If you've forgotten Mitsubishi, don't blame yourself. A generation ago, Mitsubishi's American arm had a financial meltdown, precipitated by a consumer financing plan offering zero interest and zero payments for way-too-many-months. When it was time to make payments customers simply returned the cars, leaving Mitsubishi holding a very expensive inventory worth substantially less than what was owed. Later, of course, the economy had its own meltdown, from which most of America's automotive industry rebounded. But Mitsubishi, with a sparse lineup and little marketing, is still working on that. A recent infusion of Nissan capital will help, as should Nissan's managerial oversight.
Despite Mitsubishi's aging lineup, the Outlander Sport stands out - Mitsubishi continued to build it while other manufacturers were belatedly awakening to the subcompact crossover segment. And while its platform is old and its menu of standard and optional equipment dated, if you're on a tight budget you might find it attractive.
Dimensionally, the Outlander Sport is a plus-size relative to Mazda's CX-3 and Honda's HR-V. For a detailed comparison of all three entries, visit Autoblog's comparison tool here. The CX-3 boasts the shortest wheelbase (101.2 inches), while the Honda sits at 102.8 inches and the compact Outlander Sport stretches to 105.1. In overall length the Mitsu is close to both the CX-3 (168 inches for the Mazda, 171.5 for the Outlander Sport and 169.1 inches for the HR-V). Finally, the Outlander Sport's 3,000-pound weight is within a belt notch of the Mazda's 2,900 and the Honda's 2,900 (front-wheel drive/manual).
The Mitsubishi sheetmetal and stance is reminiscent of Audi's Q5, and while the similarity is coincidental, it's fun to have an upmarket look in a $20,000 car.
Of course, once the Outlander Sport is turned on, that upmarket vibe is gone. For your $20K you'll get a 2.0-liter engine offering 148 horsepower, just north of Mazda's 146 and Honda' s 141. Having to propel just 3,000 pounds through its standard 5-speed manual (no stick shift is offered in the CX-3), responsiveness is adequate, while efficiency - 23 city/29 highway/25 combined - isn't what you'd hope from its small footprint.
Inside, spacious room for four gets compromised – like most in the segment – as soon as you add a fifth. But its wheelbase, width and greenhouse avoid the claustrophobia of the CX-3 or other subcompacts such as the Chevy Trax. Its plastics are what you'd expect for $20K, but the ride – supported by an all-independent suspension – is comfortable, and handling is reasonably composed.
And you simply can't deny its accessibility. Mitsubishi's website suggests a purchase of a base Outlander Sport, with 10 percent down plus taxes, title and license fees, would require less than $260/month for 72 months. We'd work to keep that payment schedule under 60 months, but your financial exposure on 72-month financing shouldn't be any worse than on a 36-month lease. Know that a 5-year/60,000 mile warranty is there to support you, along with 10-year, 100,000-mile coverage on the powertrain. But disappointing resale values will work against establishing real equity until it's paid off, and a sparsely populated dealer network complicates getting regularly scheduled maintenance.
At this price, the Outlander Sport offers a lot to like, little to love. But if you're looking for love at $20,000, you're looking for love in all the wrong places.