2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SEL First Test: Refreshed but Lacking


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Straight to the point: I don’t care much for the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport. It simply is outclassed by most of its rivals—and in a few months, Mitsubishi will have a better, similarly priced sibling on the same showroom floor. Although Mitsubishi has updated the Outlander Sport for the 2018 model year with new technology—the subcompact’s strongest point—the rest of this crossover has more clouds than silver linings.

Aesthetically, the Outlander Sport received an updated front grille, a new rear fascia and chrome garnish, and a new center console design and shift lever. New technology includes a standard 7.0-inch center touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and optional Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for smartphone connectivity. The 2018 Outlander Sport also now offers a new Touring package for the top SEL trim. It consists of new driver-assist features such as emergency automatic braking, lane departure warning, automatic high-beams, and niceties such as the panoramic glass roof (not a moonroof) and the Rockford Fosgate premium audio system.

It’s refreshing to see emergency automatic braking added to the Outlander Sport. Some automakers overlook this safety feature on some of their entry-level models (the Honda HR-V, Buick Encore, and Audi Q3, for instance). Fortunately, I never witnessed this feature in action, but in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests, the system avoided both a 12- and 25-mph frontal collision, earning the highest rating of Superior. The new lane departure warning system operated appropriately during my observations.

The resolution on the 7.0-inch touchscreen display is sharp but attracts a lot of glare. However, you might forgive that flaw because the infotainment system, equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, is quick and works well. If your smartphone has Siri, the system defaults to that for voice commands instead of the less accurate factory one. Unfortunately, when using Bluetooth calling or voice commands, the audio only comes from the front passenger-side speaker and at a low volume, hard to hear when driving sometimes. The nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system is welcomed and provides plenty of thump, but the big subwoofer reduces cargo space by about 1.6 cubic feet.

Another area where the Outlander Sport performed well was at the track, thanks in part to its 2.4-liter I-4, which produces adequate power, 168 hp and 167 lb-ft of torque. The Outlander Sport is quicker than rivals such as the Honda HR-V and Jeep Renegade in both 0–60 and quarter-mile times, and it brakes shorter from 60 mph, as well (118 feet). The good throttle response makes it feel quicker than the 8.5-second 0–60 mph suggests, but the crossover slows at speed, something associate road test editor Erick Ayapana noted. Braking distance and feel are good, but according to Ayapana, “The Outlander seemed to pull to the right under hard braking. Not sure if that’s specific to this tester or endemic of all Outlander Sports. Otherwise solid brake feel.” When put on our figure-eight handling course, the Outlander Sport was about even with the other two subcompacts, but road test editor Chris Walton didn’t have an easy time around the course. “This is one of those vehicles that wants to do only one thing at a time: Brake, corner, or accelerate, but never a combination of those three,” he said. Walton also noted slow and vague steering feel but was happy with the well-controlled body roll and quick-responding CVT.

A lot of what happened on the track translates to the street. The 2018 Outlander Sport has plenty of grunt off the line, but at highway speeds I found myself having to go wide-open throttle when merging or passing vehicles. Due to the nature of the CVT and not enough sound deadening, wide-open throttle is loud and harsh, adding a lot more NVH than most would want. Activating Sport mode through the shifter only makes things louder and harsher and doesn’t even improve acceleration time. If you hit a twisty stretch of road, expect the handling dynamics to be that of your average crossover, not that bad but not fun. Ride comfort is good considering the short wheelbase, but large road undulations really upset the small crossover. Braking feel and power is good.

Subcompacts aren’t known for their cargo and passenger room, and the Outlander Sport is no exception, offering 21.7 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats up and 49.5 cubic feet with the seats down. That’s less than the HR-V’s 23.2 and 57.6 cubic feet, respectively, and slightly less than the Renegade’s 50.8 cubic feet of maximum cargo space. Passenger volume is also less than the above rivals, up to 97.5 cubic feet in the Outlander Sport (95.6 with the glass roof) and up to 100.1 cubic feet for both the HR-V (higher trims have 96.1) and the Renegade (with the standard roof). The differences, though, are quite minimal—a subcompact is called a subcompact for a reason.

The Outlander Sport performs OK in crash test safety scores, earning a four-star overall safety rating out of five stars from the NHTSA. The Mitsubishi fared better in IIHS testing, receiving the highest rating of Good in four crash tests and the second-highest rating of Acceptable in the small-overlap front crash test. The HR-V received the highest five-star rating from the NHTSA and scored the same as the Outlander Sport in IIHS crash testing. The Jeep Renegade also had a four-star overall safety rating and scored the same results in IIHS crash testing, with the exception of the head restraints and seats test, which was not conducted. The Outlander Sport’s Superior rating for front crash prevention topped both rivals.

In the case of these subcompacts, fuel economy ratings have a correlation with power output. The most powerful of the three is the 180-hp Renegade, but the Jeep delivers the lowest EPA mpg rating, 21/29 mpg city/highway. The 168-hp Outlander Sport is rated at 23/28 mpg, and the least powerful 141-hp Honda HR-V has the best fuel economy rating of 27/31 mpg out of the three (comparing all-wheel-drive models). The total EPA driving range (when driving 45 percent highway, 55 percent city) is almost identical for the Outlander Sport and HR-V at 395 and 383 miles, respectively. The Renegade’s total driving range is significantly shorter at 305 miles, mostly due to the smaller gas tank.

Inside, the Outlander Sport loses a lot of points. At first glance it looks like your average crossover, but once you start poking and prodding the materials, trims, switches, and other components, you start to realize how cheap they feel and how aged they look. At about 6 feet tall, I had plenty of room, but I had a hard time finding a comfortable driving position (a first for me in a crossover); the steering wheel didn’t telescope out enough. The build quality—at least in our tester—was also subpar. A rattle from the steering wheel column cover sounded over every rough patch of road, and the driver’s seat had a slight rock to it, noticeable when adjusting yourself in the seat. More sound deadening is needed, as road, wind, and engine noise is quite loud. After hearing a constant clicking sound coming from the engine compartment, my wife asked me if something was wrong with the crossover. I told her not to worry—it was the sound of the A/C compressor working away.

Still, our loaded $29,110 SEL tester came well-equipped with premium features including power-folding and heated side-view mirrors, the panoramic glass roof that lights up, HID headlights, 18-inch two-tone alloy wheels, an eight-way adjustable driver’s seat, leather upholstery, heated front seats, the aforementioned 7.0-inch touchscreen display, automatic climate control, a quick entry system with a push-start ignition, and a soft-touch upper instrument panel, door trim, and center console knee padding. One of my favorite features is the selectable AWD system, which converts from front-wheel-drive to AWD and vice versa with the hit of a button on the center console. Outside, the Outlander Sport looks stylish and attractive for the segment, not trying too hard like others.

The Outlander Sport’s starting price of $21,235 puts it just above the HR-V’s ($20,645) and well above the Renegade’s starting price ($19,540). Our loaded tester still equals the price of its rivals when similarly equipped, making it difficult to recommend, especially when you consider that the crossover hasn’t changed much since its release in 2011. If you’re set on a Mitsubishi, consider waiting until March when the automaker’s all-new and similarly sized Eclipse Cross goes on sale. I have driven it, and it’s by far a superior vehicle.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SEL
BASE PRICE $26,835
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.4L/168-hp/167-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION Cont variable auto
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,375 lb (58/42%)
WHEELBASE 105.1 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 171.5 x 71.3 x 64.8 in
0-60 MPH 8.5 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.5 sec @ 84.6 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 118 ft
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.0 sec @ 0.59 g (avg)
REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB 23.0/32.0/26.4 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 153/125 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.81 lb/mile

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