Inheriting the essence of the Concept cX show car revealed at the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show, the all-new Mitsubishi RVR is the most important global car to come out of Mitsubishi Motors since the Lancer some five years ago. Slated for showrooms around the world by the end of this year, and in the U.S. this fall, the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport compact crossover has the Subaru Forester, VW Tiguan, and Nissan's successful and -- almost identically sized -- Qashqai in the crosshairs.
Lowered onto a version of the current Outlander's platform, the Outlander Sport (known as the RVR in Japan and the ASX in the rest of the world) is roughly 13.6-in. shorter overall than the Outlander and some 440 lb. lighter. But the RVR looks strangely familiar. That's because designers have decided that, for the foreseeable future, Mitsubishi's brand face will be modeled on the Lancer Evolution, with which the Outlander Sport shares some DNA. Hence the sharp upslanting Evo-styled HID headlights and the huge, upright Evo grille. We think it looks pretty stylish, albeit marginally Audi-ish.
As the global car buyer progressively leans toward smaller, cleaner, more fuel-efficient and competitively priced personal transport, "we are confident that the RVR is the right car for the right time," says project manager Hiroshi Fujii, who just happens to be the chief engineer of the last two Lancer Evolutions. He could well be right. After our brief test drive just east of Tokyo, we can say that the five-seat Outlander Sport should hit the marketplace running, thanks to its good looks, solid chassis, quality interior, and more than acceptable ride and comfort levels.
As one of the first examples to come off the production line in advance of its European debut in Geneva, our test car was an all-wheel-drive, Japan-spec model powered by a MIVEC 1.8-liter gas engine mated to a CVT generating an estimated 137 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 127 pound-feet of torque at 4200 rpm. Reaching 60 mph from rest in around 9 seconds, the Outlander Sport is no bullet. But it does its job efficiently, thanks in part to optimization of the CVT that has it turning 2100 rpm in sixth at 62 mph.
Floor the throttle and the Outlander Sport displays enough punch to satisfy most drivers. Those wanting a sportier response will use the paddle-shifter, which mimics a six-speed and shifts in first gear at 6000 rpm. But coming out of tight corners, you'll want to keep its engine spinning at over 3500 rpm. A five-speed manual gearbox will be available for those who want to shift for themselves.
Targeting a market that desires a higher level of ride comfort, the Mitsubishi crossover employs clever noise and vibration isolation with a ride quality that's arguably more comfortable and quieter than the Forester or Qashqai. "This car perfectly blends the high-level chassis stability of the Evo with the utility and comfort of the Outlander, but packaged into a more compact size," says Fujii.
It turns in on cue with good weight and steering feel and suffers from less understeer and body roll than the bigger Outlander, due in large part to its relatively light weight (the Japanese-spec model is roughly 3130 lb.) and a revised front McPherson strut and rear multi-link setup. The Outlander Sport pulls up adequately thanks to its front vented disc brakes with less than expected nose dive. It feels as solid, substantial, and stable on the road as any rival crossover on the market today.
All models worldwide will reportedly be available with ASC, ABS (with EBD), hill-start assist, and a brake energy regenerative system that channels the energy generated during deceleration and braking to the battery for use by the idle-stop system. The new crossover will also be available with Mitsubishi's three-mode electronically controlled AWD system, inherited from the Outlander. It allows drivers the choice of 2WD, AWD auto, and AWD lockup.
Internal safety tests award the Japanese-market RVR five-star offset and side impact crash test results. That car comes with seven airbags fitted as standard, including a driver's knee bag.
U.S. spec cars will be powered by a 2.0 liter, four-cylinder MIVEC gas engine and will reportedly be available with either five-speed manual or CVT options. But no power or emissions figures are available yet. European-spec cars will get a choice of either a 1.6-liter gas engine with a five-speed manual transmission (targeting 139g/km of CO2) or a totally new 1.8-liter turbodiesel mated to a six-speed manual gearbox with Auto-Stop-and-Go idle-stop (targeting 145g/km of CO2). U.S. spec cars can expect similar readings. Two- and AWD options will be offered as well. Expect power and torque figures to be revealed closer to the mid-year launch, although we are told that all engines clear Euro 4 and Tier 2 Bin 5 emissions regulations.
Inside, Mitsubishi has lifted trim levels with high-quality plastics, and added a powered leather seat option, a Rockford Fosgate audio system, and a panorama glass roof. But whether the roof will meet international roll-over crash standards is still being determined. It boasts both telescopic and tilt steering functions, and while the car's seats are firm and comfortable, rear seat headroom caters to those under six feet tall. And it gets no less than seven cupholders -- five for front seat passengers. Engineers are especially proud of the Outlander Sport's newly fitted 'super-wide' HID headlight coverage, which doubles the area of road lit on both sides by the lights.
Based on a Mitsubishi engineer's comments, the U.S.-spec version with the 2.0-liter and five-speed manual combination will be the one to go for, and will deliver more driving enjoyment than the CVT-equipped model we drove in Japan. While pricing is still to be announced, one source suggested that the Outlander Sport will undercut all rivals while offering an almost identical driving experience and class-leading ride comfort levels. Mitsubishi has clearly done a lot of work developing the new Outlander Sport. It remains to be seen if it can make a dent in the fiercely competitive small crossover segment.
| 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport (Japanese Spec) |
| Price || $25,000 (est) |
| Vehicle layout || Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV |
| Engine || 1.8-L/137-hp/127 lb-ft I-4 |
| Transmission || Continuously variable transmission; five-speed manual |
| Curb weight || 3130 lbs (mfr est) |
| Wheelbase || 105.1 in |
| Length x width x height || 169 in. x 69.7 in x 63.6 in |
| 0-60 mph || 9 seconds (mfr est) |
| EPA city/hwy fuel econ || Not yet rated |
| On sale in U.S. || Fall 2010 |