Mitsubishi has a problem. Several, actually, and Executive Vice President Don Swearingen readily addressed them when we sat down with him for a quick chat at the Los Angeles Auto Show. We’ll be covering more on that in the near future, but for now, rest assured that the company is taking steps to address the issues.
The 2016 Outlander Sport is a critical piece to solving Mitsubishi’s North American headaches. As the brand’s entry in the red-hot compact crossover market, the Outlander Sport is the hand Mitsubishi is using to hold onto the cliff it’s hanging from. Though the Lancer got a mild refresh for 2016, it’s a dated model that hasn’t seen any meaningful updates in years, which in a post-recession economy isn’t exactly a favorable position to be in. Mitsubishi knows this, but it also knows that sedan sales are on the decline as utility sales take a larger bite out of the sedan market.
It’s principle weapon was the Outlander, the more full-size SUV that competes in the same ring as the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Ford Edge, etc. However, a less-than-ideal (read: disastrous) rollout of the last generation Outlander (to which Swearingen will attest) shifted more weight of responsibility to the smaller Outlander Sport, which continues to perform admirably.
In order to keep up its sales momentum while the new Outlander (and its Dynamic Shield design language) regains its footing, Mitsubishi has also taken pen and paper to the Sport. It, too, now sports the Dynamic Shield styling language across its front end, with a distinctive new front fascia that manages to give the Outlander Sport a new demeanor without having to change much of the vehicle at all.
From the back, you’d be excused for not realizing that you were looking at the new and revamped model — the rear quarters were hardly touched from the 2015 model, if at all. However, the 2016 Outlander Sport does put some new alloy wheels to good use, and new lip wheel moldings and power folding side door mirrors with turn indicator lamps add some extra flair.
Aside from the fresh face, it’s the host of interior improvements that further set the Outlander Sport apart from its predecessor. Mitsu added a new leather-wrapped steering wheel, improved seat materials, a new panel design for air conditioning, an improved 6.1-inch Display Audio System, and new auto-dimming rearview mirror.
The powertrain for 2016 remains the same naturally-aspirated 2.4-liter inline-four. It’s not terribly potent, and there’s nothing especially groundbreaking about it, but it’s a reliable unit that will handily hold the vehicle over until Mitsubishi can take a closer look at the Outlander Sport and redesign it from the ground up.
The Outlander Sport isn’t a 3000GT or a new Lancer Evolution. It’s not an Eclipse or Galant VR4. The Outlander Sport isn’t the halo car that Mitsubishi wants, but it’s certainly the one it needs right now when volume sales are the company’s utmost priority. The Outlander isn’t a ground-breaking road-legal rally car, but it’s been a rare bright spot in a dim Mitsubishi portfolio.
Mitsubishi’s SUV strategy is striking while the iron is hot, and no one can fault it for that.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.