Mitsubishi continues to fly under the radar among the Japanese car makers in the U.S., with just a few models and those don’t change often.
But the Outlander Sport has been one of its success stories, as it spun off from the larger Outlander SUV a few years back. This is a small ute, or crossover, about a foot shorter in length than Outlander.
It’s handsome, easy to maneuver in a parking lot and an automotive bargain. But it’s no benchmark to be sure.
The body is tidy and looks a bit sportier than many mainline small utes. I tested a pretty metallic red almost top-level SEL with AWD. The later is a bit of a misnomer in that you must engage the 4-wheel-drive system while cars and wagons such as Subarus are AWD all the time. Still, that’s easy because there’s a big button on the console. Press it once and you go from 2WD to 4WD.
Price though is what sets it apart. You can easily pay $30-35 grand for a decent AWD crossover or small ute, but the SEL model starts at $26,835, including delivery. Even with its pricey Touring Package, a $2,000 option, the test vehicle checked in at just $29,110. That’s a certifiable bargain.
That AWD works fine once engaged, and the Outlander Sport SEL now comes with a bit horsier 2.4-liter I4 engine. This one has 168 horsepower compared with 148 in earlier models and lower cost trim levels.
Even at that the power is modest unless you slip the console-mounted shifter into DS, the sport drive mode. That cranks up the revs and gives the ute a burst of power. But the engine sounds a bit stressed and growls under the load. I used the sport mode to get onto highways and away from stoplights, then eased the shifter back to Drive. That allows the engine to calm down, which makes for a more pleasant drive, and likely saves some fuel too.
I’d enjoyed the ride in the past Sport model I’d driven a few years back, but this one was seemed firmer, delivering a less comfortable ride as cabin occupants get to feel more of the road’s imperfections and making the ute feel more like an off-road vehicle. Some will like that. Mature drivers likely won’t.
Handling remains fairly light, but with more steering wheel play than in most vehicles today. Still, the ute was easy to handle on the freeway and there is slight body lean in tight turns.
Naturally anti-locks, stability control and traction control are standard.
Gas mileage is fine for a small ute, but nothing special. I got 25.5 miles per gallon in about an even mix of highway and city driving. That fits neatly into the EPA estimates of 23 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
Inside, the test vehicle looked fine with its black leather seats featuring gray stitching. The front buckets are perforated too for improved hot weather comfort. The dash is black plastic and there is pewter-look door trim on the armrests, and black gloss trim on the steering wheel and by the radio screen. There’s a sort of metal herringbone pattern by the console-mounted shifter.
The front seats are heated, with high and low settings, and are mildly contoured. I’d like more side back support. But the driver’s seat is an 8-way power model and the passenger’s seat a 4-way power unit. Some small utes still have manual seats. Rear legroom here is snug, but only for adults. Kids will fit fine.
Dash layout is good too, with a smallish screen for the radio. There’s no navigation system here, but that radio is a nail-spitter. It’s a Rockford Fosgate premium system with 9 speakers and an aggressive 710 watts of power. That’s part of the $2,000 Touring Package, which also includes forward collision mitigation, lane departure warning, automatic high beams and a panoramic sunroof. Everyone liked the sunroof and its three inner sun shield panels that retreated into the roof.
Below the radio screen are three large climate control knobs and a couple plug-ins for electronic devices. The steering wheel is a manual tilt/telescope model with cruise and a few other buttons on the hub. The trip computer info button is on the dash’s left side.
Down below are aluminum pedals to give the Outlander Sport a bit of panache, but overhead are stiff sun visors that don’t slide to block side sun, a menace in winter.
Behind the rear seats, that split and fold flat is plenty of cargo space. Put down the seats and that grows to an even more useable 49.5 cu. ft. The hatch is not powered here, but has a wiper, a benefit in winter.
A few other items are standard on Outlander Sport, including power folding side mirrors, which are heated, HomeLink, a temporary spare, and fog lights.
For economy-minded buyers the Outlander Sport starts with an ES model featuring 2-wheel-drive and a 5-speed manual transmission. The ES also comes with the older 2.0-liter I4 with 148 horses. ES begins at just $20,690, including delivery. The automatic version is $21,890 and adding 4-wheel-drive moves that to $23,390.
There also are LE and SE trim levels before you get to the SEL models. And there is one more, the GT that goes for $28,590. It upgrades the SEL with a standard sunroof, HID headlights and the same fancy stereo that was added to the test car. In essence, this SEL was equipped like a GT.
If economy is uppermost in your mind and you want, or need, a new crossover or small ute, the Outlander Sport is a good starting spot.
FAST STATS: 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2.4 SEL AWD
Misses: Mild power except in Sport mode, which makes the engine growl too, a stiff ride, no nav system and sun visors don’t slide.
Made in: Okazaki, Japan
Engine: 2.4-liter I4 MIVEC, 168 hp
Weight: 3,265 lbs.
Wheelbase: 105.1 in.
Length: 171.5 in.
Cargo: 49.5 cu. ft.
MPG: 23/28 (EPA)
MPG: 25.5 (tested)
Base Price: $26,835 (includes delivery)
Invoice: $25,733 (includes delivery)
Touring package (forward collision mitigation, lane departure warning, auto high beam, 710-watt Rockford Fosgate premium sound system w/9 speakers, panoramic sunroof), $2,000
Tonneau cover, $150
Carpeted floor mats and portfolio, $125
Test vehicle: $29,110
Sources: Mitsubishi, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage