Limited safety tech
2020 Outlander Sport
Entering its tenth year of production, the 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, the brand’s second-best selling model, receives a second mild refresh four years after the first, that includes a redesigned front fascia, improved front lighting, a new alloy wheel design, a revised infotainment system with a larger touchscreen, and a new options package for the base model.
Eighty-sixing the last vestiges of Lancer-inspired heritage, the latest incarnation of the Outlander Sport’s front fascia features a butched-up version of the brand’s "Dynamic Shield" motif. A pair of horizontal chrome bars define the upper grille, and a wide, etched mid bar separates it from a horizontal body-color trim strip that splits the lower air intake. The upper grille is bracketed by a pair of narrow LED-trimmed headlight housings set above a chrome-wrapped surround that sets off a vertical black bezel containing a pair of upper turn signals, and lower fog lights.
The hood is now a clamshell design, while the front fender has been revised with a trim piece added behind the wheel well – its upper edge defining the starting point for the upper crease that terminates in front of the taillight housings on the upper rear quarter panel. In back, the tail light lenses have been revised, while the area below the rear bumper now features a pair of faux brake ducts that bookend a more aggressive lower valance.
That mildly updated exterior is wrapped around a cabin that, at 101 cu ft, sits about mid-pack - more spacious than the Chevrolet Trax, Nissan Kicks and Mazda CX-3, but smaller than the Ford EcoSport, Kia Soul, and Subaru Impreza. Updates for 2020 include a larger touchscreen, with redundant controls moved below it, a revised strip under the climate control panel that contains 2 USB ports, and a revamped, soft-trimmed, center console that offers a larger storage bin in place of the ridiculous cupholder in front of the shifter.
The front seats are supportive with decent head, shoulder, hip, and leg room. The seating position is also relatively high, which translates to great driver sight lines out front and to the sides. The instrumentation in front of the driver - a pair of round dials (tach and speedo) plus a central multi-information display that includes fuel, engine and transmission readouts - is clear and easy to read, while the rest of the controls are intuitive and within easy reach of the driver. The larger touchscreen is a big improvement over the outgoing model, the infotainment is also easy to use, with hard buttons and knobs for most of the system's major functions, reducing the need to go deep into the menu for the most important functions, and the availability of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is also a big plus. Wrapping things up, the upper dashboard trim is now soft touch, three adults can fit in back, although the center seat is on the firm side, while the center console and doors offer improved storage.
But the goodness ends there. Stepping inside is like traveling back to the era of cheap econobox transportation, as most of the interior is awash in dark, hard plastics, giving it a cave-like feel that’s exacerbated by the lack of a sunroof option on any model. Fit and finish is also mediocre, and our eyes were drawn to the flat, featureless, hard plastic trim that surrounds the front door latches, the poorly-grained hard plastic upper door trim, and the cheap-looking plain front seatback trim. Leather seating has also been dropped from the lineup along with the top-shelf Rockford Fosgate sound system. Finally, the driver’s view out the rear three-quarters and out back is partially obstructed by the sloping roofline and small rear window, although this is true with many crossovers in this class.
Under the hood
The Outlander Sport is offered with two engines, although neither one impresses. The first, formerly available only on the base ES but now standard on the SP and SE trims as well, is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder generating 148 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque. Mitsubishi has dropped the 5-speed manual, so only a CVT automatic is offered. Front-wheel-drive is standard and, unlike the previous version, like the SP and SE trims, you can now get an ES with all-wheel-drive.
Our GT tester is the only trim now offered with the larger 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that develops a class-competitive 168 horsepower and 167 lb-ft of torque, which is also matched to a CVT automatic, and available with either front- or all-wheel-drive.
Front-wheel-drive models equipped with the 2.0-liter engine earn an EPA-estimated 24 miles per gallon city, 30 mpg highway, and 27 combined, with four-wheel-drive versions achieving an EPA-estimated 23 mpg city, 29 highway, and 26 combined. A front-wheel-drive GT scores an EPA-estimated 23 mpg city, 29 highway, and 25 combined, while choosing all-wheel-drive drops those numbers to an EPA-estimated 23 mpg city, 28 highway, and 25 combined.
Our own vehicle-measured fuel economy came in at an EPA-eclipsing 28.7 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving.
On the road
Around town, handling is secure and the suspension setup offers enough compliance to absorb most road imperfections. Body lean is noticeable, but not unexpected in a vehicle of this type, but its manageable and cornering is tight thanks to the Outlander Sport's short wheelbase. In addition, although the pads offer little initial bite, the brakes are easy to modulate and there's good feedback through the brake pedal. At highway speeds, the Outlander tracks fairly well down the road, although grooved pavement and strong crosswinds can affect it.
But make no mistake. This Outlander may have "Sport" in its name, but the driving experience is hardly sporty. Even the larger 2.5-liter engine in our GT tester felt sluggish off the line, delivering only adequate acceleration as the CVT strained to hold revs near the 4,600-rpm sweet spot for fuel economy. In addition, any launch with alacrity is accompanied by loud droaning from the CVT. Choosing the transmission's Sport mode, if anything, makes matters worse, as the noise from the CVT is exacerbated and constant at any speed in this setting. Finally, an abundance of wind, road, and tire noise enter the cabin at freeway speeds, making long trips especially tiring.
The 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is available in four trim levels: ES, SP (which replaces the previous LE trim), SE, and GT.
Even the entry-level front-wheel-drive ES is hardly the stripper the attractive price might indicate. Standard equipment includes the usual power features (windows, locks, mirrors), along with a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth as well as such niceties as 18-inch alloy wheels, LED low and high beam headlights, daytime running lights, and tail lights, heated outside mirrors, rear roof spoiler, automatic climate control, color information display in the instrument cluster, and rear privacy glass. It would be foolish not to spring for the $850 Convenience Package, which adds heated front seats, floor mats, cargo cover, steering wheel voice recognition controls, and a slick-looking audio panel that features a larger 8-inch touch screen along with satellite radio, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capabilities.
The SP trim comes with all those bits plus trim-specific front and rear body undercovers, a carbon-style grille, and larger roof spoiler.
Opting for the SE model deletes all three of those items, but adds LED fog lights, automatic headlights, exterior satin silver and chrome accents, power folding outside mirrors with turn signals, rain-sensing wipers, illuminated sun visor vanity mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, keyless push-button start, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
The SE is also the gateway trim to the Outlander Sport’s advanced safety features that include forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, blind spot detection with lane change assist, and rear cross-traffic alert.
Models like our GT also offer standard black roof rails, faux leather and suede seating, and a black headliner.
2020 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport prices
2020 Outlander Sport prices start at a very attractive $23,690 for a front-wheel-drive ES and top out at $28,090 for an all-wheel-drive example in GT trim. Our $26,895 GT AWC tester, finished in optional ($395) Sunshine Orange, and equipped with an accessory cargo area cover ($190) and floor mats ($145) came in a bit above that mark, with an MSRP, including a $1,095 destination fee, of $28,720 (although with the current destination fee of $1,195, the MSRP would clock in at $100 more).
The Bottom Line
With an affordable entry price, roomy interior, smooth ride, and inoffensive design, the 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport should be solid choice as a small crossover. But unless you’re shopping just price, Mitsubishi’s smallest crossover, with its bargain-basement interior, loud, performance-robbing CVT, and limited safety tech, is way overdue for a major makeover, and is now an also-ran in the class.