The 2011 Outlander Sport is more dude-like than your average small crossover. Its trapezoidal grille matches that of its Lancer Evolution sibling and looks more on the lean-mean-driving-machine side than some of its daisy-picking competition. It looks shark-like, and its 148-horsepower inline-four-cylinder is peppy enough for everyday driving and can be pushed to be aggressive. Also, the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters kept me feeling race-inspired. My one hang up was the continuously variable automatic transmission. I'm trying to love CVTs, but the constant high-pitched revs in the Outlander Sport make it difficult. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the base Outlander Sport ES.
Regardless, the Outlander Sport is a distinctive standout in a market segment with growing appeal and interesting models. My test car, an Outlander Sport SE with all-wheel drive, cost $25,575. The base front-wheel drive model starts at $18,495.
The Outlander Sport has a sleek look. There's a little overbite on the grille, and narrow headlights that make it look menacing. Any parent driving it would look sporty in the carpool lane.
Parental concerns are few in the Outlander Sport. The doors are easy to open for everyone except smaller kids. Young ones also might have difficulty climbing into the car, but older kids should be able to jump in without any problems. The liftgate is not too heavy or too high. It's just right, Goldilocks!
The cargo area is large enough for a grocery run, but not a double stroller. In the backseat, there's a pass-through to the cargo area, which is handy if you want your kids to bust into the Oreos before you get home from the grocery store. Be careful not to obscure the massive speakers back there with boring parent stuff, otherwise your groove will not be completely on.
The Outlander Sport has a 2.0-liter inline-four-cylinder engine. My all-wheel-drive test car gets an EPA-estimated 24/29 mpg city/highway; for better gas mileage, the front-wheel-drive model with a CVT gets 25/31 mpg. In addition, you can use regular unleaded gas in the Outlander Sport and avoid taking out a second mortgage to pay for it.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times
The Outlander Sport's interior is simple but not plain. There are enough chrome- and metal-looking accents to keep the interior from being boring.
The climate controls are in the form of easy-to-decipher knobs, and the stereo system is straightforward, which I appreciated even though it looks dated with its dot-matrix display. Between that and the Rockford Fosgate logo, I felt like I was back in 1988. Those were good times, but an update wouldn't hurt, either.
The Outlander Sport's Bluetooth hands-free phone system was a piece of cake to use. The instrument cluster had a more modern readout than the stereo, and I loved that it said, "See You" whenever I turned the car off. Hopefully, it didn't say "Wouldn't want to be you" after I got out and closed the door.
The five-passenger crossover only comes with fabric upholstery, which is usually tough for parents to maintain. Add to the fact that it's black and you know that every piece of lint, Goldfish cracker and other miscellaneous goo will be easy for the whole world to see. Fortunately, there was a cool-looking square pattern on the fabric to help camouflage the kid debris.
The front seats are comfortable and bolstered just enough that they made me feel snug in them. The backseat bench isn't bolstered, and there's a surprising amount of legroom in the second row.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
The two sets of Latch anchors in the Outlander Sport are simple to use. But the Outlander Sport has a problem that I'm seeing more often: The seat belt buckles are placed too close to the doors. This means the seat is too narrow for a booster seat base, causing it to slide over the buckle. In the Outlander Sport, my child had to hold the booster to one side while she hops back on it and tries to buckle up before the seat creeps over the buckle. This might be more annoying than floppy seat belt buckles.
A rear-facing infant-safety seat fit if the front passenger was willing to sacrifice a little legroom, and a forward-facing convertible seat fit easily in the Outlander Sport's backseat.
The Outlander Sport has numerous safety features. It has standard all-disc antilock brakes, front-wheel drive, an electronic stability system, traction control and seven airbags, including a driver's knee airbag and side curtains for both rows.
Optional safety features include all-wheel drive and a backup camera, which is part of a $2,000 navigation package.
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