Mitsubishi Outlander Sport brings power, not much else to compact SUV fight

The rear of the car I'm driving says "Sport" and "GT." Wide paddle shifters attach to the steering column, Ferrari-style. On a twisty road, I should be up for a pretty good time. But the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, in GT trim, doesn't exactly deliver. Oh, the power comes on eagerly, but soft-tuned dampers let the body wallow in the turns, so that I don't want to push it too hard, and the steering lacks the tight response I would want for clipping apexes.

No, despite the paddle shifters, "Sport" in the Outlander's name refers more to mountain biking, or kayaking, or any of the myriad other outdoor activities we first-worlders get to do by choice rather than necessity. It certainly isn't a comment on the Outlander Sport's driving character.

And as a compact SUV, akin to the Honda HR-V, performance driving is not likely among its buyers' expectations.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Compact SUVs like the Outlander Sport have a small on-road footprint yet offer versatile cargo space.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

The Outlander Sport was introduced in 2010 and has become a crucial model for Mitsubishi, the current best-seller in its small lineup. Although just a little over 14 feet long, it offers 97.5 cubic feet of interior space, and almost 50 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats down. It also boasts an impressive 8.5 inches of ground clearance.

Among its many trim variants, the Outlander Sport can be had with a 2-liter or a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, along with front-wheel or all-wheel drive. The Outlander Sport GT comes standard with the 2.4-liter engine, making 168 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of torque, and a continuously variable transmission, the paddle shifters selecting among six programmed shift points. The example I drove was front-wheel drive.

Mitsubishi doesn't current hold a high reputation among automotive journalists, and my colleagues made a few derisive comments as I began this test. However, in this top trim Outlander Sport I found more than a few things to like. In the cabin, I expected hard plastics, but the pebbled black swaths over the dashboard were actually soft to the touch. The engine felt eager to pull, and the cabin showed all the versatility of a compact SUV. The hard, plasticky seat materials were not so nice, and only the driver seat had power adjustment.

And I won't criticize the Outlander Sport for not being a performance driver. Once past the twisty roads, I liked the cushy feel of its dampers and its easy driving character. This is the kind of car you just jump in and go.

However, under mid-throttle acceleration it suffers from a grinding noise common with older continuously variable transmission drivelines. It's somewhat annoying but doesn't affect power delivery. The paddle shifters are a bit unnecessary, although the shift points could come in handy on a downgrade.

Despite leaving this shifter in Drive, I found that the Outlander Sport remained in manual shift mode when I used the paddle shifters. Most cars time-out of manual mode when the shifter is in the Drive position.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

The Outlander Sport tends more towards comfort than performance driving capability.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

Fuel economy for the Outlander Sport GT is rated at 23 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, on the low side for the segment, and even with extensive highway driving my average hovered around the city number.

Beyond a rear view camera, Mitsubishi doesn't offer any driver assistance features on the Outlander Sport, like a blind-spot monitor system or adaptive cruise control.

The example I drove lacked the available navigation head unit, a (gasp) $1,800 option, but the dashboard still sported a 6.1-inch touchscreen. That LCD showed stereo and hands-free phone controls. While the touchscreen was reasonably responsive, the system proved finicky when I plugged my iPhone into its USB port. Songs cut off abruptly, and a few times the connection just completely failed. As backup, Bluetooth streaming audio worked fine.

The Outlander Sport would be a good candidate for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, but its head unit doesn't support this connectivity.

The only bright spot in the Outlander Sport's electronics was the Rockford Fosgate sound system, Mitsubishi's premium audio supplier. With nine speakers, including a huge subwoofer in the cargo area, and a 710-watt amp, I could pump up the volume and enjoy crisp sound. Although the highs were nice and distinct, this stereo really emphasizes the bass and was very enjoyable.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

A reasonably comfortable driver, the Outlander Sport begins to pale when compared to other compact SUVs.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

The 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is a reasonable entrant among compact SUVs, its small footprint belying useful interior space. The reasonably comfortable driving character isn't particularly special, but it feels like solid transportation. However, it lacks any really interesting driver assistance or dashboard electronics, the kinds of things that are differentiating cars these days.

In GT trim, the Outlander Sport's price crosses into the upper 20s, which seems a little high for what you get. By contrast, the Honda HR-V, which won our earlier compact SUV comparison, bests the Outlander Sport in every way but power, trading horses for MPGs and coming in at a lower price.

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