Mitsubishi? They still make those? Why yes, yes they do, as any Evo fan will be more than happy to tell you. The Japanese automaker has been hiding in plain sight in the U.S. market for years and is sending up flare named the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport to remind us that the brand is still here and it's plenty capable of making good cars.
Don't they already make an Outlander? Right again, and that's the idea behind Mitsubishi's branding strategy in the U.S. Just as the "Lancer family" ranges from a $14,000 people mover to a $42,000 performance machine, so too will the "Outlander family" cover a range of SUVs and crossovers meeting a variety of needs. Where the Outlander is a seven-passenger SUV serving larger families and more serious haulers, the Outlander Sport is five-seat crossover targeted at first-time buyers who want style with their utility.
Despite the riff on the Outlander name, the Outlander Sport is Mitsubishi's first all-new nameplate in six years. Even so, it does share more than a name with its older, larger sibling. The basic platform is the same in both vehicles and they share identical wheelbases. The Outlander's All Wheel Control system has been re-tuned for the Outlander Sport, but the same components are there, as is the same MacPherson Strut front and multi-link rear suspension, which has also been re-tuned. Above the frame, though, the only carryovers you'll find are the door mirrors, steering wheel and a few other interior bits.
So while the ingredients may be similar, the recipe produces a far different vehicle. The Outlander Sport is 14.6 inches shorter in length than the Outlander, 1.2 inches narrower and 1.9 inches shorter in height. The more compact dimensions and trick features like plastic front fenders make the little rig some 400 pounds lighter than the Outlander and its just 100 pounds heavier than a Lancer sedan.
It's a good thing, too, because the Outlander Sport's 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing doesn't sound especially impressive on paper, what with its 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. Weighing a hundred pounds less, or in some cases several hundred pounds less, than the competitive set, though, is a major advantage. On the road, the little four feels surprisingly peppy and while it won't win any drag races, it should stay on pace with its competitors. Much of that is thanks to a wide powerband, with full torque available from 2200 RPM to redline, as well as smart gearing choices.