2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SEPosted on March 18th, 2011
Mitsubishi adds a five-passenger version of its popular crossover
By Nina RussinThe Mitsubishi Outlander evolved from a small crossover to a much larger one seating seven passengers. The original Outlander, introduced in 2003, was a modest-sized Japan market car which designers restyled the States.
Three years later the automaker rolled out a new version with a larger, more powerful engine and aggressive styling. Mitsubishi diversified the line-up with a sporty Ralliart version and an upscale GT.
This year, the automaker adds the Outlander Sport: a smaller five-passenger car with available all-wheel drive. Power comes from a two-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 148 horsepower and a choice of five-speed manual or continuously variable automatic transmission. The Outlander Sport comes in two grades: base ES or upscale SE.
This week I drove the all-wheel drive SE grade on a 300-mile road trip between Phoenix and Sedona, Arizona. I wanted to see how well the four-cylinder engine would handle the 3000-foot elevation increase on the route up north. Windy weather on the trip down the hill was a challenge for the all-wheel drive and steering systems, since the Outlander is a high-profile car.
Base price for the test car is $22,995, not including the $780 delivery charge. A panoramic sunroof, roof rails and an audio upgrade which includes satellite radio add $1800, bringing the price as tested to $25,575.
Big climb for a small engineWhile the MIVEC engine has ample power for the mid-sized Mitsubishi Lancer, the Outlander’s two-box architecture and 100 pounds of additional curb weight pushes the four-cylinder to the limits of its performance. I didn’t have a problem keeping up with traffic on the climb to Sedona, but the engine revved very high: in the 3000-4000 rpm range during most of the drive.
Small engines are designed to rev high, so I wouldn’t have concerns about mechanical problems as an owner. But fuel economy was extremely poor: about 17 miles-per-gallon. EPA estimates for the car are 24 miles-per-gallon in the city and 29 on the highway. On the downhill trip home, fuel economy increased, for an average of 26 mpg on the round trip.
The continuously variable transmission has the advantage of eliminating some shift shock on challenging roads. The driver has the option of manually choosing gears using either the gear shift lever or paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
An electric power steering system replaces a traditional hydraulic setup: it’s lighter and saves space under the hood. Steering feedback is adequate for weaving through traffic and making the occasional evasive maneuver. But the Outlander lacks the razor crisp response of the Mitsubishi Lancer.
Gusty winds on the trip back home pushed the car around on exposed hilltops. This was a case in which all-wheel drive made a critical difference, despite the dry road conditions. When the wind upset the car’s weight balance, engine power automatically shifted to the wheels with the best traction.
Visibility around the exterior is quite good. I had no problems seeing out the rear glass when driving in reverse, or monitoring traffic in adjacent lanes. Merging into dense traffic off the entrance ramp was a non-issue.
The four-wheel independent suspension offers up a firm but pleasant ride for all passengers. Four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking stop the Outlander in a firm, linear fashion.
Engineers did an excellent job of isolating passengers from engine, wind and road noise. Sound deadening material on the floor, on top of the cowl and in the headliner makes it easy for all passengers to enjoy the premium audio system. I had no problems conversing on the highway with a passenger seated in the second row.
Spacious InteriorThe iron-clad test for legroom in the back of a car is to put a six-foot tall man in the second-row seat. The fact that this gentleman had four inches of room to spare is a testament to just how roomy the Outlander interior is.
Standard cloth upholstery is attractive and more practical than leather for active adults who get dirty on the trails. Seats are on the firm side, but I found them comfortable for two drives of over two hours. The manual seat adjustments are easy to use. Lumbar support, on the driver’s seat at least, is ample.
The optional panoramic sunroof brings a welcome dose of ambient light inside the car, brightening up the dark interior.
Redundant audio and cruise control switches on the steering wheel minimize driver distraction. Both the gauge cluster and center stack screen are easy to read in bright sunlight. A digital display in the center stack shows average fuel economy, driving range, trip and odometer settings and ambient temperature.
The optional Rockford-Fosgate audio system makes longer trips more fun, with excellent sound quality throughout the car. Satellite radio is a great add-on for those who travel to remote areas without a lot of standard radio options. The premium audio system is also MP3 compatible.
With second-row seats in place, we had plenty of room for luggage and groceries for three persons. Folding the seats flat makes the Outlander Sport bicycle friendly. The optional roof rails make it easy to add a cargo or bike carrier up top.
The Outlander Sport comes with standard front, side, side curtain and a driver’s knee airbag, antilock brakes and electronic stability control. A hill-start assist feature keeps the vehicle from sliding backwards when the driver accelerates from a stop on a steep grade.
The five-passenger Outlander Sport is rolling into Mitsubishi dealerships nationwide.
Likes: A spacious five-passenger crossover with excellent rear head and legroom and a large, versatile cargo area.
Dislike: Lack of engine power, most noticeable on steep grades.
Model: Outlander Sport SE AWC
Base price: $22,995
As tested: $25,575
Horsepower: 148 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 143 lbs.-ft. @ 4300 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Fuel economy: 24/29 mpg city/highway
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