Driven: The Game Changer? Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV

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There’s no doubt that we live in an age of motoring evolution, watching history unfold before our eyes. Hybrid and electric vehicles were once the butt of many motoring columnists’ jokes, discarded as a waste of time or, at their worst, as something which threatened the joy of true motoring. In a way it’s an ironic viewpoint, considering that electric cars have been around almost as long as their counterparts which rely on miniature explosions for propulsion. But they’re steadily gaining a foothold in the modern era, thanks in part to government schemes, the interest of early adopters and increasingly efficient technology.31

Nissan’s Leaf is an affordable electric car which has got a lot going for it in terms of comfort and ease of use, even if it isn’t the best looking vehicle on the market. Ford have an electric Focus which doesn’t look altogether different from the outside. Mitsubishi’s i-Miev might look a like a bug which has crashed into your windscreen at speed, but it’s a useful city car and isn’t all that bad to drive. Even BMW have got in on the act, with their luxury i3 and the electric sportscar, the i8. And eventually we’ll see Tesla’s beautifully crafted Model S reach European shores, looking for all the world like the offspring of a Jaguar and an Aston Martin. For the electric car enthusiast there’s quite the range of options, a list which continues to grow.

These vehicles have one thing in common – they’re all road cars, designed for smooth tarmac, urban (and rural) roads. And if you want to delve deeper, off road, via battery power? The options are limited. There’s Toyota’s RAV 4 EV, but that’s only sold in California. Porsche, meanwhile, have launched a hybrid Cayenne, although that is likely to be out of reach for the ordinary EV driver. You could always try to manoeuvre a BMW i3 around a muddy track, but you’re not likely to get very far. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (plug in hybrid electric vehicle) is another story, however.

Power

Three drive modes are available in the PHEV. Electric mode, unsurprisingly, uses electric power only to drive the wheels via motors which are mounted on the front and rear axles (80bhp each), with no fuel consumption or emissions. Series hybrid mode features a mixture of electric power with assistance from the 2.0L 119bhp engine which generates electricity when the battery is low or when extra power is needed. The third mode is parallel hybrid. Here the engine provides the power, with the motor providing an additional boost when needed.

If it seems like it’s all getting a little complicated, don’t worry – the car takes care of this for you, with very little to indicate that it’s switching between these modes, save for a handy colourful diagram on the driver’s instrument cluster. You can also choose to hold the battery’s charge, ideal if you’re on the way into an urban environment. The hybrid aspect works best for these short journeys – driving around Dublin city we used no fuel at all, and regenerative braking helps recharge the battery. There’s also an eco mode which sends all power to the front wheels unless otherwise needed, which helps boost fuel economy.

The Outlander PHEV uses regenerative braking to help charge the battery, but obviously you’ll need to plug in somewhere to fully recharge. A full charge at home will take around 4.5 hours (using an ESB-supplied wall charger), while a quick charge at any of the charging facilities dotted around the country will give you 80% capacity in just 30 minutes. There’s also a third method which uses the engine to charge the battery – 80% capacity in 40 minutes. According to Mitsubishi, should you use ESB’s night rates, you could have a full charge for just €1.40. Mitsubishi also provide an app for new owners which allows for smartphone communication between car and phone – controlling climate control and the charging times, handy for night-time charging.

Driving

On the road, it’s relatively comfortable on all surfaces, though on_d8n5473 the rougher roads you’ll hear a little vibration in the rear, and feel it through the steering wheel – unsurprising when you consider its relatively low profile. It steers quite well for a big car (a little heavy at lower speeds) and there’s acres of grip at hand. Braking is strong and forceful. Because the car is so quiet when running on battery power, Mitubishi have added an acoustic warning system for pedestrians. And it doesn’t get overly noisy for the driver when switching back to fossil fuels – sound deadening and thicker glass keeps outside noise to a minimum. Torque is instantly available when running on battery power, equivalent to the power of a 3.0L engine, though with its extra bulk, the Outlander’s acceleration doesn’t quite match other hybrid or electric cars – 0-100km/h in around 11 seconds, with a top speed of 170km/h.

What we were really interested in, however, is how it would fare in the rough. Fairly well, is the long and short of it. For forays into grassland and some relatively muddy patches of ground, the Outlander’s 4WD system does its job well. Just be careful when taking it into deep mud, however – a low profile and road tyres mean it won’t be too long before you’re calling for help, as one driver in the Netherlands found out earlier this year. It isn’t designed for places a Toyota Landcruiser would eagerly dive into, but for wet grass and dodgy country roads, it’s an ideal tool. Towing capacity is 1,500kg, about 500kg less than the ordinary diesel version – a small trailer load, or a small caravan.

Interior

_6105685The PHEV comes in two styles – Instense+ and Instyle. Standard equipment on the basic Intense+ model isn’t too bad and includes automatic air con, cruise control, rear parking sensors, hill start assist, seven airbags, 18” alloy wheels, rain sensor wipers, privacy glass, roof rails and more. The Instyle option adds an electric sunroof, sat nav and a reversing camera, the Mitsubishi remote control system, and leather seats.

From the inside, you can’t tell that there’s anything special about this particular Outlander, bar the battery level indicator present in the instrument cluster, and an electric power meter in place of the more traditional rev counter. For the price, the trim isn’t quite worth it – there’s a relatively basic feel to it, although a few options like comfortable, heated seats, automatic headlights and voice control are welcome additions. Mitsubishi have said they are bringing out a more richly trimmed model, presumably with a higher cost. At the very least, the current incarnation is robust, and well matched for rough-and-tumble family life.

The media centre is a little cluttered, and could do with fewer options with which to distract the eye, while the touchscreen requires some force behind your finger to get it to work. On the up side, there’s plenty of space for cargo; 463L – that’s only 3% less than the ordinary Outlander.

Good Choice?

Unlike many electric or hybrid models, Mitsubishi have priced the Outlander PHEV competitively when compared with their fossil fuel version; €41,950 (Intense+) and €47,450 (Instyle). Of all the options, the Outlander PHEV – named large SUV of the year at the recent Association of Professional Motoring Press’ (APMP) Car and Van of the Year Awards – is probably the best hybrid option for Irish roads. It’s rugged and pleasant to drive regardless of the weather, well able for Ireland’s mixture of smooth (relatively) surfaced motorways and the more uneven national and B roads. Five people can fit comfortably inside, and the boot is a great size. Range anxiety is eliminated to some degree by in-journey charging (albeit resulting in high fuel consumption) and a petrol engine which provides diesel fuel consumption levels. Add to that the fact it’s only €2,000 more than the regular diesel equivalent, and you’ve got a fairly good argument in favour of the Outlander.

The PHEV is probably at its most attractive as a commercial vehicle, or as part of a fleet. Besides the reduced fuel costs and emissions, companies can write off the purchase against their profit levels when buying “qualifying energy efficient equipment.” Having said that, it works quite well as an EV family car too – plenty of space front and back, with a large boot and the benefit of virtually zero fuel spend if you’re only nipping out and about.

After just one week with the Outlander PHEV, I’m impressed. Now that the it’s out on the road, Mitsubishi can hopefully use customer feedback to learn what works and what doesn’t, and ensure future models inch towards perfection. Is it a game changer? Hard to say just yet. One thing’s for sure, however – it’s got a firm grip on the game.

Key Features

Zero CO2 Emissions in EV Mode
52km drive range in EV Mode
824km total cruising range (official; approx 500-600 on test)
1.9L/100km fuel economy (official combined; 1.6L on test)
€170 annual road tax (Band A1)
Total bhp (engine + two electric motors) – 200
0-100km/h – 11 seconds

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