By Derek Price
CNHI News Service
— Introduced just three years ago, the Outlander Sport is a relative newcomer to Mitsubishi's lineup.
Despite what were initially lukewarm reviews from the press, buyers seem to love it, making it Mitsubishi's top seller in the United States today. It even outsells more affordable cars, like the Lancer, and more famous vehicles like the Galant and Outlander that it shares a name with.
Why is it such a hot seller?
It's a good value, for starters. It has a base price around $19,000 and comes with a nice list of standard equipment for the money, including the FUSE hands-free system that lets you control your smartphone and stereo with voice commands.
It's also got a good reputation for safety, with last year's model being named a "Top Safety Pick" by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. And it has a bigger, more substantial, SUV-like feel compared to some of its compact crossover competitors, like the Nissan Juke.
Still, in my mind at least, the Outlander Sport never stood out in this ultra-competitive category, and it's hard to pin down exactly why that was. It didn't have the perky driving feel of a Mazda, the supple cabin of a Hyundai, or the reputation of a Honda, perhaps.
Mitsubishi is trying to rectify that with some major changes to the 2013 model year that help it stand out more.
Styling gets a thorough massage, both inside and out, to keep it looking fresh in the fast-moving current of compact crossovers. The front end is heavily revised, including a new grille design, in addition to new rear bumpers, black side sills and chrome accents that add some bling.
Every single model gets 18-inch alloy wheels this year, too, which is an improvement over the wheels on last year's base model.
The changes aren't quite as noticeable inside. It gets new seating fabric, chrome accents on the front doors, better speakers with the premium sound system and — best of all — improved sound insulation that helps reduce wind and road noise.
The Outlander Sport's driving feel also has some subtle but noticeable differences. Its rear suspension design has been revised to improve the comfort and handling, and changes to the electric power steering give a bit more feedback to the driver. Mitsubishi also tweaked its continuously variable transmission for a smoother feel and better acceleration.
Overall, it adds up to a big improvement. The 2013 Outlander Sport feels considerably more refined as a whole than the original that came out three years ago.
Still, the "Sport" in this car's name is a bit of a misnomer. It should be thought of as a smaller, more efficient version of the Outlander rather than one that's more zippy. Outlander Smart might be a better name.
Pricing starts at $19,170 with a manual transmission or $20,370 with the automatic. It tops out at $24,895 for the LE model with all-wheel drive.
Derek Price is an automotive columnist for CNHI News Service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.