2020 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport review: When the cons outweigh the pros
Who doesn't love an underdog? The little guy prevailing against a stronger opponent or impossible odds is the stuff legends are made of. Whether it's David squaring off against Goliath, the Royal Air Force versus Hitler's Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain or even that so-called "Miracle on Ice," where the US hockey team defeated the heavily favored Soviets at the 1980 Winter Olympics, seeing the downtrodden or otherwise disregarded pull out a win is nothing short of inspiring.
Unfortunately, the tale of the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport isn't so triumphant. In fact, testing this car kind of feels like I'm being punished. Less than 5 minutes behind the wheel was all it took to leave me as deflated as a Thanksgiving Day parade float on Black Friday. So after a week of testing, my consensus is clear: The Outlander Sport gets a hard pass from me.
At least it's attractive
Mitsubishi is working to redesign or significantly refresh its entire North American lineup over the next year or so. A prominent part of this soup-to-nuts renaissance is the updated Outlander Sport, which was the automaker's second-best-selling nameplate in 2019, trailing the slightly larger Outlander by a few thousand units in the annual dealership delivery derby.
Since it first arrived in the US around 2011, this vehicle has been updated multiple times, kind of like reheating a sandwich over and over again until the bread becomes too hard to chew. It may be warmer, but it's certainly not better. Changes for this year are few, with the most significant one being that bold new front-end design. It's aggressive and distinctive without going over the top. That updated grille, plus redesigned taillights, a new rear bumper and a few other changes make the Outlander Sport a decently attractive subcompact crossover. Still, even with a handful of minor tweaks inside and three fresh exterior colors joining the palette, nothing can disguise its age.
A blast from the past
This vehicle's interior is made of your typical mix of hard plastics, though the dashboard and front door panels do feature some squishy polymers, which actually look quite upscale. Still, many of the Outlander Sport's buttons and switches remain low rent. In particular, the turn-signal and wiper-control stalks feel egregiously cheap. The doors are also suspiciously light and make a hollow, metallic-sounding thunk even when gingerly closed.
Up front, the cloth seats in this range-topping GT test model are reasonably comfortable and surprisingly cozy -- and hey, they're even heated. As for the aft accommodations, they are not terribly welcoming. Legroom is sparse, though head space is satisfactory despite the uncomfortably upright backrest.
My test model is also fitted with a Smartphone Link Display Audio system with an 8-inch screen. This infotainment system looks like it was inspired by Windows XP, with blocky icons and scroll bars. The user interface is convoluted, but it's easy enough to figure out with a little practice. This whole setup looks absolutely ancient, but its performance isn't too shabby. In normal use, it's unexpectedly snappy, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both supported, and there's a pair of USB ports up front.
Equipment and features
The Outlander Sport is offered in four trim levels: ES, SP, SE and GT. Full LED lighting is standard across the range. Both the low- and high-beams use this illumination technology, as do the daytime running lamps.
As for other features, SE models and higher get an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and rain-sensing wipers. Forward collision mitigation with pedestrian detection and lane-departure warning are also included, ditto for automatic high beams, which, unfortunately, are about the least responsive of any I've experienced in recent memory. They're seemingly unable to recognize other vehicles' taillights and let oncoming traffic get perilously close before switching to low beams. Blind-spot monitoring with lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert are available as well.
An appealing feature that increases this vehicle's versatility is a driver-selectable all-wheel-drive system -- that's All-Wheel Control in Mitsubishi parlance. It's offered in each trim level for an additional, and seemingly reasonable, $1,500. Able to shift on the fly, it can operate in 2WD mode for efficient, everyday driving, and it can route torque to all four wheels for improved traction in slippery conditions. Beyond those two settings, there's a lock mode that distributes 60% of available torque to the rear wheels, supposedly for a sportier feel.
Sport in name only
Unfortunately, even when equipped with a fancy four-wheel-drive system, there's absolutely nothing engaging about the way this crossover handles. The chassis feels as though it were fashioned of wood, and I don't mean like a 18th century Chippendale armoire rendered in Honduran mahogany. Put it all in motion and the Outlander Sport brings to mind some rickety piece of rustic furniture, the kind made from tree branches with bark left intact.
The ride quality is crude and this vehicle's steering is appallingly bad. It offers zero feedback, absolutely nothing. The tiller is completely dead on center, but when you crank it a few degrees either left or right it becomes completely synthesized. It's almost a challenge to keep this vehicle in the center of its lane because you have no idea what the front tires are doing nor how much steering correction is needed to stay on course. Every mile driven in this Mitsubishi seems to lower both my spirits and credit score.
Turning those wheels is one of two engines. Serving base duty is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that's rated at 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque, and is standard equipment in ES, SP and SE models. Upping the performance ante, GT variants feature a 2.4-liter I4 that delivers a respectable 168 hp and 167 lb-ft of twist. A continuously variable automatic transmission is standard equipment regardless of engine, maximizing acceleration and efficiency.
Thanks to its small dimensions and ostensibly light curb weight, the Outlander Sport GT's acceleration is quite good. It scoots far better than I ever expected, likely showing its taillight to most competitors at stoplight drag races. And while the larger, 2.4-liter engine isn't afraid to make itself heard, it at least sounds somewhat sporty, producing a throaty rumble. It's also reasonably smooth, too, only starting to feel a bit gritty in the upper limits of its operating range.
Whether you're tooling around town or making up lost time on the freeway, the Outlander Sport's interior is raucous. Wind noise and tire thrum are constant companions anytime the vehicle is traveling faster than parking-lot speeds.
Fuel economy isn't particularly impressive, either. In GT trim with all-wheel drive and that 2.4-liter engine, expect 23 miles per gallon city, 28 highway and 25 mpg combined.
One important feather in this Mitsubishi's cap is its generous guarantee. Buyers are protected by a five-year/60,000-mile new-vehicle limited warranty, a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and five years of free roadside assistance without any mileage cap. No matter how you slice it, that's excellent coverage.
It might be en vogue to dump on Mitsubishi these days, yet after extended time with the Outlander Sport, I cannot in good faith recommend anyone buy it. Simply put, this vehicle left me cold, icier than the glares exchanged by a married couple in divorce court.
I might change my downtrodden tune if this crossover were a good value, starting at, say, $15,000, but it's not. Before rebates, the Outlander Sport kicks off at nearly 24 grand. The GT model I've been testing checked out for $28,720, including $1,095 in destination fees. At that price, it's a definite no.
If you're in the market for a subcompact crossover, check out any of this Mitsubishi's rivals, the Nissan Kicks or Honda HR-V, Toyota 's C-HR or the Kia Soul. They're all superior choices. Even the utterly lackluster Ford EcoSport is leagues ahead of the Outlander Sport.
For Mitsubishi, which pioneered the use of balance shafts in modern engines, claims to have invented electronic traction control, was the first to mass produce automotive powerplants with computer-controlled gasoline direct injection and even developed adaptive suspension technology decades ago, the Outlander Sport represents a colossal fall from grace. It's cute, but that's about it.