Mountain Wheels: The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport a top safety pick
December 22, 2012
So, does Mitsubishi also win the award for crafting the most terrifying continuously variable transmission in all of Christendom, or not?
Your perspective on that oh-dear-lord-it’s-slow-to-react CVT might change a little bit if you get a chance to run the CVT-equipped Outlander Sport around in the snow (yes, the Front Range at long last got snow, albeit briefly).
Where, as I discovered, maybe the long, long, slow build-up in power provided by the little Outlander’s transmission – sounding like an old outboard motor or a blender full of margaritas in the acceleration process – might not be such a bad thing, when traction is crucial.
Sadly, that was the only circumstance under which the sprightly, truncated version of the Outlander did not drive me absolutely insane. On dry pavement, trying to get the car up to speed is nightmarishly loud.
And I can only imagine the howling, 6,000-rpm fright fest you might experience trying to keep the car at speed if you needed to get up to the Eisenhower Tunnel, as Summit County residents might actually want to do, once in a while. Add to that some very inorganic steering feel and …
The funny thing is that beyond that heinous transmission, the little Mitsubishi, now in its third year of production, is a pretty decent little car – though, with Suzuki gone, Mitsubishi officially takes the title of America’s most austere automotive option. Should you want to do so, you might be able to get the basest of base models in FWD for a smidge over $19,000.
As a result, plastic is still the name of the game on the insides, lots and lots of plastic.
Nonetheless, there are a few advantages to the Outlander Sport – which I would absolutely implore any high-altitude buyer to order equipped with the optional five-speed manual transmission.
Firstly, the AWD model is good for up to 29 mpg on the highway, and once you do get it rolling, the little 148-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder is indeed blessedly fuel efficient.
Secondly, unlike the products of some of the other bigger players in the biz, the Outlander Sport was just named one of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s top safety picks, for the second year in a row.
Thirdly, the optional navigation and audio system (a 710-watt Rockford-Fosgate setup with a giant kicker in the back) is pretty cool; that Premium Package of options also includes a super-gigantic glass sunroof and black roof rails – so you can have a great view of your Thule rack, I guess.
And the car’s overall design is quite attractive, with a gigantic, jet engine intake-styled front grille that even Audi seems to be trying to replicate, as does Kia.
You might ask a few questions about the overstated body arch, running through the door handles, which literally collides into the wheel wells, but maybe you’ll like that detail. I don’t know.
To its credit, Mitsubishi’s all-wheel drive system is also quite competent, and it’s deployed in a method unlike other automakers: Until you push the large “4WD” button on the center console, the car remains in fuel-saving FWD mode. Push the button once and the car will go into AWD mode when traction requires it to do so; push it a second time and the AWD system is locked on.
I tooled around on a bumpy dirt road for a bit and on snow-packed streets and the Outlander Sport certainly has some light-rugged capability.
One slight advantage of the CVT setup: Gigantic aluminum shifter paddles behind the steering wheel, courtesy of the race-car Evolution model. Well-suited for instantaneous de-acceleration, should you need that.
Despite the size, it’s comfortable inside, with generous room for rear-seat passengers, and almost 50 cubic feet of storage space with the seats dropped.
Front seating was squishy cloth but comfortable on a long drive, and very intensely heated, though the seat-heater switch is hard to reach.
Small, pleasant and relatively inexpensive. But man, that transmission. Ouch.