The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: Smooth Operator

A year after it was introduced, the Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle has become the best selling hybrid EV on the market. Ally Campbell has been finding out why.

A sensible, five seat estate car is, essentially, what we have here. It has the smart looks of a modern SUV, and while it does have 4-Wheel Drive, to think of this as an “off-roader” is to miss the point. The Outlander comes in Diesel and Plug-in Hybrid Electric (PHEV) versions. Uniquely, the price difference between the two are negligible, thanks to the £5,000 Government grant for plug-in vehicles (this grant has been highly successful but is currently undergoing a review, as the previous cap of 50,000 vehicles is fast approaching). The model I have been testing is the mid-range GX4h model, starting from £32,899 with the plug-in grant considered.

If you live or work on a farm or country estate and need something that can take a little more abuse, or if you need the seven seats, the Diesel Outlander would do most of the things you need it to do. It will still look great when you head into town, to pick up things at the DIY store, or Supermarket. If the rough stuff isn’t a concern, though, and you don’t need the extra seats, then there is very little reason not to choose the PHEV.

The way the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV works is along similar lines to most “Range-Extender” Electric Vehicles, but with a few minor differences. Without going into too much complexity, there are a couple of electric motors – one up front and one behind – allowing four wheel drive without the bulky mechanical bits that are required on diesel models. Pressing a button on the central console “locks” both motors providing the same effect as a locked differential in a traditional 4×4. The big bank of batteries can then sit underneath the car, keeping the centre of gravity low, and the car well balanced. Using the taller body of an SUV, rather than a standard saloon, means that Mitsubishi can cram all the electric parts into the vehicle without compromising the passenger compartment. This is a challenge because this car also has a 2.0 litre petrol engine, which not only feeds the batteries (as with most range-extenders), but also provides drive to the front wheels when required.

What I have found most impressive is just how smoothly the car switches from full EV mode, to hybrid mode and full petrol mode. It is imperceptible. An analogue dial on the dashboard shows very simply when the car is operating as an EV, or when the engine has kicked into life, with a specific blue section showing when the car is charging via the regenerative braking system. This is a fully adaptable re-gen system, cleverly using the paddle-shifters on the steering column to adjust the intensity of the braking/ charging effect. Strangely, the “minus” paddle is used to increase the effect, and the “plus” paddle to decrease the effect, but we can overlook this curiosity.

With the re-generative braking set to B-Zero, the car drives like any standard automatic car, coasting along as expected when the accelerator pedal is released. With the re-gen set to the maximum B-5 setting, the braking effect when lifting off the accelerator is very obvious. On current models the brake lights do not come on unless the brake pedal is pressed, but for 2016 models, Mitsubishi are addressing this so the brake lights will come on under regenerative braking.

There are many combinations of efficiency settings in the Outlander PHEV, and I’ve yet to find the very best setting to maximise range. However, as every driver has different requirements, you will quickly find the setting that best suits your commute or lifestyle. These settings can even be configured via a smartphone app which can be used to regulate and monitor charging, and to prepare the car before a journey.

The refueling options are so varied you should never be stuck with the Outlander PHEV. Unleaded goes in the passenger side, while rapid charging and 13amp/16amp charging sockets are on the driver’s side. If you are considering owning any electric vehicle though, it is worth taking advantage of another government grant, now in place until March 2016, allowing up to 75% of the cost and installation of a domestic charging point on an outside wall of your home. This is especially useful as neither end of the 13amp charging cable supplied with the Mitsubishi fits through a standard front-door letterbox. Think about that for a moment.

Mitsubishi claims the best fuel economy that can be achieved with the Outlander PHEV (albeit in controlled conditions) is 148mpg. I don’t doubt that it is possible to get close to this figure given the perfect combination of settings, and charging regime. Without plugging-in, I returned 33mpg using only the petrol available and the charge generated by the petrol motor and regenerative breaking . For a big heavy SUV, this is a good start. Add in an overnight charge, and it was possible to get from the very centre of England to the Coast and back without re-fueling.

Also impressive are the financial savings that this car can return. With just 44g/km CO2 emissions the car is exempt from Vehicle Excise Duty, and the London Congestion charge, and will make a sensible addition to a company car fleet. I could even see the Mitsubishi Outlander become a smart choice for a private hire taxi operator if a regular recharging regime can be implemented

To drive, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is exceptionally smooth, with light, easy steering, and a decent turn of speed when required. Its mass becomes clear when tackling roundabouts and other quick changes of direction, or under heavy breaking. As the car is constantly thinking, trying to work out the most efficient way to run in each setting, meticulous drivers might find some of the car’s characteristics a touch unpredictable, but for most drivers this won’t be noticeable. It is a comfortable car with excellent visibility, good space, and fine performance, with the potential to save owners thousands of pounds, over equivalent, traditionally-powered alternatives.

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