Is Mitsubishi Making a Comeback With the New 2016 Outlander?

2016_Mitsubishi_Outlander_Front

Source: Mitsubishi

There was a time when Mitsubishi was an important, relevant car brand in the U.S., but unfortunately, that time has long passed. Today, Mitsubishi barely has a presence in the States, selling uncompetitive cars at very low prices. Great cars like the Eclipse and 3000GT are long dead, and even though the Lancer Evo technically still exists, it’s set to go out of production soon. Mitsubishi thinks it can make a comeback, though, and that comeback will be on the back of a redesigned Outlander.

Mitsubishi has announced that it will be unveiling the 2016 Outlander crossover SUV at the New York Auto Show this year. It promises a “more eloquent yet functional interior space,” as well as “enhanced road performance as the result of improvements to noise levels, ride, handling and throttle response.” The exterior, meanwhile, has been overhauled to showcase the brand’s new design language, a look that should eventually find its way to the rest of the lineup.

If you look closely, you can see the makings of a fairly attractive crossover SUV in the teaser photos. If anything, it will certainly draw more attention than the current Outlander, which has been on sale since 2013. While there’s nothing specifically wrong with the current Mitsubishi Outlander, the small crossover SUV segment is extremely competitive. With many more compelling options available, the Outlander has sold at or near the bottom of the segment since it went on sale.

The new Outlander is an extremely important vehicle for Mitsubishi. The brand’s sales have been propped up by the Outlander Sport, a separate model from the Outlander, but its small car, the Lancer, is extremely long in tooth, and its compact city car, the Mirage, is unimpressive at best. Meanwhile, the current Outlander somehow looked more dated than the model that it replaced. Some of its cars are selling okay, but people just aren’t buying Mitsubishis anymore.

2016_Mitsubishi_Outlander_Rear

Source: Mitsubishi

If the new Outlander deliver what the company promises though, there may finally be a solid reason to buy a Mitsubishi other than its low base price. The teaser photos look fairly promising, and with more refined handling and performance, there’s potential for quite a nice crossover SUV. It might not outsell Honda or Nissan, but it could actually compete in the segment. If it comes with a hybrid option that utilizes some of the technology from the i-MiEV electric car, it could actually be a really cool little crossover.

A great clue as to what the production Outlander will actually be can be found in the Outlander PHEV Concept-S that Mitsubishi showed at the 2014 Paris Auto Show. Mechanically related to the Outlander plug-in hybrid already on sale overseas, the Concept-S clearly shares a resemblance to the Outlander in the teasers. Whether a plug-in hybrid version will be available in the United States has yet to be confirmed, but the fuel efficiency of Mitsubishi’s all-wheel-drive, plug-in hybrid system would be a major selling point on a production Outlander.

Perhaps more important for Mitsubishi is that with more of a brand presence and increased sales comes increased cash flow. Crossover SUVs are hot right now, and if a company does it right, it can sell a lot of them very quickly. It costs a lot of money to develop completely new vehicles, and if Mitsubishi wants to make a comeback in the States, it needs sales to generate revenue. With a faster flowing revenue stream comes the opportunity to develop more vehicles. The Outlander Sport and Mirage may be selling OK, but that’s almost entirely because of their extremely low prices. It’s going to be hard enough convincing people to pay full dollar for a Mitsubishi again, and without that revenue stream coming in, justifying the cost of developing other competitive vehicles is going to be even harder.

While Mitsubishi’s current lineup might lack the refinement to truly compete, the company does have some great technology already developed that would make for some amazing vehicles if used correctly. The guts of the i-MiEV have a lot of potential for use turning other vehicles into plug-in hybrids, while Mitsubishi’s all-wheel-drive system is still one of the best on the market. Especially in northern states, all-wheel-drive is incredibly popular, and even traditionally rear-wheel-drive cars like the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class are usually seen in their all-wheel-drive trim. Other than Subaru, though, there aren’t many non-luxury automakers out there that have made a name for themselves selling all-wheel-drive vehicles.

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The Outlander Concept-S. Source: Mitsubishi

Incidentally, Mitsubishi’s plug-in hybrid system that it sells on the Outlander PHEV overseas is all-wheel-drive. There’s a lot of potential here for Mitsubishi to take the success that it’s had overseas and position itself in the American market as not just a serious rival with Subaru in the non-luxury, all-wheel-drive space, but it could also make a serious impact with affordable PHEVs as well. With the Evo being killed off, perhaps we could even see it return in a few years as a performance-focused, all-wheel-drive, plug-in hybrid. Heck, with enough sales success across other models, we might even see the first affordable plug-in hybrid sports car as a reincarnated 3000GT.

While that would be awesome, none of it is ever going to happen if Mitsubishi can’t get generate sales, and the 2016 Outlander is the first Mitsubishi in a long time that has the opportunity to really sell. Looks alone won’t do it, but if Mitsubishi really has improved acceleration, handling, and overall refinement like it claims that it has, then it the likes of Kia, Mazda, and Volkswagen better look out. I sure hope so, because even if they’re plug-in hybrids, America deserves to get a new Evo and a new 3000GT.

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