Of the four different trim levels on the menu, we'd steer buyers to the range-topping SEL. The reason is simple: It's the trim that best disguises this car's eight-year-old roots. Springing for it costs $25,815, but that price includes niceties like navigation, leather seats and HID headlights, and the larger 2.4-liter engine. That's not bad for 26 grand, and moreover, because this is a Mitsubishi and not a Ferrari, there's ample opportunity to haggle that number down further. It's also the only trim in which the available active safety features are, well, available; lower trims cannot be optioned up with additional life-saving gadgetry. Here's the breakdown on our ideal Outlander Sport:
- Model: 2018 Mitsubishi Outback Sport SEL
- Engine: 2.4-liter four-cylinder
- Output: 168 hp / 168 lb-ft
- Transmission: Continuously variable transmission (CVT)
- Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
- MPG: 23 City / 29 Hwy
- Options: Touring Package ($2,000, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, Panoramic roof, nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system)
- Base Price:$25,815 (includes the $995 destination charge)
- Best Value Price:$27,815
Don't let the "Sport" moniker fool you into thinking about the performance Mitsubishis of yore, because this crossover is anything but. The base ES and next-step-up LE are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque, and that output simply isn't enough to move this 3,100-pound vehicle with any confidence. Highway merging and passing are both made more exciting than they should be thanks to the dearth of power and cacophony of noise – and that's not a compliment.
Not helping matters is the transmission, which is a five-speed manual on the ES and a CVT on all other trims (which is also optional on the ES). The CVT is no doubt the volume seller here, but the nature of such a gearbox means that it only exacerbates the the loud and unrefined characteristics of the engines, especially with the 2.0-liter.
The 2.4-liter in the SE and SEL trims brings a much-welcomed bump of power (168 hp and 168 lb-ft of torque), and gives the Outlander Sport performance that's on par for the segment. Opting for the bigger motor brings just a negligible difference in fuel economy. It's rated for 23 miles per gallon city, 29 highway, and 25 combined, versus 24/30/27 mpg for the 2.0-liter.
There's nothing particularly offensive about the exterior styling, and there's definitely more unattractive vehicles available in the segment (we're looking at you, Toyota C-HR). Sheetmetal updates, including a refresh of the front fascia last year, have helped belie the car's age and keep it looking fresh.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the interior, which puts the basement in bargain-basement. Expanses of hard black plastic dominate the dash, and the controls feel cheap and unsubstantial. The SEL attempts to mask this with bits of brightwork around the infotainment screen and contrasting white stitching on the leather seats, but the overall aura of the cabin is still that of a decade-old economy car.
If it's any consolation, the Outlander Sport does come with technology buyers will appreciate. All trims come standard with a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment unit with Bluetooth and HD radio capability, automatic climate control, keyless entry, a USB port, and two 12-volt outlets. All models but the ES include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, a leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel, and heated front seats.
The Best and Worst Things
The best asset of Mitsubishi's small crossover is the value it offers. For not a lot of money, buyers get nearly all the features that matter, and the top SEL manages to deliver creature comforts at a price point that most competitors don't match.
However, to make the Outlander Sport the bargain it is, corners had to be cut. The most noticeable are the powertrains, which are chitty-chitty-bang-bang affairs whose tepid performance and excessive noise constantly remind you of why this trucklet goes out the door for so little cash.
Right For? Wrong For?
Mitsubishi's small crossover is a good choice for those who have bad credit or meager finances but insist on buying a new car. It's wrong for anyone who wants a refined, quality automobile.
The Bottom Line
The Outlander Sport makes you wonder what happened to old Mitsubishi. It's lipstick on a pig; an eight-year-old car buoyed by modern amenities and infotainment technology but let down by its powertrains and interior, both of which trumpet the geriatric truth. While it does offer a great value when looked at from a features-to-price ratio, that's all the 2018 Mitsubishi Outback Sport offers, and it's numerous inadequacies make it too unpleasant to recommend. Let's hope that the innovative, forward-thinking Mitsubishi of years past will emerge from the history books to rectify the company's current mediocrity.