2019 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport- Tying the Knot

It was irony, in an Alanis Morrissette sense, that my husband and I would have a Mitsubishi Outlander Sport during our anniversary weekend. We’ve been together for nine long blissful years and our relationship has endured as long as the Outlander Sport has been on sale. Coincidentally, when our relationship was fresh back in 2011, so was the Outlander Sport during the model’s first year on the market. And while we’ve both evolved in that near-decade, the same can’t be said for the little “Mitsu.” Aside from an occasional trim change throughout the years, the 2019 model you see in this photo is almost interchangeable with the original. The Outlander Sport is the grand-daddy of CUV’s and the subject of scrutiny from many car critics. But is it well past its prime, or gotten better with age?

As aforementioned, the Outlander Sport was introduced in 2011 to the U.S. and a year earlier in Japan as the Mitsubishi RVR (a local name revived from the original Expo/Nimbus of the 90’s). Mitsubishi was a trendsetter at the time, placing the “Sport” moniker on a smaller SUV to the regular Outlander. Nissan and Hyundai took note and later played the same marketing ploy with their respective Rogue and Santa Fe. The second-generation Outlander and Outlander Sport offshoot shared little aside from the same 105.1 wheelbase, despite the Sport being 13 inches shorter in length. It represented a time, shortly after the global financial crisis, that Mitsubishi committed to smaller, more affordable, and efficient models. That sets the tone for the Outlander Sport, which has aspired to find garages by offering good value and a low price of entry.

With this mission in mind, the Outlander Sport was not the pinnacle of quality even back in 2011, and it’s only fallen further behind as its competitors get more advanced. By 2019, it had only received three minor facelifts and a few multimedia upgrades to stay relevant. Otherwise, the overall package and even the powertrain remain unchanged. But that isn’t necessarily all bad news.

The styling, despite being passé, is attractive. The upright, pug-nosed snout with chrome chin accents is aggressive and harkens back to the now-defunct, legendary Lancer. The Sport came out before needless body creases and swoops became a trend and it’s still a good looking car. Your nosey neighbours will figure it’s not the newest design, but it doesn’t look dated either. Rounded, simple lines and an expansive greenhouse are uncommon today. German car fanatics will sharpen their pitchforks, but I’ll confess there’s a passing resemblance to the Audi Q5. The rear, for some strange reason, has always reminded me of an angry feline with its frowny taillights and clipped tail. One oddity is that the front fenders are plastic, ala Saturn or GM APV minivans, while the rest of the car is regular metal. They don’t rust and repel runaway grocery carts without damage. The rest of the car may be dented in later years, but the accident-prone 1/3 front of the car will still look new. The 2020 Sport did go through a refresh with a squarer-edged mug lifted from the Eclipse Sport. The new theme looks like the grafted afterthought that it is and doesn’t blend well with the Sport’s rounded shape. The 2019 looks more cohesive in my eyes.

Inside, the age of the design shines through. The basic shapes look fine, being minimalist and utilitarian. But the materials used are penny pinched with massive expanses of soulless, black plastic. There’s nothing inspiring and it’s as dreary as Gotham City to spend time in. Mitsubishi tried to liven the mood up with little sprinklings of fake chrome trim on the door panels, steering wheel and console. It’s not convincing. Around the centre air vents is an equally chintzy plastic trim haphazardly imitating carbon fiber. An extensive plethora of grey switch blanks just adds to the somberness and serve as a reminder that we settled on the base ES trim. The overall presentation is unimaginative, but doesn’t offend either and feels solidly constructed.

What’s here works flawlessly and without fuss. The traditional analog gauges are housed in deep binnacles. They are far from being high-tech, but are easy to decipher at a glance and the markings are in a racy italic font. The centre driving information display is an attractive LCD screen. It looked modern in 2011, simplistic today, and there’s no gimmicks. The tilt and telescoping steering wheel is shared with other Mitsubishi products and has the same straightforward radio and cruise control buttons that are easy to learn by touch.

The spartan nature results in easy to use controls for the radio and ventilation. The air conditioning is adjusted by three large, simple knobs. They are mounted too low in the dash without stealing concentration from the road, but are easy to decipher. The Sport does come with standard automatic climate control; a novelty at this price point. The radio interface is as uncomplicated as the rest of the car. Sorting through menus and adjusting the audio settings is a breeze and requires no learning curve. Physical knobs for tuning and volume and buttons for primary functions is smart and something other car makers could learn from. The screen is quick to respond to commands and has no lag. The graphics won’t wow anyone, but it does the job. Setting up Bluetooth was a cinch. There was one annoying glitch as the radio would need to be turned off and back on to have Bluetooth streaming. Overall, the audio system, like the car, wasn’t state-of-the-art, but did the job competently.

All of the other basics are here and checked-off. There’s a decently sized console that doubles as a non-adjustable armrest perfectly positioned between the front seats. The glove box and door storage bins are also generous. All of the controls worked as they should and are where they would be expected. Overall, the interior is the perfect example of Japanese uniformity. However, there were a few cheesy details that served as a reminder of Mitsubishi’s frugalness. The door window switches were not backlit at night. Despite our Sport not having foglights, the headlight stalk still had a switch to activate a set of imaginary beams. Apparently, it was too much trouble to design two different stalks. The headlights themselves were not automatic. The glove box is not damped and drops with a “twack!” on the passenger’s knees. The A/C button, driver info switch, and radio each emitted annoying beeps when pressed (although the radio’s could be turned off, the others couldn’t) that earned the car the name “Mitsubeepi”. These aren’t serious crimes, but are little midemeanours that add up and remind you that you didn’t buy a Lexus.

Interior space is an Outlander Sport strong suit, especially considering its tidy 171.9 inch length. In size, the Sport is a “tweener”; larger than the Hyundai Kona, Mazda CX-3, or Kia Soul that are competitive in price, but smaller than the benchmarks in this class like the Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V. The front seats offer plenty of headroom and legroom. There’s enough space in the footwheels for folks over 6 foot tall to completely stretch out. Both front seats are adequately shaped and proved to be comfortable on long drives, although the flat seat bottoms felt hard, causing numbness in the bum after a few hours. The sporting side bolstering and red stitching on the seats added some desperately-needed flair. The driver seat has height adjustment, but the Sport already had an almost-trucklike commanding view of the road and finding a comfortable driving position wasn’t difficult. Thanks to an abundant glass area, thin roof pillars, and large side mirrors, visibility is excellent all-around.

The back seat wasn’t a terrible place either. Firstly, the seatback is upright and there is no adjustment to recline; a common feature on many of the Sport’s competitors. With that out of the way, the bench seat is capable of comfortably carrying two adults and three in a pinch. Leg room is average for this class with 37.9 inches and knees do clear the front seatbacks. Headroom was surprisingly good. The sloping roof hinted that it’d rob precious space, but Mitsubishi was able to sculpt the headliner to clear even the tallest noggins. As expected, there’s no frills aside from an armrest with cupholders and one seatback pocket.

Compared to its competitors, the Sport’s cargo room isn’t impressive in numbers. With the seats up, there’s 21.7 cu feet of room that expands to 49.5 cubes when folded. That stacks up well to the Kona or CX3, but falls significantly short of the best selling, larger CUV’s. But the space here is used intelligently and the Sport is practical. The trunk has a usable, square shape, and the seats do fold 60/40 easily to be completely flush with the load floor. There’s two side bins squeezed in-between the wheelwells and liftgate to prevent small items from rolling around. The hatch opens wide and has a low liftover. Beneath of the floor is a temporary spare tyre.

Powering the Sport since its 2011 intro has been the same 2.0 litre four-cylinder engine that’s offered on all five trims except the GT. That version gets a 2.4 litre with 20 more horsepower. Speaking of power, the 2.0 churns out 148 horsepower, which is modest in this class. It’s a relatively simple setup that doesn’t rely on turbo-charging and is an all-aluminum unit with 16 valves. The engine itself feels eager and likes to rev. When the Outlander Sport was introduced nine years ago, there were ongoing complaints about engine noise and Mitsubishi has tweaked the formula little-by-little by adding more sound insulation. Today, the 2.0 litre is well-hushed in the cabin and only emits a raspy growl under hard acceleration. Full throttle starts reflected the engine’s peppiness, but 0-60 times were disappointing for a car with a “Sport” badge on the back and weighs a few hundred pounds less than its competitors (3,109 lbs.). Several acceleration runs recorded an average of 10 seconds to get to 60mph. Hills and passing weren’t too big of an issue, regardless of the numbers.

The biggest culprit is the CVT automatic transmission. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, a rarity in this class, but has since been ousted on the 2020 model. If you can find one, get it! The automatic is single-handily the Sport’s biggest downfall. Under normal driving conditions and around town, it’s transparent and does a decent job of mimicking a traditional automatic with artificial gears. But on freeway onramps, it holds the same rev range, creating a tiresome drone and not letting the Sport live up to its true potential.

Once up to cruising speed, the Sport is pleasant. Wind, road, and engine noise is subdued and the CUV tracks fine down the highway. The suspension is a traditional setup with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link arrangement in the back, along with stabilizer bars on both axles. The ride is on the stiff side, in the European sense, and road imperfections make their presence known. On rough pavement, the Sport can get jittery. Although the Sport is unibody, there is a truckish body-on-frame feel and it doesn’t pamper its passengers.

The upside to this is surprisingly capable handling. The Sport will never be confused as a performance car, yet goes around corners better than expected for a tall, upright crossover. The electric power steering is communicative and nicely weighted. Grip around corners is predictable and the Sport does cling to the pavement on tight bends. With that rigid suspension, there is no body roll. Ultimately, the Sport doesn’t beg to be driven hard, but doesn’t complain either. That can be counted as a success and it was fun to toss around on the back roads of Marin County. All-wheel drive is available on all trims, but ours was the standard front wheel drive.

The EPA rates the Outlander Sport at 24 mpg in the city and 30mpg on the highway. We eeked above those numbers, getting up to 33mpg on a straight, lonely stretch of interstate for a few hundred miles, and averaged 29mpg in a mixture of highway, city, and mountain driving. These numbers are respectable for this class, but we expected more given the Sport’s lightweight and CVT.

Our Mitsubishi had 23k miles when we took possession of it. Aside from the aforementioned Bluetooth audio glitch, nothing else was wrong with the car. Sure, it’s built to a price point, but nothing squeaked, rattled, failed, or broke off. Quality control for the Japanese-built Outlander Sport (formerly assembled in Illinois before 2015) appears to be to a high standard.

Prices for the Outlander Sport start at $20,945 for an ES model with a five-speed manual transmission. The ES comes sufficiently equipped with 18-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, remote locking and unlocking, cruise control, automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, a driver information display, 60/40-split folding rear seatbacks, Bluetooth, a 7-inch touchscreen display, a rearview camera, and a four-speaker audio system with a USB port. Our ES model’s only option was the automatic transmission that tacks on $1,200 to the price. Once the destination charge was added, our Mercury gray Sport totaled $23,240. That places it on the smackdab in the pricing scale of smaller, more refined crossovers like the Kona or CX-3, but several thousand less than the slightly larger Tucson, CR-V, or RAV4. The theory is that you do get more for less with the Mitsu.

Depending on how you look at it, that’s either the downfall or the appeal to the Outlander Sport. It’s not perfect. I know that. You know that. Even Mitsubishi knows that. But they’ve been tweaking at it slowly but surely ever since my husband and I first met. Throughout it all, the Outlander Sport has always been there. Today, it’s a completely competent small CUV that fulfills the basic needs of buyers in this market but excels at nothing. Some flavours are a little off, but there’s true value here. Those wanting the newest design or latest technology will need to move along. But for consumers seeking a comfortable, attractive, and capable compact crossover with no fuss, there are a lot worse alternatives to say “I do” to. A solid 3.0/5.0 boomerangs.

Clean, simple lines have helped the Outlander Sport age gracefully.
Does anyone else see the similarity to Grumpy Cat?
Sharing the same wheelbase as the larger Outlander resulted in short overhangs
The family resemblance to the Lancer is most apparent from the front.
The Outlander Sport gained a chrome chin beneath the grille in the last restyle
The Outlander Sport is at home in the urban jungle with its tidy dimensions
But Mitsubishi would rather you picture it in this woodsy environment
The 18” alloy wheels are standard and look fantastic
There is just enough ground clearance to do some light offroading. But the Sport is no trailblazer
Mitsubishi was adding Sport to its models before it was cool (remember the Montero Sport?)
Cold, hard plastics and unlit window controls define the door panels
The console is utilitarian, but it has efficient packaging
Visibility out the back is excellent
With the rear seat folded, it’s a usable space for large objects
Obviously designed by a Millennial, the Sport bids farewell after every drive
The radio may not be the most modern, but has a beautiful intro screen
Configuring the radio is easy with large buttons and fonts
As dark as Gotham City, the interior does the job
The rear seat is commodious for this class, but the seat back is too upright for some

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