If there’s one word to describe the 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, it would be “surprising”. This is a great little compact SUV that seems to have been flying below the radar of lots of buyers, and they will be pleasantly surprised when they check it out.
Let’s start with the looks. For 2013, the Outlander Sport will get some extra second glances, thanks to a new front and rear fascia the gives a cleaner, more cohesive appearance. This is a handsome, modern looking SUV. While not as adventurous as the new Toyota RAV4 or Kia Sportage, it still has a nice, muscular shape that is quite tasteful. Even though our tester was the entry-level 2WD ES model, finished in a tasteful Quick Silver and sitting on tough-looking standard 18-inch alloy wheels it got loads of compliments, many saying it’s the nicest Mitsubishi they've seen in a long time.
The drive is a nice surprise, too. Our tester had a 5-speed manual transmission. And while you might expect a 6-speed these days, it worked fine, and teamed to the 148-hp, 2.0-liter 4 cylinder was fun to zip around town in, and yet was quite smooth and refined on the freeway. A nice touch on the manual transmission is standard Hill Start Assist – basically it holds the clutch when pulling away on an incline so you don’t roll back. Great especially for new drivers, but appreciated even buy our more experienced testers. Quick and frugal, we averaged an impressive 26 mpg in our tester, and we were definitely driving it more aggressively than most owners will.
The Sport also has a smooth and long-legged ride quality we’re used to finding on Subarus, and although it is a tall vehicle with a soft suspension, the handling is confident and its overall small size make it great for cutting and thrusting in traffic and nabbing that small parking space at the mall.
Special mention should go to the front bucket seats for being notably comfortable and supportive. The rear seats are fine for adults as well, but note that the rear cargo is a little tighter than most competitors – the price you pay for that sporty, bob-tail design – but we found it more than adequate.
While the dashboard layout and switches are standard fare, they’re functional and easy to use. You certainly don’t feel like you’re in a penalty box though, with nice touches like a standard leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, tilt/telescoping steering column and a color LCD display between the tach and speedo, which tells you the need-to-knows like outside temp, fuel consumption, distance-to-empty and more.
Another surprise is even on our entry-level model, you get Mitsubishi’s FUSE Hands-free Link System as standard equipment. With Bluetooth and advanced speech recognition, it lets you do anything from placing a call to pulling up your favorite tunes on your on your smartphone by tapping a button on the steering wheel and giving a voice command. Even a technophobe can get this up and running quickly, and if you have inexperienced drivers in the household, this could be a real lifesaver.
Speaking of lifesavers, we like that every Outlander Sport features Seven standard air bags including a driver’s knee air bag, and Active Stability Control.
Our tester was your most basic ES 2WD with manual transmission and carried an MSRP of $19,170. You can pimp out your Outlander if you want, with more expensive trim levels and goodies like a CVT automatic transmission, leather seats, panoramic sunroof and more. Do so, and you can easily nudge $30,000.
Frankly, unless you’re averse to shifting for yourself, we’d opt for one just like our tester. Handsome and nicely equipped, the ES 2WD offers an engaging and simple honesty that we loved right from the start. And it’s hard to beat at such an attractive price. What a nice little SUV. And what a nice surprise.