If you were making a list of companies that struggled during the past 10 years, Mitsubishi would probably show up on it, given the near death of its American operations at the start of the decade.
But Mitsubishi, with a bit of grit, a bit luck and its ability to hang on to a small troop of loyal buyers and dealers now offers a product portfolio that, while easy to overlook, is also certainly worth consideration.
The 2020 Outlander Sport GT, for example, is Mitsubishi’s entry in the subcompact utility vehicle category where it competes against the likes of the Honda HR-V, Chevrolet Trax, Hyundai Kona and Mazda CX-3. It is surprisingly roomy with space to carry adults and a lot of everyday stuff. It also is quite maneuverable and has ample power.
I thought it was fun to drive and didn’t require a lot of fuss or bother to handle in traffic or slip into a parking space in the crowded urban/suburban eco-system where I happen to live and work. It also has enough old-fashioned utility vehicle character to handle a bit of country driving when needed, I found.
The power was adequate for passing on the freeway and keeping up with traffic.
The Outlander Sport I drove was equipped with an upgraded 2.4-liter engine offering 168 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 167 pound-feet of torque at 4,100 rpm. The engine was matched with a continuously variable transmission, which is available on all trim levels, that operated smoothly and never seemed to miss a beat.
The powertrain in the vehicle I drove also included Mitsubishi’s All-Wheel Control four-wheel drive system that enhanced traction in slippery weather conditions as it rained quite a bit during my test.
The AWC system includes a rear differential carrier, and electronically controlled coupling connected to the forward section of the rear differential and a power-transfer unit mated to the transmission near the front axle.
Mitsubishi says the components have been designed to lightweight but sturdy and reliable. The system offers enhanced fuel economy, better and steering feel while the vehicle accelerating from a dead stop and reduces noise, vibration and harshness.
For 2020, Mitsubishi also give the Outlander Sport a facelift that includes a new take on the company’s “Dynamic Shield” front fascia, a new hood, new front and rear bumper as well as new lighting with LED lights in both the front and rear. Mitsubishi’s designers have also added a new character piece along the side that actually works to enhance the vehicle’s overall appearance.
Mitsubishi also added 18-inch wheels and optional LED fog lamps and LED daytime running lights that are arrayed to give the vehicle a distinctive appearance on the road any time but particularly at night.
The changes on the inside the 2020 Outlander Sport are, in a subtle way, even more impressive. In recent years, the interiors of Mitsubishi vehicles had an old-school feel that had a certain amount of appeal. But the appeal was limited, and Mitsubishi’s have used new materials and new elements such as a new center console and knobs for the heating and air conditioning unit that painted silver and black.
Mitsubishi has been slower than most to adopt new technology but with the 2020 Outlander Sport, it is making a serious effort to cover lost ground as it has added safety technology such forward collision mitigation, lane departure warnings, automatic high-beam headlights and blind-spot detection as well as cross traffic alert.
A new 8-inch smart phone display with audio display and connection to satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also now available on the 2020 Outlander Sport, moving them closer to similar vehicles offered by rival brands. Voice recognition and heated seats also are available on the most expensive trim levels.
The Outlander Sport still has shortcomings. The cabin isn’t exactly sealed off against road noise, but the noise doesn’t overwhelm the entertainment system and the cabin is quiet enough to reduce some of the stress on longer trips.
Moreover, by the standards of today’s automotive market, the Outlander Sport is relatively good vehicle even measured against similar vehicles from other challenger brands such as Hyundai.
The version I drove, which included the optional $1,500 AWC system and a convenience package, was loaded with everything Mitsubishi is prepared to offer on new vehicle, including a special orange metallic paint that cost extra, carried a sticker price of $28,720.
Mitsubishi executives are proud to note they ended the decade as the fastest growing Asian brand in the U.S. and judging from overall appeal and value of the new Outlander Sport, it looks as if their comeback is continuing to gain traction.