, this Outlander Sport was among the least efficient subcompact crossovers we’ve put through our highway fuel-economy loop, with only a knobby-tired Jeep Renegade Deserthawk delivering an equally lackluster performance.
Land of “Meh”
A thirst for 87 octane isn’t the only reason to avoid taking the Outlander Sport on long road trips; the interior, for example, suffers from middling build quality and iffy ergonomics. Although the Outlander Sport’s materials are soft to the touch and are of a generally high grade, they were offset by issues such as the aforementioned rocking driver’s seat and a shift lever that clomps through its detents with little to no refinement.
Meanwhile, the new 7.0-inch infotainment system’s crowded field of small onscreen buttons make it difficult to use while driving. Fortunately, 2.4-liter Outlander Sport models come standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, both of which offer more logical multimedia interfaces than Mitsubishi’s clunky setup.
The Outlander Sport’s comparatively long 105.1-inch wheelbase and soft springs provide impressive composure over pockmarked pavement. However, the relatively long span between the wheels fails to translate into greater interior space. The Outlander Sport is no roomier than the typical subcompact crossover, and both the Honda HR-V and the Kia Soul offer more rear-seat room and cargo space than the Mitsubishi.
With a base price of $23,990, the 2.4-liter-equipped Outlander Sport SE wears a sticker price $2600 greater than the entry-level 2.0-liter ES. Along with the larger engine and a standard CVT (a $1200 option on the ES), the SE also includes niceties such as fog lights, LED daytime running lights, heated front seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. On top of this, the SE adds features not available on any 2.0-liter model, including a proximity key with push-button start, a second USB port, and illuminated vanity mirrors.
Our test car was a top-of-the-line, $26,990 Outlander Sport SEL AWD. Spending the extra coin on the SEL trim nets features such as power-folding side mirrors, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a power driver’s seat, and leather upholstery. It’s also the only trim available with active-safety features such as automated emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and automatic high-beam headlights. Mitsubishi bundles these items into the $2000 Touring package, which also includes a fixed panoramic glass roof that lessens headroom slightly and a premium audio system with a subwoofer that takes up nearly two cubic feet of cargo space.