Pros: Tidy dimensions; adult-friendly backseat; agreeable ride quality; affordable price; lots of standard equipment

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

What's New: The 2013 Outlander Sport gets mildly refreshed styling inside and out, including standard 18-inch alloy wheels, revised bumpers and new interior fabrics. Also, the ES is now available with all-wheel drive and Mitsubishi says that the suspension and steering have been tweaked for better performance.

Introduction

The 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport reminds us of an old maxim that appears in numerous traditions: Judge me by my fruits, not by my roots. In the past, we've been guilty of judging the Outlander Sport by its roots. When Mitsubishi's smallest crossover debuted a few years ago, we focused on its lowly Dodge Caliber-derived platform and we wondered how anything based on that underachieving hatchback could amount to much.

Shows what we know, because the Outlander Sport quickly became Mitsubishi's best-selling vehicle.

The more time we spend with the Outlander Sport, the more we appreciate what it brings to the table. It perches the driver up high, providing the expansive visibility that crossover fans love. It's a legitimately compact vehicle that makes quick work of congested parking lots. It has a surprisingly roomy, adult-friendly backseat. And Mitsubishi's FUSE voice command system comes standard, giving you hands-free control of phones and portable music devices.

As ever, the Outlander Sport's main weakness is in the engine room, where the mandatory 2.0-liter inline-4 labors to get this Mitsu moving. While the standard 5-speed manual transmission makes the best of it, most Outlander Sports have a continuously variable automatic (CVT) that seems to generate more noise than forward progress.

But if you're satisfied with what's under the hood, the Outlander Sport is a pretty compelling crossover. Kudos to Mitsubishi for turning those questionable roots into some surprisingly tasty fruit.

Comfort & Utility

The 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is offered in ES and SE trim levels.

The ES starts with 18-in alloy 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 4-speaker audio system with USB connectivity.

The SE adds xenon headlamps, foglights, keyless entry with push-button ignition, heated front seats, a sliding center armrest, automatic climate control and a 6-speaker audio system with Satellite radio.

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 9-speaker 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system with a subwoofer, a 6-CD changer and Satellite radio.

In our interior evaluation, we deemed the Outlander Sport's interior 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 backseat. 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 cu ft behind the backseat and topping out at 49.5 cu ft with the rear seat backs folded down.

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, which allows 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 5-speed manual transmission is standard on the front-wheel-drive ES, but the SE comes 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.

Note that front-wheel drive is standard, but both ES and SE are eligible for the AWC all-wheel-drive system, which has a new center console selector button for 2013. Models with AWC are only sold with the CVT.

Fuel economy is 24 miles per gallon city/30 mpg highway with the manual transmission, 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway with the CVT and front-wheel drive and 24 mpg city/29 mpg highway with all-wheel drive.

Safety

The Outlander Sport comes with standard stability control, anti-lock brakes and seven airbags (front, front side, driver knee, full-length side curtain).

In government crash tests, the Outlander Sport received four stars out of five across the board. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Outlander Sport its highest rating of Good in every crash test category.

Driving Impressions

Although the Outlander Sport's aggressive face evokes the high-performance Lancer Evolution sedan, don't be fooled. This is a softly sprung crossover designed for urban duty and that's as it should be. 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 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 matters 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 around $20,000. Once you get 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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