The 2014 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 certainly been guilty of judging the Outlander Sport by its roots. When Mitsubishi's smallest crossover first debuted, we focused on its lowly Dodge Caliber-derived platform, wondering how anything based on that underachieving, now-defunct 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 back seat. 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.
What's New for 2014?
The Outlander Sport SE gets a standard 6.1-inch touchscreen with a rearview camera, while the optional navigation system receives revised software and a new 7-in high-definition touchscreen.
What We Like
Low price; tidy dimensions; adult-friendly back seat; agreeable ride quality; lots of standard equipment
What We Don't
Noisy and underpowered engine; unpleasant CVT; scant cargo capacity
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 ES, while the SE comes only with a continuously variable automatic (CVT) that's optional on the ES.
Note that front-wheel drive is standard, but both the CVT-equipped ES and the SE are eligible for the AWC all-wheel-drive system.
Fuel economy is 24 miles per gallon city/30 mpg highway with the manual transmission, 24 mpg city/31 mpg hwy with the CVT and front-wheel drive and 24 mpg city/29 mpg hwy with all-wheel drive.
Standard Features & Options
The 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is offered in ES and SE trim levels.
The ES ($20,295) starts with 18-inch alloy wheels, heated outside mirrors, power accessories, cruise control, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel with auxiliary audio controls, the FUSE voice-command system for phones and music devices and a 4-speaker audio system with USB connectivity.
The SE ($23,420) adds xenon headlamps, fog lights, keyless entry with push-button ignition, heated front seats, a sliding center armrest, automatic climate control, a 6.1-in touchscreen with a rearview camera and a 6-speaker audio system with satellite radio.
Notable options include an iPod adapter and a hard-drive-based navigation system with a 7-in touchscreen. There is a Premium package for SE models that adds a rearview camera, a panoramic sunroof, a power driver's seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a 9-speaker 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system with a subwoofer, a 6-CD changer and satellite radio.
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 gave the Outlander Sport its highest rating of Good in every crash test except the new small front overlap test, where the Mitsubishi was deemed Acceptable (the second-best rating of four).
Behind the Wheel
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-telescopic steering wheel is a welcome addition for taller pilots. The related Lancer's wheel, for example, lacks a telescoping function. The deeply hooded tachometer and speedometer feature crisp white backlighting and numerals that are easily read at a glance. The ergonomics are generally good, including both the manual and automatic climate controls.
The Outlander Sport's accommodating back seat is a pleasant surprise -- 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 back seat and topping out at 49.5 cu ft with the rear seat backs folded down.
The engine is this Mitsu's weak link. The mandatory 2.0-liter 4-cylinder is noisy and slow compared to others in the segment, while the CVT is less responsive than we'd like. Moreover, CVT-equipped Outlander Sports feel slower than the manual-transmission ES. We're surprised Mitsubishi doesn't offer an upgraded engine in the SE model.
Although the Outlander Sport's pugnacious face evokes the high-performance Lancer Evolution sedan, don't expect the same athletic handling on the road. 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 a real SUV by any means. Happily, the Sport is an agreeable companion on the pavement, riding smoothly and fairly quietly for a bargain-priced SUV.
Other Cars to Consider
Kia Soul -- More of a tall wagon than a crossover, the redesigned 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.
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 up into the mid-$20,000s, there are many other appealing options.