by Matthew Wilson
Mitsubishi is not a name you hear much about these days. In fact, many people have just completely forgotten about the automaker entirely. They haven't gone out of business, but of all of the Japanese automakers, Mitsubishi is in the worst shape. Sure their cars are reliable, but in the past few years, they haven't caught on with the public and has literally become a niche brand.
Only the $42,000 Evo extreme four-door street racer has a wide fan base. While the Lancer sedan on which the Evo is based is a good car, it still gets lost in the shadow of such competition like the Mazda 3, Volkswagen Jetta, and the Honda Civic. Being a good car just isn't enough if the brand does not have the necessary name recognition. It's that simple. That won't stop Mitsubishi from working its way back to the top by introducing new products. The Outlander small SUV has consistently been rated as one of the best underrated vehicles currently on the market.
Again, it disappears in the shadows of the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, but now Mitsubishi is adding some fun and sport into the mix the other automakers lack. The new for 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport shares its basic architecture with the larger Outlander SUV, but is 14.6 inches shorter in length and 1.2 inches narrower and 1.9 inches shorter in height. Basically, it's entering an increasingly competitive field consisting of the Volkswagen Tiguan, Kia Sportage, and Mazda CX-7. Americans still love their SUVs, but are now taking them in smaller doses. As such, the small SUV/CUV market is probably the next big thing.
The Outlander Sport has styling that is similar to the Lancer, with its "jet-fighter" front grille and sharp body panel edges. Fortunately, front and rear head room is virtually unchanged from the standard Outlander. Inside and you'll see a pleasant mix of sport and functionality with bits of chrome and fake aluminum. Interior materials are an improvement over the Lancer's. Like Ford's infotainment SYNC system, Mitsubishi offers their FUSE system which combines hands-free Bluetooth functionality with voice activation along with a USB jack for your iPod or other MP3 device.
A panoramic glass roof, unusual to be offered in the small SUV segment, is optional and has adjustable LED lighting. It comes with a 2.0 liter four-cylinder with 148 horsepower, which is actually enough to power this small SUV. Definitely not the most powerful in its segment, the 2.0 is sufficient enough especially when paired with the optional CVT transmission (a five-speed manual is standard). This combination delivers an impressive 31 mpg. The base ES model comes with front-wheel drive, but moving up to the SE model and the CVT transmission and all-wheel drive are all yours.
The SE is also available with a user-selectable terrain system that distributes power to just the front or all four wheels depending on the road conditions. Body control is also much better when the SUV is equipped with the all-wheel drive system. Overall, the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is a fantastic small SUV that does pretty much everything well. Without the all-wheel drive system, however, there will be more persistent body-roll in tight turns. Other than that, Mitsubishi has a good thing going here.
Carrying a base price of under $19,000 for the SE and a fully-loaded ES with all-wheel drive, CVT transmission, and navigation system comes in near $25,000. It's expected to go on sale sometime in October 2010. Let's hope that Mitsubishi will continue building cars like the Outlander Sport, as the automaker is beginning to find its place in the market by building smaller, faster, and cheaper cars that offer the typical Japanese reliability and build quality along with the driving fun factor. If it follows this formula, Mitsubishi will become a name that's more familiar to every potential buyer.