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    ….Mitsubishi Shoots For More Appeal With New Outlander Sport

    “Not really my kind of ride.” “Only if you’re into that racing stuff.” “Yeah, but how’s the quality?”

    Mitsubishi has probably heard it all when it comes to gauging US consumers about its vehicles despite the appeal of its cars in some other markets around the world. It’s been a tough stigma for the carmaker to break with a lot of American consumers.

    Kinda like convincing those who prefer Pepsi to switch to Coca-Cola or vice versa. No matter how you package the pitch, a lot of fans of the beverages will contest the idea that the other tastes better.

    Mitsubishi is hoping to change that with the new 2011 Outlander Sport. The compact crossover aims to address a lot of those key issues that could help broaden the carmaker’s appeal in the US, especially among a younger demo that might not be all that interested in zooming around racetracks.

    For those not too familiar with the brand, Mitsubishi has a built quite a rep for its performance as a rally car. Trouble is, not everybody’s interested in drifting or doing burnouts. In fact, most people aren’t, which is why Mitsubishi has been focusing more of its attention on features that make their vehicles more appealing to the general market.

    WHAT’S UNIQUE?

    One of the key areas of focus has been styling, which is evident with the new Outlander Sport. Mitsubishi’s new crossover, designed to have more urban appeal, is a lot sportier than the full-size Outlander.

    The body of the Outlander Sport is completely different than the Outlander except for the side mirrors. Mitsubishi opted to use the same name for familiarity due to the popularity of the brand.

    Key exterior styling cues on the Sport model include Mitsubishi’s front fascia inspired the company’s high-performance sports sedan — the all of which give the crossover a more aggressive look.

    The Outlander Sport, which arrives to dealerships in the fall, is featured in two models, the base ES or SE model.

    GETTING YOU THERE

    Ideally, I would’ve liked to have an opportunity to spend more time with the Outlander Sport on the road. My first test drive consisted of a short 30-minute loop with a focus on providing an opportunity to also experience some of Mitsubishi’s other vehicles on the track and some obstacle courses. But for the short drive, the Outlander Sport felt solid behind the wheel.

    Available in either a 2WD or 4WD, the Outlander Sport is powered by 2.0-liter that produces 148 horsepower and 143 lb.-ft. of torque. The power is decent for daily commutes but I could definitely hear that engine working up to get up some of those inclines in Southern California. Of course, some of that might be attributed to the fact that the model tested was a preproduction model and Mitsubishi is still working out a few kinks.

    An obstacle course set up at Infineon Raceway during our test drive, however, provided a good feel for how well the Outlander Sport’s 4WD system performs on various road conditions and some fairly challenging driving situations. After all, performance is a part of Mitsubishi’s DNA.

    The 2WD ES model is available with either a 5-speed manual or the Sportronic continuously variable transmission (CVT), which provides better fuel economy. The 2WD/4WD SE versions come equipped exclusively with the CVT unit. Gas mileage is 31 city and 25 highway.

    While fairly basic in design, the interior of the Outlander Sport is available with a number of features for the compact crossover segment. They include cruise control with steering wheel mounted controls, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry and a 140-watt CD/MP3 audio system with steering wheel controls and four speakers, digital signal processor, equalization control and speed compensated volume and FUSE HandsFree Link System with USB input jack.

    Interior room and cargo space is pretty modest for the segment.

    COOL OPTIONS

    The SE model features 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, super-wide beam HID (S-HID) headlamps, rain-sensing wind­shield wipers, auto on/off headlamps, upgraded interior fabric, push button start and the FAST-key passive entry system.

    Among the available luxury upgrades are remote engine start, super high-intensity discharge lights, in-dash six-disc CD/MP3 compatible changer, panoramic glass roof with adjustable LED mood lighting, exterior sport trim package, piano black center console and shift panel overlay, and a 40GB navigation system with music server and real-time traffic.

    The Outlander Sport SE is also available with steering wheel paddle shifts.

    Other upgrades include a 710-watt Rockford-Fosgate nine-speaker audio system including a 10-inch dual-voice coil subwoofer with punch control, which is practically a booming studio on wheels.

    Standard safety features include front air bag supplemental restraint system (SRS) for both driver and front passenger, front side-impact air bags and air curtains, a driver knee air bag, driver’s seat position and passenger weight sensors, active front seat headrests and 3-point seat belts for all five seating positions.

    Pricing? About $18,500 for the base ES Outlander Sport and $26,500 for the SE model, which makes for a compelling case to at least check out Mitsubishi if you’re in the market for a compact crossover − even if the idea of zooming around a racetrack has never crossed your mind.

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