Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Outlander - PHEV
Hybrid fuel economy, lack of compromise, attractively priced compared with other plug-in hybrids, long warranty
Room for improvement
Low-tech interior, short EV-only range, conservative design blends in too well with rest of Outlander range, centre rear seatbelt hangs from roof.
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14 Nov 2014
By BARRY PARK
Price and equipment
Mitsubishi has launched the Outlander PHEV in two variants one shaped to attract fleet buyers, who are expected to make up the higher proportion of sales, and one packaged to appeal to private buyers with a few extra comfort-related touches.
The entry-level PHEV is priced from $47,490, plus on-road costs, which stacks up well against the only other techno-rival on the market, the $59,900 Volt.
Even the more upmarket $52,490 Outlander PHEV Aspire, which adds comforts such as a sunroof, heated electric-adjust front seats, radar cruise control and a powered tailgate, undercuts it.
Other non-hybrid compact SUV competitors include the Toyota RAV4 AWD diesel Cruiser ($50,790), Mazda CX-5 diesel AWD Akera ($49,420), Honda CR-V DTi-L ($45,340) and the Ford Kuga diesel Titanium ($47,740).
Standard equipment runs to dual-zone climate control, a USB port and Bluetooth phone connection with voice control along with a satellite navigation system linked to a colour touch screen (also hooked up to a reversing camera with rear sensors), six-speaker audio system, leather-look trim on cloth-lined manual adjust seats, leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel and a cover for the boot’s luggage space.
The entry-level PHEV does not feel like a pauper’s car.
Open a door in the dark, and puddle lights illuminate the area, the automatic headlights stay on until you’re in the front door, the leather trim combined with a soft-touch dash and other high-traffic areas add to perceived value, and the overall ambience is comforting, if not a little dated.
The sunroof in the more premium Outlander PHEV robs taller drivers of a bit of headroom, but otherwise the driver’s seat is a comfortable one, with plenty of seat and steering adjustment available.
The only difference you’re likely to see inside between the plug-in version of the Outlander and a more mainstream version is the high boot floor, built up to hide the battery pack that sits over the rear axle.
Inside, the Outlander is a pretty roomy family car, with decent small-item storage options and enough interior space to take five adults. Storage space versatility is helped by 60:40 split-fold rear seats that don’t lie flat, but come close enough.
For all its sophistication, the Outlander shows its age with a centre-rear seatbelt that still hangs from the roof, cutting across rearward vision.
On the higher-spec Outlander, an electrically operated tailgate is part of the package, which is handy considering the high-lift tailgate is a reach for shorter people when open. Don’t try and sneak something out of the boot late at night, though, as it is accompanied by a lot of beeping.
Engine and transmission
Despite its size, the Outlander PHEV wears only a 2.0-litre normally aspirated four cylinder engine under its bonnet. But it also has two electric motors, one on each axle.
Here’s where things get funky. The petrol engine only produces 87kW of power and 186Nm of torque from 4500rpm – barely enough to move a small city hatchback. But pitch in the electric motors, and all of a sudden there’s an extra 120kW and 332Nm on tap, almost from idle.
Because they produce peak outputs at different speeds, it’s not just a simple matter of adding the power and torque numbers and gasping at the supercar-like performance.
Instead, the figures are more diesel-like, with low power output but a big well of low-down torque on tap at any flex of the accelerator pedal.
But you can opt to go it on electric power alone, with mixed results.
The best range we saw out of the battery was an indicated 46-kilometre stretch when unplugged from the powerpoint and sitting at rest in the driveway. By the time the Outlander had backed out to the road, that range had fallen to 36km.
By the end of the almost 1km climb to the top of the road, it was down to 28km.
It may not seem much, but that sort of distance is an achievable commute for at least one adult member of a growing family making the short sprint to kinder, school and maybe the workplace.
The single-gear Outlander PHEV can be a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde in suburbia, though. At one point our test car made someone jump at a pedestrian crossing when the engine suddenly fired into life of its own accord, revving hard to build up the battery’s charge.
On the bright side, when we took the base model PHEV back and swapped it for a more upmarket version, the detailers forgot to include a charger with the car.
Even so, it was still possible to use the unplugged car like a conventional model, although it meant regular trips to the petrol station to top up the small 45-litre tank – about the same volume as one used on a small hatchback.
Acceleration under a light throttle is sprightly in all-electric mode, but squeeze the throttle a bit harder and the engine will want to join in, and usually with a decent handful of revs on board.
Even with all seats occupied, the healthy low-down torque of the electric motors makes the Outlander feel anything but sluggish.
Real-world fuel use will have you running through a range of emotions. In electric-only mode fuel use is zero. Combine it with a little bit of petrol assistance, and by the end of the day you can be in the low single figures. Try a longer run, or forget the charger, and fuel use can quickly soar into double figures.
Before you start rolling your eyes about fuel use, remember that you can change your driving habits to help squeeze out better economy. The steering wheel paddle shifters don’t change gears, and instead adjust the amount of regenerative braking through five settings from soft to hard, so you can use the Outlander to generate electricity without having to touch the brakes on downhill runs or red-light coasting.
You can also be smart about how you use fuel, too, pushing a button to place the PHEV into regenerative mode in free-flowing traffic and give the batteries a top-up for when you’re going to be stuck in fuel-hungry but electricity-happy slow-moving suburbia.
The recharging cord is long enough to reach right around to the other side of the Outlander in a garage, which is helpful. You will need a hook, though, next to your 15-amp power socket in the garage to support the heavy controller that hangs just below the plug. Recharging happens overnight.
Ride and handling
The PHEV weighs 1810kg, which is bang on 200kg heavier than the next-most frugal Outlander, the $39,490 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel LS.
Having all that extra heft on board does affect ride quality somewhat. The Outlander PHEV tends to judder over every lump and bump in the road, and feels a little taught and uncompromising over the bigger corrugations on the road surface.
The stiffer suspension and extra weight do little in terms of body control, with the Outlander keen to lean over as speeds ride through sharper corners and the centre of gravity shifts quite noticeably.
If you ever do want to take it off-road – and we’re assuming few will, given its urban focus – the PHEV does come with a centre diff-lock that sends equal amounts of drive to the front and rear wheels. When everyone else gets bogged at the sports-ground in mid-winter, you can – hopefully – tractor out.
Safety and servicing
The PHEV, like its more mainstream siblings, earns a top five-star ANCAP crash safety rating. Each model is equipped with seven airbags as standard, including a driver’s knee airbag. A reversing camera is standard on the plug-in Outlander.
The top-spec PHEV includes radar cruise control that keeps the car a set distance from the one in front that doubles as a collision warning system.
It’s more of a convenience than a safety thing, but there is an app for either Apple or Android devices that will let you connect with the top-spec PHEV and set recharging times, flash the lights so you can find it in a car park, or even set the air-con temperature before you venture out to the garage.
Mitsubishi is slowly rolling its warranties back to five years and 100,000 kilometres, down from the former 130,000km stretch. Apparently buyers are running out of time well before running low on kilometres.
The Outlander PHEV is covered under Mitsubishi’s capped-price servicing plan, and for the first one at least costs about the same as a cheap front-drive version of the SUV. It ranges from $360 for the first service to $470 for the next three years.
Driving a fuel-miserly car is still about making compromises on things such as space, ride quality and, in the case of all-electric power, range. The Outlander PHEV goes a long way to addressing these problems, but still has a way to go in terms of wrapping the technology in a modern, clever and desirable package.
Still, as our week behind the wheel without a charger proved, the Outlander PHEV crosses the divide between old and new in a more family-friendly way than anything else on the market.
The Outlander PHEV has been a runaway surprise for Mitsubishi, so there’s a few people out there that obviously think the same way.
Mitsubishi Outlander LS DiD AWD (From $36,490 before on-roads)The enemy within. Frugal sub-6.0L/100km four-cylinder turbo-diesel recently gained a six-speed automatic gearbox, widening its appeal. However, it carries the same ageing Outlander legacy as the PHEV. That price difference buys a lot of fuel, though.
Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring diesel (From $47,030 before on-roads)Powerful 2.2-litre turbo-diesel wrapped in a pretty desirable form, and well equipped to boot. Fuel use is a combined 5.7L/100km. Let down somewhat by laggy engine response and excessive road noise particularly at highway speeds.
Subaru Forester 2.0D-S (From $43,990 before on-roads)Flat-four diesel is a unique selling point, turning the jacked-up wagon into a handy mid-size tow vehicle. However, low-down growl is severely lacking, leaving the Sube with a very narrow performance band, and interior is hard.
Fuel use is a slightly higher 5.9L/100km.
MAKE/MODEL: Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
ENGINE: 2.0L 4-cyl 2 electric motors
LAYOUT: Front-engined, AWD
TRANSMISSION: Single-speed automatic
TOP SPEED: N/a
EMISSIONS: 44g/km CO2
SUSPENSION: MacPherson (f)/Multilink (r)
STEERING: Electrically assisted rack and pinion
BRAKES: Disc (f)/disc (r)
PRICE: From $47,490 before on-roads
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