Mitsubishi finds itself riding along an upward trajectory.
The rebounding, can-do company proudly points to seven consecutive years of sales growth in the U.S. While accurate, a deeper dive reveals Mitsubishi had nowhere to go but up. With sales at an anemic low of 53,998 in 2009, rumors swirled Mitsubishi may eventually leave the U.S. market, a move Suzuki, another long-time Asian carmaker with a similar small-car philosophy, eventually triggered.
Suzuki's U.S. division ultimately deemed the 2007-2008 Great Recession unrecoverable, and now concentrates efforts and limited resources in emerging markets including India (rather than mature sectors such as the U.S.).
While Suzuki quietly announced its U.S. exit strategy in 2012, Mitsubishi stayed the course, eventually reversing a downward slide by returning U.S. annual sales above 100,000 units in 2017 thanks in no small part to Outlander and Outlander Sport, five-door crossovers comfortably occupying the industry's hottest segments.
Others took note of Mitsubishi's reversal of fortune. In 2016, it joined two rivals sporting larger worldwide footprints, Renault and Nissan, creating the newly titled Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance.
Mitsubishi U.S. vehicle sales reached 121,043 units in 2019, a steady 2.5 percent increase from 2018's 118,074. Mitsubishi's best year for U.S. sales dates back to 2002, which saw a very healthy 345,915 units sold.
Both Outlander and Outlander Sport include four side doors, and convenient, uplifting back hatch. Outlander includes slightly longer dimensions and three rows of inside seating while occupying the smaller end of the mid-size sector. The perkier Outlander Sport suffices with two seating rows and competes in the compact arena. Mitsubishi also markets a five-door crossover/hatchback with smaller dimensions than Outlander Sport, the three-cylinder Mirage, a name rejoining Mitsubishi's cast in the 2017 model year.
Mitsubishi debuted Outlander Sport back in the 2011 model year. The current 2020 edition continues utilizing this same but aging platform. Generous 2020 updates mask its age and exterior styling remains gracefully relevant.
Two wheel drive comes standard with all-wheel drive optional ($1,500) in all trims and highly recommended for rugged upper Midwest residents. A circular button ahead of the transmission shifter stamped 'AWD' needs a manual push to switch between two wheel drive, all-wheel drive and four-wheel low.
Mitsubishi vehicles display a fan-blade-like tri-diamond logo centering the outside front grille and inside steering wheel. From Japanese, Mitsubishi loosely translates to 'three diamonds.'
Many casual car shoppers remain familiar with rival automakers Hyundai/Kia's 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, a perk these South Korean companies have successfully marketed to their advantage for more than two decades. But Mitsubishi plays in this sand box too.
In addition to the 10-year powertrain coverage, the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport includes a five-year/60,000-mile new-vehicle limited warranty covering a majority of Mitsubishi supplied parts. Most automakers choose a three-year, 36,000-mile time horizon. The new-vehicle limited warranty is transferable to a second owner receiving the remaining balance of the five-year/60,000 mile span.
And Mitsubishi adds 24-hour roadside assistance for five years (with unlimited mileage) providing jump starts, towing, flat tire service and emergency petro delivery. Stuff drivers hope to never need, but nice to know is readily available.
Roadside Assistance also includes 'concierge service,' helping ease unforeseen inconveniences with phone representatives assisting to notify family members, business associates and travel professionals. Finally, if you find yourself more than 150 miles from home with Outlander Sport disabled overnight do to a warrantable condition, roadside assistance will reimburse meals and lodging up to $175 per day up to three days once authorized.
Luxury automakers dangle several of these posh conveniences, but Mitsubishi targets a different audience with similar needs if life unexpectedly goes sideways.
Three new 2020 exterior color selections include Red Diamond (adding an extra $595 and adorning our tester), Sunshine Orange with a slightly less price premium ($395) and no-extra-cost Oak Brown.
In 2020, trim levels pare down from four to three, with the lower tier LE sent into retirement leaving entry ES, SE and top-shelf GT. The mid-level SE now includes a 'convenience package,' the only option package Outlander Sport offers and simplifying the dealership purchasing process with few factory stand-alone extras. Top-trim GTs come fully loaded.
Two available engines include a base 2.0-liter four cylinder delivering a ho-hum 148 horsepower now mates with a standard continuously variable transmission (CVT). The low-take five-speed manual previously offered in ES trims was dropped. Fuel economy reaches into the 30s with EPA estimates of 24 miles per gallon city and 30 highway with front drive (23/29 mpg with all-wheel drive).
A more potent and recommended option returns in the form of a 2.4-liter four-banger cranking out 168 horsepower and mating with the same (CVT). It's standard in GT. While CVTs deliver a smooth, predictable experience, a performance perk it is not.
However, Outlander Sport should never be confused with high-octane driving speeds (despite "Sport" in the title); instead, it's a practical, inexpensive mode of transport with a great warranty package. Suspension remains firm, sometimes bumpy and wind noise seeps into the cabin at highway speeds.
Our tester's 2.4-liter four/CVT combo platter generated a somewhat underwhelming 23 miles per gallon city and 28 mpg highway with all-wheel drive. The fuel tank holds 15.8 gallons of 87-octane unleaded regular fuel.
The well-stocked GT tester included a $26,895 starting point. Minimal extras included the aforementioned Red Diamond Paint ($595), privacy hatch cover ($190) and carpeted floor mats ($145) for a $28,920 bottom line with $1,095 destination fee. The lowest-priced version, an ES with front drive, checks in at $22,495.
Exterior facelifts include new SE and GT-trim LED fog lamps residing in quad light structures. This 2 x 2 housing sits below LED low and high-beam bejeweled daytime running lights in a narrow wrap-around housing connecting the updated shield-like grille and side fender. The quad box includes side-by-side amber turn signal lights atop and fog lamps below. The front bumper and hood also refresh in 2020. Tail lights newly fashion with LED technology in a side-resting 'T' design.
The instrument panel's ease of use results from a simplistic design. No buttons to push or paneled tutorials to wade through, a quick glance says it all. Two deep-set analog gauges include a left-side tachometer and right-side speedometer with a constant digital screen between displaying the current gear, blue-bar fuel gauge, miles to empty and odometer.
New-for-2020 gloss black and silver finish adorning HVAC controls with the best tactile design to date; three, sizeable, easy grab-and-twist dials (fan speed, temperature, direction). Above resides an in-dash screen featuring a new, second-generation Smartphone link with eight-inch display (optional in ES, standard in GT). Popular Smartphone pairing (Apple Car Play, Android Auto) allows in-phone apps and maps to play through the screen.
The 60/40 split second row backrests fold down onto cushions. When prone, two adults fit most comfortably, three's a squeeze. 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander
Price as tested: $28,920
Engine: 2.4-liter four-cylinder turbo
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
Length: 171.9 inches
Width: 71.3 inches
Height: 64.8 inches
Fuel Economy: 23 mpg city/ 28 mpg highway
Powertrain warranty: 10 years/100,000 miles
Built: Kurashiki, Japan