The 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is good — maybe surprisingly good — but a few glaring flaws hold it back from being great.
Though a powerhouse in other markets around the world, Mitsubishi has a rocky history here in the States. They’ll be the first to tell you that there’s plenty of work to be done before they’re out of the woods, but if their current SUV lineup is any indication, it’s clear that they’ve rolled up their sleeves and are ready to get it done. Of the six vehicle models offered for sale here in the U.S., four of them are SUVs, and all but one start well below the $30,000 mark. That demonstrates the brand is positioned in the right parts of the overall market.
The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is the least expensive vehicle in the group, but on value proposition alone it’s a heavyweight. The base ES trim clocks in at just under $21,000, and our 2.4 SEL test vehicle with all-wheel drive was fully-loaded and still under $27,000. That price tag buys leather upholstery, a panoramic glass roof with ambient lighting (it doesn’t open, but it’s still very cool), every safety feature available, and a sound system that would make any high school boy swoon. It’s an impressive package, nearly perfect for the price, but the continuously variable transmission and some fit-and-finish issues are noticeable enough to cause second thoughts.
As small crossovers go, the Outlander Sport’s styling is…well, I have to say it…sporty. Compared to the competition from Toyota’s C-HR to the Honda HR-V, the Mitsubishi has a more aggressive stance, and its overall profile has been compacted without any distorted lines or proportions.
There are more chrome and silver accents up front than most other vehicles in this price range, and they work to highlight the large grille and LED running lights. The lower portion of the bumper and grille area host fog lights as well, and the whole thing stretches out far around either side toward the front wheel arches.
Looking at the Outlander Sport in profile, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy, but that’s the point. Mitsubishi has opted for clean, sculpted sheetmetal and has succeeded in creating lines that are pleasing to the eye. The 18-inch alloy wheels are a good choice here, giving the vehicle a dashing demeanor without being too large.
I can’t look at the back of the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport without being reminded of a hawk. The taillights, while of normal size, swoop up smoothly at either side to create the look of scowling eyes. There’s no trailer hitch, but a triangular accent piece on the bumper is perfectly placed to be a beak. It’s probably not what the designers at Mitsubishi were intending, but it’s a sharp look that fits within the overall aesthetic.
Interior styling takes the same clean, uncluttered approach. The Outlander Sport SEL’s interior is bathed top to bottom in black, which makes the cabin feel stuffy and smaller than it is. Several of the knobs, switches and buttons are shared with other Mitsubishi vehicles including the low-cost Mirage. There’s plenty to like about the design, though. All controls, knobs, and dials are easily within reach and placed intuitively. It took one day of driving for me to become familiar and comfortable reaching for what I need, which can’t be said of many sometimes much more expensive vehicles.
Any discussion of the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport’s performance has to start with the transmission. The continuously variable transmission (CVT), while adding a few miles per gallon, holds the Outlander Sport back from truly being the engaging, fun crossover that Mitsubishi intends.
This all hinges on the transmission’s tendency to hang onto higher RPM levels and cause hesitation when accelerating, which makes the engine sometimes stutter and drone. The problem was persistent enough that after doing my testing due diligence I avoided spirited driving altogether.
There are bright spots in the powertrain, however: The 2.4-liter 168-horsepower engine produces more than enough power for a vehicle of this size. Coupled with the large wheels, decent chassis, and well-tuned suspension package make for a solid and driving experience once you get past the CVT’s special characteristics.
Technology extends beyond Apple CarPlay
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto? Check. We’re done here. For many people, the inclusion of those features will be enough to make the Outlander Sport a good tech value. For everyone else, the infotainment unit is responsive and colorful, and its screen and controls remain easily visible in all light conditions.
My SEL test vehicle was equipped with a Rockford Fosgate sound system, which provides plenty of bass and volume but will leave audio fanatics wanting more. As my playlists have shifted to a heavy rotation of Disney movie soundtracks and sing-a-long songs, the audio quality here was a non-issue for me, but the lack of sound insulation and awkward speaker placement cause a noticeable muffling of more dynamic music.
The Outlander Sport SEL comes packed with all of the active safety goodies that we expect in 2019, with blind spot monitor, forward collision warning, lane departure alert and automatic high-beams. As we slip into the colder months in Maine, the mornings are frequently foggy and wet, which sometimes confused the forward-looking cameras. Mitsubishi says the camera placement high on the windshield helps remedy this issue, but there were a few stray warnings to keep us on our toes.
Mitsubishi calls the upholstery in the Outlander Sport “combination soft-touch seating surfaces,” but everyone else will call them leather – and they’re comfortable. They aren’t sport seats by any measure, but they do the job admirably with plenty of padding and supportive sides.
Rear seat accommodations are nothing out of the ordinary, appointed with more black leather and trim. The seats are less contoured and are much harder than I’d prefer as a passenger, but this turned out to work well for car seat installation and stability.
Mitsubishi is one of many carmakers that mercifully places LATCH connection points in places that are easy to reach and use. Some manufacturers try to pad or cover the connections with lots of fabric and other neat tricks, but the simple approach is best and rewards the Mitsubishi low-cost, high-value ethos. As someone who has by now installed and uninstalled a full-size car seat in countless vehicles from all over the world, I found the Outlander Sport to be one of the easiest yet.
I’m okay with some of the apparent cost-saving decisions Mitsubishi made with the Outlander Sport, and I think most buyers will be, too. It’s true that there are some exposed bolts and metal bits inside and that some of the trim pieces are shared across cheaper models in the lineup, but if that’s what it takes to deliver a $25k crossover with AWD and a 100k mile warranty, sign me up. The vast majority of people shopping for new vehicles today will find that the Outlander Sport offers most, if not all, of the premium features they need, and the price should make the deal look even sweeter. After all, a few rough edges and name recognition are all that stand in between the Outlander Sport and the much more popular and more expensive competitors.