Crossovers are the future. As much as I hate to say it, more and more buyers vote with their wallets every year, choosing a smaller-yet-taller, less fuel-efficient alternative to the traditional sedan. Automakers would build nothing but brown, diesel, manual station wagons if buyers would buy them â€” so you canâ€™t fault the manufacturers for tossing every possible permutation of the CUV as chum for the always-hungry shopper.
Mitsubishi is no different. Of the four distinct models it offers here in the States, three are crossovers. But which one is right for you? Today, we look at the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, the smallest of the trio. Is it distinct enough to be worthy of your driveway?
The interior of the Outlander Sport works well â€” the age of the design is evident in places, but the materials all seem to be of good quality, if a bit hard in places where soft-touch plastics have become common in the competition. As many automakers have moved toward touchscreen controls for heating and cooling, I welcome the three simple knobs to adjust temperature, fan speed, and vent locations.
As Tim noticed in his review of the Outlander Sport last winter (and as I noted while driving the big-brother three-row Outlander in the spring), the seats rock. I donâ€™t mean that in a Drew Carey, â€œCleveland Rocks!â€� manner â€” the driver and front passenger seats literally rock back and forth under acceleration. Itâ€™s a weird sensation, as if the floorpan itself is flexing under the stress of an overfed journalist. The rear seats, however, don’t flex. The bottom cushion in the rear is a bit flat, but the kids were plenty comfortable.
The location and size of the four-wheel drive control button is unfortunate, however. Itâ€™s immediately forward of the shift lever, right where the driver might set a cellphone. After all, the USB ports are RIGHT THERE. In a rush to unplug my phone, I stabbed the 4WD button at least once. Iâ€™d imagine that if a passenger (because no driver would EVER touch their phone while driving, right?) grabbed a phone from that location while the Outlander Sport was at speed, there may be some nastiness from the drivetrain.
Most front-drive based all-wheel drive systems donâ€™t need a button to toggle all-wheel drive â€” itâ€™s computer controlled. This is an odd remnant from Mitsubishiâ€™s heritage of building hard-core off-roaders with legitimately selectable four-wheel drive. Iâ€™ll grant that I didnâ€™t take the Outlander Sport off-road, so I canâ€™t say for certain that it canâ€™t handle terrain, but from the 55-series tires mounted on 18-inch wheels, I can make an educated inference.
Driving the Outlander Sport is a surprisingly decent experience. Continuously Variable Transmissions seem to be getting better all the time, including the unit fitted to this car. Other than the very occasional situation where the engine speed would hang a bit too fast for the situation â€” during abrupt throttle cuts when encountering an elevation change, for example â€” I hardly noticed any ill effects of the CVT.
Handling is similarly competent. A long drive on the freeway south from Detroit was my introduction to the Outlander Sport, and the ride was as good as most crossovers in the class. Road noise was elevated compared to others in the class; however, the optional nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system helped drown out the road with the help of Android Auto and Spotify.
Letâ€™s consider the styling. The odd shutline for the hood creates a funky pugnose effect when viewed head-on, much like a overweight football player wearing a Breathe Right strip over his oft-broken nose. The gaping black trapezoid created by that shutline, the polished chrome bar across the upper grille, the piano-black bumper beam cover, and the flat-black lower grille is a study in mating dissimilar materials into a disharmonious polygon. Beyond that nose, the rest of the Outlander Sport is unremarkable and inoffensive.
My big problem with the Outlander Sport is its place in Mitsubishiâ€™s lineup. Now that the Eclipse Cross is available, the Outlander Sport seems redundant. The two crossovers share identical wheelbase and ground clearances, and similar overall dimensions inside and out. The Outlander Sport has more power, but the turbocharged 1.5-liter four in the Eclipse Cross offers more torque. Combined EPA fuel economy is identical. And yet the Eclipse Cross is a much newer design released in 2018, while this Outlander Sport was unveiled in 2010, with a few styling refreshes over nine model years.
Iâ€™ve only spent a few minutes in the Eclipse Cross so far, but the near-decade between the two crossovers is evident in moments behind the wheel.
Mitsubishi tells me that future generations will move the Outlander Sport downmarket, as a smaller, less-expensive complement to the more-mainstream Eclipse Cross. Thatâ€™s probably the right move, because at this testerâ€™s $29,310 delivered price, there are more compelling options nearly everywhere. Even on the same lot.
[Images: Â© 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC]