Test Drive: Outlander Sport trails behind leading crossovers

Go figure. Most reviewers agree the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport trails the subcompact-crossover herd in almost every category that matters. Meanwhile, the Sport’s year-to-date sales figures in North America, as of May 31, totaled 19,035 units sold, compared with 12,361 during the same period in 2017. Some American drivers must actually favor the Outlander over its major competitors — which include the widely admired Honda HR-V, Kia Soul, Subaru Crosstrek, Toyota CH-R, Chevrolet Trax and Nissan Juke.

So what’s the attraction? Arguably, the urge to drive something different is a factor. As briskly as the Outlander Sport is selling this year, it has no chance of reaching the six-figure status enjoyed by the other leading subcompacts. Also, Mitsubishi is the only Japanese automaker offering 10-year, 100,000-mile power-train warranties. The Outlander Sport is nicely equipped, fuel-efficient and reliable. It also looks attractive, albeit in a conservative sort of way. The daring shapes and colors of the Juke, Soul and others aren’t for everybody.

That about covers it — that, and the evident commitment Mitsubishi has made to the Outlander and Outlander Sport models. Quite a few models have come and gone from the Mitsubishi lineup since the original Outlander came to life America in 2003. The Outlander Sport comes in three trim levels, with a choice of two available engines. Notwithstanding the arrival of a new Mitsubishi crossover, the Eclipse Cross, there’s reason to hope the Outlander Sport won’t go the route of the Diamante, Galant, Montero, or the unlamented all-electric i-MiEV — especially when American motorists remain fixated on crossovers and sport-utility vehicles.

And why do reviewers consistently dismiss the Outlander Sport? Mostly, the presence of truly cheap fabrics and plastics here and there in the cabin — in marked contrast to good-quality materials like the soft-touch dashboard. Reviewers also find the car’s handling a little skittish, its ride harsh on some surfaces, and its interior noise level on the high side.

Our Labrador Black Metallic Outlander Sport test car was a fairly basic LE with just two low-cost options. Sticker-priced at $25,210, it was equipped with the smallest of the available engines, a 2.0-liter, 148-horsepower inline Four. The base ES starts at $20,395.

The highlight of the Outlander Sport’s standard-features list was the drive system, which enabled the driver to switch from 2-wheel drive, all-wheel or locking 4×4, at the press of a large button on the center console. Mitsubishi refers to this system as all-wheel control. With 8.5 inches of ground clearance and a traction-control system, this Outlander Sport conceivably could handle rougher terrain than most subcompact crossovers can.

Other features included heated exterior mirrors, rear-view camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, steering wheel audio controls, automatic climate control and heated driver and front passenger seats.

The Outlander Sport’s fuel-economy rating is 23 mpg city, 29 highway. We did better than that in straight highway driving, reaching 31 mpg.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.0 LE AWC

Price: $25,210

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

Transmission: continuously variable automatic

Drive: four-wheel

Weight: 3,252 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 18-in. black painted alloy

Tires: P225/55R18 all-season

Ground clearance: 8.5 in.

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 21.7 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 49.5 cu. ft.

Towing capacity: 1,500 lb.

Fuel capacity: 15.8 gallons

Fuel economy: 23 mpg city, 29 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

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