October 25, 2014

2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC: Less panache, but a solid SUV

The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport.

The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport.The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport.More than once, we raved about the over-achieving Mitsubishi Outlander, a fun yet functional compact SUV that compares favorably with the big two from Japan — Honda’s CR-V and the Toyota RAV-4 — as well as up-and-coming Korean models like the Kia Sportage. Now comes the Outlander Sport, a condensed version of the Outlander that will be built in Normal, Ill., beginning this summer.

In most respects, not just size, the Outlander Sport falls short of the Outlander’s high standards. It’s less roomy and has much less cargo capacity. It also lacks the Outlander’s array of engine choices. The only available power plant is the 148-horsepower inline Four that’s used in the base Lancer, a compact sedan.

On the plus side, the Sport looks just as good as the Outlander and is priced nearly $3,600 lower. And, while it lacks the panache of the Outlander, it’s smooth-riding and fuel-efficient, and it handles competently. Our all-wheel-drive 2012 Sport SE delivered 26 to 27 mpg on the highway.

The Sport, wearing an eye-catching Laguna Blue coat of paint, had a sticker price of $26,400. (The base model starts at $18,795.) The only option was a navigation system, which included a music server and real-time traffic for $2,295. Among the standard features on this model are Mitsubishi’s Fuse hands-free link system, keyless entry and startup, automatic climate control, heated front seats, rain-sensing wipers, steering-wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls, tilt/telescopic steering column, and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

We particularly liked the drive-mode selector, which enables the driver to choose among 2-wheel, all-wheel and 4×4 settings with the turn of a knob between the front seats. For most New England drivers, the 2-wheel-drive setting is fine for nine months of the year, and most of the other three as well.

The driver’s seat would benefit from some additional leg room. Rear seating is adequate, but the bench seat lacks definition and forces the passengers to sit nearly erect.

The Sport doesn’t have the clamshell liftgate that we noted approvingly in the Outlander, but there is a ledge tall enough to prevent groceries and other items from tumbling out, as well as a tray on either side of the cargo compartment, and ample room to conceal small items around the spare tire under the deck. Visibility out the back is excellent.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has designated the Sport a Top Safety Pick.

The automotive press hasn’t been very kind to the Sport, perhaps because the full-dress Outlander is a more impressive car in most respects (and it’s priced accordingly). Still, the Sport has been giving Mitsubishi a boost in the U.S. market, achieving its highest sales mark to date of 1,634 vehicles in March. But when you add it all up — hot style, the right price, Japanese quality and reliability, different from the rest, nice ride, soon to be American-built — its success begins to make sense.

Steven Macoy (smacoy3070@cs.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

Price: $26,420

Engine: 2.0-liter Four, 148 horsepower, 145 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: Continuously variable automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Weight: 3,120 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Ground clearance: 8.5 inches

Wheels: 18-inch by 7-inch alloy

Tires: P225/55R18 all season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 21.7 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 49.5 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 16.6 gallons

Fuel economy: 23 mpg city, 28 mpg highway

Fuel type: Regular unleaded