by: MITSUBISHI MOTOR SALES OF AMERICA - Restyled 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is one of the most affordable compact crossovers on the market.If you’re in the market for an affordable compact crossover with All-Wheel-Drive, here are a few thing you should know about the 2013 Mitsubishi Outland Sport SE AWD:

• It’s one of the least expensive models on the market.

• Despite it’s name, the Outland Sport isn’t very sporty.

• The Continuously Variable Transmission (CTV) is noisy and not very responsive. But it contributes to acceptable mileage for an AWD-equipped vehicle.

• The AWD system features three electronically-adjustable settings — two-wheel-drive, four-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive with a locked center differential. The two-wheel-drive setting miximizes while the locking differntial makes the Outland Sport more off-road worthy than most of its competitors.

• The interior has a lot of cheap-looking hard plastic, but the fabric seats in our test model were supportive and comfortable.

As you can see, it’s hard to enthusiastically recommend or completely dismiss the 2013 Outlander Sport. Mitsubishi is underfunded and struggling to compete against the newest compact crossovers, including the Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4.

So for 2013, the company has upgraded the exteror styling, sound insulation, interior features and retuned the CVT for even better mileage. The question is, will that be enough to attract buyers?

At first glance, the 2013 Outland Sport is a playful-looking small SUV. The exterior lines are sharp and the huge corporate grill and air dam suggests a hot ride. But the 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine only delivers 148 horsepower, well below most competitors.

And much of that power is compromised by the CVT. Although our test SE AWD model launched quickly from dead stops, it soon ran out of steam. Manual shifts are possible, both through the shift lever in the center console and the steering wheel-mounted paddles. But they were not crisp enough to be much fun.

The interior also sends mixed signals. Our test model came with over $4,000 worth of options, which included a panoramic glass roof, upgraded stereo, and a navigation system with a reaview camera. At the same time, the dash was a mishmash of unattractive plastic panels that undermined the feel of the premium options.

The ride was also contradictory. It was supple enough to absorb road imperfections but too lightly sprung for genuinely sporty driving.

All of this is especially frustrating because Mitsubishi makes a decent larger crossover, just called the Outlander without the Sport designation. The top-of-the-line Outlander GT models is a sleeper with a torquey 3.0-liter V6, an active front differential and adjustable AWD settings. In the annual Mudfest off-road competitions conducted by the Northwest Automative Press Assocation, the Outlander GT has more than held its own against more rugged looking competitors.

Which is not to say the 2013 Outlander Sport should be ignored by anyone looking for an affordable compact crossover with AWD. To the contrary, bring a sharp pencil and compare it the competitors feature by feature. Mitsubishi’s marketing strategy just might pay off for you. But be sure to take it on a long test drive, just to be sure.

Facts and figures (all models)

• Model tested: Outlander Sport.

• Manufacturer: Mitsubishi.

• Class: Compact crossover.

• Layout: Front engine, front and all-wheel-drive (as tested).

• Style: Five-door SUV.

• Engine: 2.0-liter inline 4 (148 hp, 145 lbs-ft).

• Transmission: Five-speed automatic; Continuously Variable Transmission.

• EPA estimated city/highway/mileage: 24/30/26 (FWD/manual); 25/31/27 FWD/ CVT); 24/29/26 (AWD/CVT).

• Price: Beginning at approximately $20,000 ($28,570 as tested).

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