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Mitsubishi crossover, big Toyota sedan retain some appeal

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport cropped for webThe 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport doesn't impress for its refinement or fuel efficiency, but it delivers a true crossover experience in a small and affordable package. COURTESY PHOTO  Mitsubishi was ahead of the curve when it launched the 2011 Outlander Sport. A size smaller than a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, the Outlander Sport offered the high seating position, available all-wheel-drive and useful cargo capacity of competing compact crossovers – just without as much bulk or as high of a price.
Now, an entire market class has joined Mitsubishi: the subcompact crossover. It faces off against such competitors as the Honda HR-V and Toyota C-HR, after those automakers also realized that not everyone wanted a crossover as large as their best-selling models.
The Outlander Sport has changed little since 2011, but it retains its fundamental appeal. From its base price of $21,360, the 2018 Outlander Sport provides a credible crossover experience in a class where some models offer no more cargo space or ground clearance than an economy car. Mitsubishi also boosts its value quotient by including such items as a touchscreen infotainment system, 18-inch alloy wheels and automatic climate control as no-extra-cost standard equipment, along with generous warranty coverage.
That's not to say that it's all good news. Even back in 2011, the Outlander Sport wasn't too impressive for its refinement or driving dynamics – and without major mechanical upgrades since then, it's not surprising that the 2018 also isn't going to blow you away.

The four-cylinder engines make a poor impression, with a lethargic feel and droning sound when you press the accelerator gently. The tested 2.4-liter, 168-horsepower unit does OK once you've put your foot down – it sounds like it should be painfully slow, but it's capable of keeping up with traffic pretty well. The base model's 2.0-liter with 148 horsepower, meanwhile, meets expectations perfectly: It's as slow as it sounds.
Despite the subcompact dimensions and the Sport branding, the Outlander Sport isn't much fun to drive. The steering feels disconnected and numb, conveying little information to a driver who tries to swerve quickly. The ride quality isn't great, either.
This description may sound like a pretty sorry vehicle that should have been left back in 2011. But many of the same criticisms – or others – apply even to the newer subcompact crossovers. Some compromises are inherent in the smallest, least expensive vehicles; despite its pedigree, Honda doesn't do much better than Mitsubishi. The Outlander Sport has even outclassed the HR-V (and the C-HR and Nissan Rogue Sport) by offering Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration; Mitsubishi recently swapped in a modern new infotainment system, while these newer competitors still have more dated systems.
Do shop the Outlander Sport carefully; while you can expect to find compelling discounts, its sticker prices aren't actually that outstanding if you can't score a good deal. Its value proposition is also diminished by mediocre fuel economy: the tested 2.4-liter model with all-wheel-drive uses just 25 mpg in mixed driving. The Kia Soul remains the class's outstanding bargain except for buyers who want all-wheel-drive; otherwise, options abound within this burgeoning market segment.
But count the Outlander Sport among the subcompact crossovers worthy of contention, especially if a high seating position and respectable cargo capacity are important factors.
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2017 Toyota Avalon cropped for webThe 2017 Toyota Avalon full-size sedan's classy styling preserves some appeal against the drastically improved Camry. COURTESY PHOTO  For the 2018 model year, Toyota redesigned its best-selling Camry midsize sedan, boosting comfort, refinement, style, build quality and overall luxury, while retaining its ample interior space.
That upgrade, however, leaves the full-size flagship model – the Avalon – in a bit of an awkward place, leaving it at risk of being eclipsed in every meaningful way by its smaller, less expensive stablemate.
Priced from $34,395 – coming standard with plenty of luxury features at that price – the Avalon is not without merit. Toyota converted this model from a cushy barge into something closer to a svelte sports sedan in its last redesign. While the Avalon doesn't quite have the handling poise to excite driving enthusiasts, its firm steering, powerful V6 engine and sleek silhouette remain competitive even as the model ages. (A fuel-sipping four-cylinder gas-electric hybrid model is also available.) Meanwhile, the Avalon benefits from Toyota's decision to include a suite of cutting-edge safety features as standard equipment on almost every model.
Still, the Avalon's interior provides a positive first impression thanks to a modern style and lots of nice materials, it is in need of an upgrade since a number of trim pieces feel too cheap for this high price and the touchscreen infotainment system is dated compared to the one included with the Camry or most of its competitors.
However, Toyota's controversial styling decisions for the Camry leave a niche for the Avalon, which might be attractive to someone who wants a Toyota but dislikes the smaller model's aggressive styling. Buyers who don't demand the latest infotainment tech won't miss the Camry's advantages there, and the Avalon continues to drive quite pleasantly despite its age.
But objectively, the redesigned Camry does pretty much everything the Avalon can do – and some things it can't, such as more power at a lower price, and more consistent interior quality – while costing several thousand dollars less. A fully decked-out 2018 Camry is already a worthy flagship sedan for Toyota.
Also shop the Avalon against competing full-size sedans, including the Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Impala, and Genesis G80, though note that these vehicles feel bulkier than the Toyota and lack its full suite of standard safety features.

@BradyHoltAutos

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