Since 2010, Mitsubishi produced a vehicle that has set the standard in the small SUV segment.
This is old news, really. It remains a stalwart in its class, as more competitors have been added to compete against it. Some of my colleagues deemed the Outlander Sport as "old," "aging," "long in the tooth," and so forth.
To keep this vehicle competitive, you have to make some leaps that will still attract new consumers to it. After all, it has been one of the reasons for Mitsubishi's steady and progressive comeback from their darkest days of the 0-for-0-for-0 financing blunder.
For 2020, the Outlander Sport received several important updates for its fourth update. One, a more aggressive Dynamic Shield front end with improved headlamps and a more defined look that we witnessed on the Outlander and the Eclipse Cross. In fact, the Outlander Sport has a front end design that is more in tune with products not available in the USA – such as the Triton pickup truck, the Pajero Sport SUV, and the Xpander minivan.
The second is a taillight cluster that is more defined and three-dimensional. It follows none of the conventions seen across the Mitsubishi lineup here and abroad. Along with the new side-vent-like applique on the front fenders and handsome new wheels across all trims, these design features could be the way forward on future models.
Step inside, and you will see the third big improvement. The center stack is now crowned with the largest touchscreen in any Mitsubishi stateside. The touchscreen has been increased to eight inches, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. It also resides in a prominent and clean looking fascia attached between the air vents and the climate controls.
Then, there's the fourth improvement. The continuously variable transmission has always been the bane of the Outlander Sport's existence. What Mitsubishi learned from the Eclipse Cross is that you can make a better CVT that goes through the ratios properly and at the right speed. They worked on the Outlander Sport's CVT towards achieving better ratio changes, quicker drop downs from high revs, and smoother operation.
For the USA market, customers can choose between three trim levels – ES, SE, and GT. The ES and SE get the smaller 148-horsepower 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine. The GT which I drove had the 168-horsepower 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine. Across all three trim levels, you can choose between front-wheel-drive or Mitsubishi's All Wheel Control system.
Importantly, customers will get improved features in lower trim levels without having to pay for a top-of-the-line GT model. SE customers can now get a complement of active safety, convenience, and technology features. ES customers can opt for a package that provides several upgraded features that are standard on the SE.
Taking everything into consideration, the big question is whether the 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is still the stalwart in the subcompact SUV class. Will this vehicle quell the undercurrent of naysayers who question its existence since 2011?
First off, I can see the marked improvements working in Mitsubishi's favor. The CVT shifts where it needs to. On the highway, initial on-ramp and passing maneuvers do not require a full throttle towards keeping the revs up around 4,000-4,500 RPM before kicking down. The new CVT algorithm kicks the ratios up quickly to get the engine to settle into cruising revs down the highway. You can feel the improvement at stop lights, as well as on lonely highways. The CVT also seems happier cruising at relative speeds with lower engine revs than previous Outlander Sport models.
The other big improvement inside the Outlander Sport is comfort. The seats have new fabrics and materials designed for all bodies with superb bolstering cushion, and backrest support. The ES has a cool pattern designed to lock you in behind the wheel, while the GT offers leather and suede-like combination seating with contrasting stitching and a nice mix of luxury and sportiness.
Using the new touchscreen is also fantastic. The system quickly connects your smartphone providing an easy-to-use workable interface with the enlarged screen. Native system screens are also improved with large home page icons and easy-to-read radio screens.
The proof is in the driving. Over the years, I've had my turn in the Outlander Sport – watching its progression from being a doppelganger for the Lancer to today's Dynamic Shield hero. One thing that remains is the feeling of driving that is solid, comfortable, and easy to operate. That is one thing that has not changed, even with improvements to the CVT and some braking action. It remains the most solid feeling vehicle in its class.
Pricing for the 2020 Outlander Sport starts at $22,495 for a front-drive ES model and can climb up to $26,895 for a GT model with All Wheel Control. Considering today's price points, the Outlander Sport remains a solid value, especially with all-wheel-drive.
If you've owned an Outlander Sport in the past – and loved it – the 2020 model is going to be several steps forward from what you have right now. If you are shopping in the subcompact SUV class, include this one on your list. You might even love it enough to buy one.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by White Bear Mitsubishi, White Bear Lake, MN
All photos by Randy Stern