As a car journalist, I’ve had the benefit of attending the New York Auto Show for the past few years. Obviously, I go during media days, and the car companies really show their swagger. The champagne flows freely at the Bentley booth. Premium import beer and sushi abound at Infiniti, with Sebastian Vettel’s Formula 1 race car in plain sight. New car intros are choreographed shows in themselves, with lighting, deafening techno music that without fail makes my heart beat a few ticks faster. The feeling and experience are intense, and I never grow tired of it. All of this relentless, non-stop action takes place on the main floor of the Jacob Javitt Center in New York City, an easy walk from Times Square.
And then…there is the basement of the Javitt Center. The car companies with deep pockets keep the new cars upstairs, but they will take space downstairs to display to the public the other cars they have on offer. There is no music. No food. No celebrations. No buzz. It is nearly dead silent, a dramatic contrast to the pandemonium going on up above. Instead of auto journos, photographers and auto industry execs elbowing each other, downstairs at the Javitt consists of a handful of car company reps quietly milling about. And it is here where struggling Mitsubishi holds court. It’s actually depressing. It’s akin to attending one of the biggest bashes of the year, but opting instead to just hang out in the mud room and let everyone else have a grand time.
Which brings us to our test car, a 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, or in Canada, better known as the RVR. The Garage is no stranger to this car, having tested one when it debuted as a 2011. We walked away less than thrilled, but two years later, it was time to revisit and see if any improvement were made. Since we last reviewed the Outlander Sport, Mitsubishi added additional sound insulation, recalibrated the continuously variable transmission for better response and acceleration, updated the styling front and back, kicked in improved stereo speakers, and finally, some chassis and steering improvements.
The Outlander Sport’s strongest suit is the sheetmetal it is wrapped in. Of all the compact crossovers out there, I would argue the Outlander Sport is one of the best looking out there. It is sporty and distinctive. Our test car was finished in an utterly luxurious Mercury Grey offset by 18″ chrome alloys. I normally detest chrome wheels, but in this application, Mitsubishi opted for a sort of near matte chrome finish, and the look is classy, not crass. Pronounced fender flares, creased hood and forward leaning front fascia lend an all-business, no nonsense look to the Outlander Sport. In a sea of me-too crossovers that have the character and personality of a bowl of oatmeal, the Outlander Sport is a refreshing alternative.
Inside, however, things are not quite as exciting. To be fair, controls are easy to use, and fairly intuitive. But the interior design is rather uninspiring. Black plastic is the main theme here, and it comes off as hard and cheap. The light tan perforated leather seats helped to lighten the mood, but given the daily abuse families subject their cars to, I imagine it will be a struggle to keep such light colored seating surfaces looking clean.
Our Outlander Sport served as our transport to Citi Field in New York City to watch the New York Mets play the Philadelphia Phillies. And this is where the Outlander Sport went all wrong. Before I even left the driveway, the car’s GPS would not recognize the address of Citi Field, one of the most beautiful major League Baseball parks in America. So I entered just the street name, which got us completely lost. The GPS was hopelessly slow in responding to changes, and kept changing its mind on a whim. We finally just whipped out our Android to get to the park. So instead of enjoying a hot dog at the Shake Shack, I was arguing with the Mitsu’s GPS, nevermind the growing frustration of my passengers. Slightly cramped quarters in the back seat and surprisingly limited cargo capacity did not help.
All Outlander Sports get their motivation from a 2.0L four rated at 148hp. A five speed manual is available on the front wheel drive base model only. All other models are equipped with a CVT, which is a real killjoy and really makes me question why Mitsubishi had the nerve to even suggest ‘Sport’ in the name of this car. The Outlander Sport is lethargic in spite of its small size. There is nothing at all sporty about it handling, braking, or steering. In the madness of I-95 from Connecticut to New York, the Outlander Sport was slow when I needed good passing power. The whole car just felt sloppy. To make matters worse, there was a disturbing squeaking sound coming from the rear suspension once I was at highway speed. So much so I pulled over twice to inspect it. With only 3,000 miles on the clock, I honestly had doubts the car would get us home. Thankfully, it did, but suffice it say, this driver and passengers were just glad to be out of the car.
Our test car was the top-spec LE with all-wheel drive. Standard price for this car is $24,895USD. Standard equipment includes the 18″ alloys, aluminum pedals, power driver’s seat, paddle shifters, stop/start engine switch, auto climate control, heated front seats, and SiriusXM satellite radio. Our heavily equipped test car added the LE Premium Package featuring a panoramic glass roof with LED lighting, a nine speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system, auto dimming rear view mirror and a back up camera. Heaping on Navigation, leather interior and destination charges, total MSRP rings in at $30,915. Mitsubishi has a lot of nerve to charge thirty grand for a car with such an anemic engine, cheap interior and lackluster handling.
And that is why I am so frustrated. A crossover that looks this good deserves better. The small crossover market is white hot in terms of sales, but barely simmering in terms of excitement. The Outlander Sport looks the part, but cannot deliver the goods its wrapper suggests. If you want some sport in your compact CUV, the Mazda CX-5 is the benchmark, and it is with deep regret that the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport does not even come close. And that is why Mitsubishi spent the New York Auto Show in the basement last year.