Pros: Compact exterior, adult-friendly back seat, agreeable ride quality, affordable price, lots of standard technology.

Cons: Noisy and underpowered engine, unpleasant continuously variable automatic (CVT), smallish cargo capacity.

Introduction

The 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport seemingly works the basic compact-crossover formula to perfection-so why aren't we bigger fans? Just look at all the boxes that the Outlander Sport checks. It rides high, giving you great visibility over the hood. It's tidily proportioned on the outside, so parking's a cinch. Despite those compact dimensions, there's plenty of room for adults in the back seat. And the Outlander Sport comes standard with Mitsubishi's FUSE voice-command system for phones and portable music devices.

Unfortunately, the Outlander Sport has some distinct limitations, and they're mostly under the hood. Its only engine is a 2.0-liter inline-4 that's better at making noise than forward progress. Although a five-speed manual transmission is available on basic models, most Outlander Sports have a continuously variable automatic (CVT) that's not very responsive and seems to sap some of the engine's already modest power. Also, the Outlander Sport's cargo capacity barely exceeds that of typical compact hatchbacks despite the Mitsu's added height.

In other words, performance isn't a reason to buy this crossover and neither is cargo space, at least not relative to the competition. Still, the Outlander Sport is a pleasant enough vehicle overall, and it's a decent value to boot. That may not be the perfect compact-crossover formula, but it's good enough to keep the 2012 Outlander Sport on your shopping radar.

Comfort & Utility

The 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is offered in ES, SE and SE AWC trim levels.

The ES starts with 16-inch steel wheels, heated outside mirrors, power accessories, cruise control, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, the FUSE voice-command system for phones and music devices and a four-speaker audio system with USB connectivity.

The SE adds 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlamps, foglamps, keyless entry with push-button ignition, a sliding center armrest, automatic climate control and a six-speaker audio system. The SE AWC brings all-wheel drive and heated front seats.

Notable options include an iPod adapter, a hard-drive-based navigation system and a Premium package for SE models that adds a rearview camera, a panoramic sunroof and a nine-speaker, 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system with a subwoofer, a six-CD changer and satellite radio.

The Outlander Sport's interior is surprisingly nice, from its dark, sleek look to the soft-touch material on the dashboard. The front seats aren't memorably supportive, but the height-adjustable driver's seat does elevate the driving position to an agreeable midpoint between hatchbacks and SUVs. The tilt-telescoping steering wheel is a welcome addition for taller pilots; many Mitsubishi wheels lack a telescoping function. The deeply hooded tachometer and speedometer feature crisp white backlighting and numerals that are easily read at a glance.

Ergonomics are generally good, including both the manual and automatic climate controls. However, the optional navigation system's touchscreen is surrounded by numerous small buttons that aren't especially driver-friendly.

Another pleasant surprise is the Outlander Sport's accommodating back seat. Despite this crossover's compact dimensions, adults should have no problem getting comfortable in the second row. Cargo space is not a high point, however, measuring 21.7 cubic feet behind the back seat and topping out at 49.5 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded down. With the Rockford Fosgate subwoofer in place, rear cargo space behind the back seat falls to 20.1 cubic feet.

Technology

Considering its low price, the Outlander Sport is a treasure trove of technology. Most notably, the standard FUSE hands-free system with USB connectivity is a capable knockoff of Ford's SYNC, allowing you to control your Bluetooth-compatible phone as well as your portable music device via voice commands. If you want high-tech sound, there's that thumping Rockford Fosgate system. And if you want high-tech navigation, the Outlander Sport comes through with an optional hard-drive-based touchscreen system that boasts music storage on its own 40-gigabyte hard drive. Not many affordable compact crossovers can match the Outlander Sport's technology spread.

Performance & Fuel Economy

All Outlander Sports are powered by a 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 148 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the ES, but the SE and SE AWC come only with a continuously variable automatic (CVT) that's optional on ES. The inline-4 is noisy and slow compared to others in this class, while the CVT is less responsive than we'd like. Moreover, CVT-equipped Outlander Sports feel slower than the manual-transmission ES. As good as the Outlander Sport is in many ways, it falters somewhat in the engine room.

Note that front-wheel drive is standard on ES and SE, while the SE AWC comes with all-wheel drive.

Fuel economy is 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway with the manual transmission, 25/31 mpg with the CVT and front-wheel drive and 23/28 mpg with all-wheel drive.

Safety

The 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander comes with standard stability control, antilock brakes and seven airbags (front, front-side, driver knee, full-length side-curtain).

The government has not crash-tested the Outlander Sport as of this writing, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Outlander Sport its highest rating of "Good" in every category.

Driving Impressions

Although the Outlander Sport's face is evocative of the high-performance Lancer Evolution sedan, don't be fooled. This is a softly sprung crossover designed for urban duty, and that's how it feels through the corners. The available all-wheel-drive system is a nice feature for snowy climes, but it doesn't transform the Outlander Sport into an off-road vehicle by any means. Happily, the Outlander Sport is an agreeable companion on the pavement, riding smoothly and fairly quietly for a bargain-priced SUV. We just wish the engine were a little more capable and refined.

Other Cars to Consider

Kia Soul - More of a tall wagon than a crossover, the Soul brings funky style and a healthy technology roster of its own, and it's cheap, too.

Hyundai Tucson - The Tucson is similarly compact, but it offers a larger 2.4-liter engine that provides better acceleration.

Mazda CX-5 - The CX-5 is a bit more expensive, but with its excellent road manners and nice cabin, it's a strong rival to high-end versions of the Outlander Sport.

AutoTrader Recommends

Considering the standard kit Mitsubishi includes with every Outlander Sport, we'd be tempted to stick with the manual-transmission ES. It's nicely equipped for under $20,000. Once you get up into the mid-$20,000s, there are many other appealing options.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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