New design for 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport as brand awaits alliance’s new platforms and products

A new styling direction takes form on Mitsubishi’s most-popular SUV, as new product spawned from its alliance with Nissan and Renault waits in the wings.

The 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport carries over with no mechanical changes compared to the 2019 model. But its new face – part of a front/rear styling redo plus new interior trims/tech for the 5-seat, 2-row SUV – signals a new start for the brand in the U.S. Having pared its product lineup to all-SUV plus the economy minded B-segment Mirage, the triple-diamond brand is saucing up its styling while it awaits a bevy of new platforms and products from its alliance with Nissan/Renault.

Mitsubishi sold over 100,000 vehicles in the U.S. for the last two years running. Compared to the nearly 350,000 vehicles it sold in 2002 (or the 800K pickups Ford delivers in a year), this might not sound spectacular. But compared to the sub-54K year it had in 2009, the steady growth over the last 10 years (including a 14% jump last year in a flat-overall market) shows that life is returning to the brand.

Fresh leadership, strong alliance
According to Fred Diaz, president and CEO of Mitsubishi Motors North America (MMNA), much of the growth can be credited to new leadership at MMNA, where 80% of exec team (himself included) is new in the last three years, with a focus on diversity (women hold the CMO, CIO and CHRO positions). Diaz came to Mitsubishi from his previous VP position at Nissan Trucks, with the former CEO of the Ram truck brand joining Nissan in 2013. Through the alliance, Diaz moved to a position with Mitsubishi in Japan before taking over as MMNA CEO in April of 2018.

With only 367 dealers in the U.S., Diaz also credits a redesigned incentive program and closer ties with its dealer advisory board (which now meets every other month versus twice yearly) for the steady gains in sales, but notes Mitsubishi currently has dealerships in only 61% of U.S. markets. Diaz said they hope to raise that figure to 90% in the next few years and fill that pipeline with new products via its Renault/Nissan/Mitsubishi (RNM) alliance.

With Carlos Ghosn, the former head of the RNM alliance, only recently released on bail from his second incarceration in Japan, speculation and inquiries about the alliance’s future and stability have been rampant. According to Diaz, the RNM alliance “remains strong, and no one can afford to see it go sour.” He said this strength has been bolstered even further by the alliance’s new management team. Most importantly, Diaz noted, the alliance will permit Mitsubishi to bring all-new products based on new platforms to market, and those products are coming.

Best-seller facelift
Making its global debut at the Geneva show in March, the 2020 Outlander Sport is Mitsubishi’s best-selling vehicle in the U.S. (39K in 2018). The new ‘Sport (top) was on display for media recently at Mitsubishi Motors R&D of America (MRDA) head office in Ann Arbor, Michigan. MRDA serves a number of roles including vehicle adaptation and certification for the North American market, technical-trend research including cybersecurity testing, and managing customer market surveys (see the MRDA history and org chart in the image gallery).

For MY2020, the new Outlander Sport is described by Diaz as “big minor change,” as it incorporates some new tech as well as a new design direction for the brand. The FWD SUV retains its two naturally aspirated 4-cylinder powertrains (2.0L and 2.4L), is automatic-only (CVT) for 2020 (manual take-rate was under 2%) with an optional but versatile (via multiple modes) AWD setup. The new front and rear clips represent Mitsubishi’s new design direction including the “Dynamic Shield” front-end styling, and both the front and rear fascias now feature full LED lighting.

Inside, the 2020 Outlander Sport gets new upgraded trim and materials, including new tactile controls with actual knobs to improve usability. A new 8-inch infotainment screen (one of the largest in the segment) provides both Apple Carplay/Android Auto as well as SiriusXM compatibility. Standard across the lineup will be 18-inch alloy wheels. The new Outlander Sport is expected to go on sale in the U.S. in September, with pricing available closer to launch.

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