2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport ES 2WD

The thing about the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport ES: This is why option lists were invented.

The thing about the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport ES: This is why option lists were invented.

I have long been a fan—for the most part—of Mitsubishi products. And it always has been something of a mystery to me as to why the company sells so few vehicles in the U.S. (according to Autodata, its sales through May ‘11 were 35,816 vehicles, which puts them ahead of Suzuki, but well behind everyone else in the full-line vehicle offerings). I suspect that it has to do with a dearth of dealerships.

But then I drove the 2011 Outlander Sport ES—an all-new vehicle—and sort of began to reconsider.

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From the front, this crossover has that wonderful aggro-Lancer Evo look. And from the rear, it has sufficiently edgy angles.

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But from the side, a rising charter line from the front to rear notwithstanding, it is really rather boring, especially in the Mercury Gray color. And—and here’s where we really long for the ability to tick some boxes on the options list—the 16-inch steel wheels with wheel covers: I honestly forgot that such things were still being offered, and lest you think this is a matter of being snobbish, as I look outside the window of the office building I’m sitting in and survey the parking lot that includes everything from Pontiacs to Ford Windstars, there is absolutely nothing out there resembling the paltry covers on the Outlander’s steel wheels. Heck, the Rolling Stones “Steel Wheels” album came out in 1989.

Under the hood there is a 2.0-liter four that uses Mitsubishi’s version of variable valve timing for both the intake and exhaust valves, MIVEC. One of the reasons that I’ve admired Mitsubishis is because they really have some trick engineering, particularly in the powertrain area. Toss in things like electric power steering and a high-efficiency alternator, and you have a system that will get you some really good gas mileage for it being a five-passenger crossover. In mixed city-highway driving I averaged about 25 mpg.

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But—and there’s always a “But”—the engine is mated, in the case of this particular vehicle—to a five-speed manual transmission. If you are driving, say, at 45 mph, then that is great. If you’re on a freeway, you’re looking to grab another gear that’s not there. This is not a good thing. While many vehicles are pleasantly quiet, when you’re running down I-75 and the tach is reading >3,000 rpm, you’re beginning to wonder when that engine-strain noise will end, and then you’re hoping that the engine-strain noise will end, and then you’re realizing that the engine-strain noise won’t end. . . .

The suspension—MacPherson struts in the front and trailing multi-link in the rear—provides a reasonably comfortable ride. There are disc brakes all around.

Inside, the IP has a nice layout and good materials. The base seat material is sufficiently innocuous so as not to be noticeable. There are powered locks and mirrors, and a power window. The HVAC system is not automatic, nor are the headlights. And there are plenty of airbags—front, side, side curtain, driver’s knee.

Now I have to admit that the MSRP is certainly notable, at $18,495 (destination and handling adds another $780). And they offer warranty coverage—10-year/100,000-mile powertrain, 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper (yes, there are asterisks, so take these as general figures; your coverage may vary). And I suppose that this vehicle exists largely with hopes that the price will appeal.

But truly: drive a Mitsubishi that isn’t a stripper version. You, too, may wonder why there are not more of them out there.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.0-liter I4, 16-valve, DOHC

Material: Aluminum block and head

Horsepower: 148 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 145 lb-ft @ 4,200 rpm

Transmission: Five-speed manual

Wheelbase: 105.1 in.

Length: 169.1 in.

Width: 69.7 in.

Height: 64.2 in.

Base curb weight: 3,032 lb.

EPA Estimates: 24/31 mpg city/hwy

MSRP (without delivery): $18,495