2020 Mitsubishi Outlander improved SUV still lags leaders

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Mitsubishi for years has been among the lowest-selling mainstream manufacturers. It doesn’t offer flash, much innovation and its marketing campaigns are restrained. Still, the 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander, the carmaker’s stalwart SUV, combines a few worthy attractions.

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The Outlander, which debuted in North America in 2003, is among the least expensive compact crossovers. It has three rows of seating and with Kia and Hyundai offers the industry’s best powertrain warranty, 10 years/100,000 miles.

2020 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
The 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander features upgrades.

For buyers interested in value over brand prestige and who are not particularly concerned about performance or a luxury ride, the redone Outlander Sport GT is intriguing. The idea appears to have caught on.

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Mitsubishi sales have increased for seven straight years, including about 2.5 percent in 2019. The caveat: Yearly sales are still one-third of the carmaker’s peak about 20 years ago. The Outlander is also the country’s second-poorest selling compact SUV.

Available in the entry-level ES trim and moving up to SP, SE and GT, the 2020 Outlander Sport is at its best in the top-line Sport GT. It’s powered with a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine with 168 horsepower and a continuously variable transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive is optional.

Mitsubishi in recent years also introduced the Outlander as a plug-in hybrid. It’s rare in the industry and the carmaker gets credit for the effort. Like the Sport model, it has two seating rows because the battery utilizes the space otherwise pegged for a row of seating.

Still, the Outlander doesn’t get close to matching its competitors in many key areas. The exterior design and interior features define basic. The crossover has the persona of a physician’s examination room or a basic, clean roadside motel room. What’s needed is there, but don’t expect much else. Frills are not part of the deal.

There’s something attractive about that equation. Simplicity is good, but don’t mistake Mitsubishi as slacking. For 2020, it added a power lumbar adjustment to the driver’s seat in all trims. A second USB port has been added and the functionality for the heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems have improved with redesigned controls. Higher-end Outlander trims have a new eight-inch infotainment center.

Standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels, LED lights, heated mirrors, automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, 60/40-split folding rear seatbacks, Bluetooth, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality, satellite radio and voice controls and heated front seats.

The Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Crosstrek are segment leaders for their combination of strong gas mileage averages, comfort, durability and overall quality. The Outlander doesn’t match the frontrunners.

While the ride isn’t noisy, the Outlander has a rough ride and there’s a noticeable lean while cornering. No road imperfections go unfelt. It’s not problematic around town, but don’t expect long family hauls with any level of comfort.

The Mitsubishi trim’s name also doesn’t exactly fit. There’s nothing sporty about its braking and handling. The 0-60 miles per hour standard is achieved in 7.9 seconds, which isn’t the best nor the worst in the class.

Gas mileage is rated at 23 miles per gallon in city driving, 28 mpg on the freeway. Again, competitors do far better. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price is $26,895, with the price as tested $28,920.

The Outlander Sport debuted for the 2011 model year and it was refreshed for 2016. Further changes have occurred every year since. But what Mitsubishi needs if it wants to further increase sales and perhaps infiltrate the segment leaders’ reign is to start anew.

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