Mitsubishi. The word may as well be Japanese for "how the mighty have fallen." 70 years ago, they made fearsome fighter planes that flew in World War II. 35 years ago, they had a pretty good name in the field of home electronics. And 30 years ago, they managed to crank out some fairly desirable sporty cars for their low-compression, emissions-control-choked time.
But they've never been able to break through to mass success in America, and with each passing year of subpar sales, the coffers get smaller, no doubt hurting research and development that might produce exciting new vehicles.
That's the only explanation I can manage for how Mitsu managed to be more than a decade late to the small SUV (think Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape) party and show up with a car that might have been competitive when the party started ten years back.
Simply put, it's slow, with a 2-liter four cylinder engine and a continuously variable transmission. It's noisy by contemporary standards and rough, too.
The arguments in its favor? Price...a base price of $22,995 for the all-wheel drive SE model we drove...$18,495 for the 2-wheel drive ES model (which comes with a 5-speed manual that might cure a lot of our problems with power and drivability...every step up comes with the CVT)...and mileage (the EPA says 24 city, 29 highway. We saw 24.5 in a mix of city street and freeway driving over 420 miles in one week)...and Mitsu's warranty package (10 years/100,000 miles powertrain, 7 years/70,000 miles anti-corrosion/perforation, 5 years/60,000 miles bumper-to-bumper and 5 years/unlimited mileage roadside assistance.
The interior? Hey, it's 2001 again! Hard, black, shiny plastic as far as the eye can see. Yeah, there are updates (keyless entry, pushbutton start, a full complement oof airbags, Bluetooth), but it's definitely old-school. And it's up against vehicles like the RAV4 that started here 10 years ago and have had a decade worth of refinement.
But there is the price thing. Our SE, with a Premium Package (panoramic glass roof with LED illumination...is this "Cash Cab"?, roof rails, an upgrade to a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system with 6-disc in-dash changer and Sirius satellite radio) priced at $1,800, topped out at $25,575. Show some restraint on the options list at the Toyota store and you can get a RAV4 close to that...but it'll be 2 wheel drive and more of a stripper. Drop to 2 wheel drive and a base vehicle with the Mitsu and you're nearly $7,000 cheaper.
In tough times, you can't rule out price as a motivator. But the Outlander Sport will probably be cross-shopped against three-year old RAV4s, CR-Vs and Escapes rather than new ones.