Base ES models will put power to the front wheels through either a five-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission. The five-speed, though it may sound outdated, works fine in the real world and is very easy to drive. A light, easy-to-use clutch pedal is matched by a light, fairly precise shifter that rows easily through the gears. While comfortable and effortless to operate, the shifter's throws are quite long as the shifter itself is tall, conjuring up memories of old manual transmission trucks. Of course, those old rear-wheel drive workhorses didn't torque steer, which the front-wheel drive Outlander Sport does just a bit when you stand on it.
The real surprise is the CVT, which doesn't come across as the penalty you would expect but rather as a very competent transmission. On the street, it feels every bit as quick as the manual. It's also quick to react to changing road conditions and should you slot it into manual mode, it does a six-speed auto impression good enough to fool even jaded auto journalists into believing it actually has gears.
If the two-wheel drive ES has a shortcoming, though, it's in the handling department. Our pre-production ride exhibited quite a bit of body roll on turn-in and didn't feel planted at higher speeds. A switch over to a pre-production SE model with Mitsubishi's fantastic All Wheel Control all-wheel drive quickly cured those problems. The CVT-only SE is available in two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, and the latter is definitely worth the price if you plan on any spirited driving. Body roll is better controlled and the vehicle feels much more connected to the road at freeway speeds, making the Outlander Sport quite comfortable and effortless to drive.
Moreover, the AWC system also gives you options. When running to the store, leave it in 2WD and you'll reap the fuel economy benefits, estimated at up to 31 mpg highway. If you're looking for more traction and control say in inclement weather, click it over to 4WD Auto. If sporty driving is what you're after (and maximum fuel economy isn't), drop it in 4WD Lock and the system can shift up to 70 percent of the power to the rear or 80 percent to the front as conditions warrant.