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Future models - Mitsubishi - Outlander

Driven: Mitsubishi’s plug-in Outlander looms at last

Out of the box: The Outlander PHEV is powered by a 2.0-litre internal combustion engine combined with two electric motors and a lithium-ion battery.

Long-awaited Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV ready to launch in March next year

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Mitsubishi logo25 Nov 2013

By TIM NICHOLSON in TOKYO

MITSUBISHI Australia will soon enter its petrol-electric SUV future in earnest, with the Outlander PHEV plug-in hybrid set to arrive in local showrooms in late March or early April next year at the vanguard of a slew of green off-roaders.

While development of the Outlander PHEV started some years ago, the Japanese car-maker has since announced plans to shift its focus to electric vehicles and all manner of hybrids, including mild hybrids and plug-in versions.

But before hybrid versions of the next-generation Pajero and ASX arrive over the coming years, the Outlander will fly the flag for the brand from next year with a plug-in drivetrain and segment-leading fuel economy.

Originally scheduled for release locally in mid-2013, Mitsubishi pushed back the launch of the PHEV more than once due to demand in its home market of Japan and some European countries, as well as battery production limitations.

The company has also overcome issues from earlier this year relating to the batteries in some Japanese-spec versions overheating and melting, causing Mitsubishi to issue a recall.

Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited (MMAL) is keeping its cards close to its chest as far as pricing and specification is concerned, but PHEV variants will sit at the top of the Outlander range.

Currently, prices range from $27,640 plus on-road costs for the two-wheel drive ES all the way up to $46,790 for the all-wheel drive turbo-diesel Aspire. It is believed MMAL would like to keep pricing under $60,000 for the PHEV, putting it in base-model Range Rover Evoque and BMW X3 territory.

There is no word on whether Mitsubishi’s local outfit will offer the PHEV tech in a base model variant to keep it well under $50,000.

In its Japanese home market, the PHEV sells from ¥3,324,000 ($A35,693) to ¥4,297,000 ($A46,230), with a government incentive for green vehicles meaning buyers can claim up to ¥430,000 ($A4617) of the retail price back.

There are currently no incentives available for such vehicles in Australia through federal or state and territory governments.

GoAuto was given the chance to drive the Outlander PHEV at the Mobara circuit, two hours drive east of Tokyo, during a trip to Japan for the Tokyo motor show.

The drive comes two years after we sampled a test mule of the PHEV hiding under the previous generation’s body in December 2011.

A quick glance at the design of the Outlander PHEV would suggest it is identical to the regular petrol and diesel variants that launched in Australia a year ago, but closer inspection reveals subtle styling differences such as a re-designed tail-light cluster, different alloy wheel design, a 30mm-lowered ride height and the addition of the PHEV-only ‘Artic Silver’ body colour.

The cabin is pure Outlander, with just a few indications hinting at the fuel-sipping tech under the bonnet including a different gear-shift lever, buttons to charge or save the battery, and digital displays highlighting the mode and charge of the battery.

Again, there is no indication of equipment levels for the Australian-spec version, but the expected price premium should ensure a generous standard features list when it arrives next year.

The Outlander’s high-tech plug-in hybrid powertrain is its obvious selling point, and the company is hoping environmentally-conscious Australian buyers will be just as keen to lower greenhouse emissions as Japanese and European buyers have.

MMAL suggested that the PHEV variant could sell around 100 units per month once released, but globally ambitions are high for the green-powered SUV, with a senior Mitsubishi executive predicting sales of 30,000 units to the end of the Japanese fiscal year in March 2014.

Borrowing technology from its tiny i-MiEV full-electric stablemate, the Outlander PHEV is powered by a 87kW/186Nm 2.0-litre petrol engine in combination with two 60kW electric motors - one placed at the front and one at the rear of the vehicle – and a 12kWh lithium-ion battery placed under the centre floor for improved weight distribution.

Regenerative braking technology is used to charge the battery, but it can also be fully topped-up via a 200v household outlet in around four hours, or 30 minutes if your home is fitted with a quick-charger.

As with a number of EV or hybrid car, including the Holden Volt, owners can download a smart-phone app that allows them to set a timer for charging the Outlander.

There are three drive modes that are selected automatically, depending on driving conditions ‘EV’ mode operates using only the front and rear motors with power generated from the battery. This mode produces zero emissions and zero petrol use and is engaged at speeds of up to 120km/h.

‘Series Hybrid’ mode uses the petrol engine as a generator, providing electricity to the two electric motors when the battery has fallen below a particular level or when harder acceleration is required to overtake or traverse a hill or incline.

‘Parallel Hybrid’ mode is engaged at higher speeds and uses the petrol engine as the main power source, while the two electric motors assist when harder acceleration is required, producing more torque.

On the combined European cycle, it rates an impressive 1.9 litres per 100 kilometres - slightly higher than the Holden Volt’s 1.2L/100km - but when driven in Series Hybrid mode only, the Outlander PHEV sips 5.3L/100km.

Combined fuel figures for the current Australian-spec variants are 5.8L/100km for the all-wheel drive 2.2-litre turbo-diesel and 7.5L/100km for the 2.4-litre petrol all-wheel drive version.

The plug-in hybrid drivetrain ensures a very healthy cruising range of 897km when combining the petrol engine with the electric motors and battery, while in EV-only mode the Outlander can drive for 60.2km before needing a charge.

For city-dwelling drivers at least, this could be more than enough battery power to get through the day, but the petrol powered back-up means Mitsubishi has eliminated the so-called ‘range anxiety’ of pure EVs, including its very own i-MiEV.

The PHEVs we drove last week were Japanese-spec versions and Mitsubishi said the suspension was tuned for an older driver to be a little bit softer.

Setting off in pure EV mode, the Outlander is, unsurprisingly, whisper quiet, with the only noise coming from the road, until you put your foot down hard and the 2.0-litre petrol engine kicks in with a bit of a roar.

The transmission is a multi-mode ‘e-transmission’ unit that does not have ratios like a traditional self-shifter. Mitsubishi reckons the PHEV is quicker than both the petrol and diesel variants of the Outlander and we are inclined to believe them. The Outlander is not built as a sports machine, but take-off is swift, smooth and more than adequate for a family-baiting SUV.

The all-wheel drive system has been honed from the system in the rally-bred Lancer Evolution as well as the Pajero off-roader.

The Japanese car-maker put the Outlander PHEV through its paces earlier this year by entering a slightly modified version in the 2013 Asian Cross Country Rally through Thailand and Laos, completing the rally without incident.

The casing for the slim-line battery pack has been reinforced to protect it in the event the Outlander heads off-road to rougher terrain.

A Super All Wheel Control (S-AWC) combines traction control, stability control and active yaw control and is designed to keep the Outlander in check and maintain stability.

After pushing it into a few corners at the Mobara Circuit at speed during our brief stint behind the wheel, we are happy to report it kept its composure at all times.

Hard braking and turn-ins failed to reveal any understeer and the lower centre of gravity and MacPherson strut front/Multi-link rear suspension kept the Outlander ensured only a hint of body-roll in the mid-size SUV.

While the circuit was without any long, straight stretches, we were left with the impression that the PHEV would be at home pottering around city streets in EV mode and it maintains the practical packaging and safety features (seven airbags, lane-departure warning) of the non-hybrid model it is based on.

The Outlander PHEV, then, is a comfortable, sophisticated, technologically advanced city-centric SUV with some off-road capabilities that should satisfy environmentally-conscious buyers without compromising the overall practicality of an SUV.

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