By Paul Clarke
Model/Engine size: Mitsubishi Outlander GX4hs 2.0 PHEV Auto
Fuel: Petrol-Electric Plug-in Hybrid
Fuel economy combined: 156.9 mpg
It’s a very, very bad day. We’ve been living with the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) for the last six months and today the man from Mitsubishi came and took it away. It’s left a big hole in our lives.
When Mitsubishi got in touch over six months ago and asked if we wanted to take an Outlander PHEV for a long-term test the response wasn’t an instantaneous yes. I’d driven the pre-facelift PHEV model and although there were many good points about it, my overall memory of it was that it wasn’t as good to drive as I had hoped, and that fuel economy on long motorway runs was disappointing. Would I enjoy driving the newer, facelifted model for all that time?
Regardless of the various thoughts going through my head, I decided that it would be more diplomatically correct to say yes to the offer. A few weeks later, the PHEV model, post-mid-life makeover, arrived. The instant observation was that it looked much better than the previous model – more stylish design with sharper rather than droopy lines (although white wouldn’t be my colour of choice).
I hadn’t driven this version previously, and by the time I’d taken the delivery driver the few miles to the railway station I realised that Mitsubishi had done something to the steering on this newer model that wasn’t a major change, but whatever they’d done, it seemed to make a big difference to how it drove. The steering seemed slightly heavier, with a bit more feel, and the wheel itself was thicker rimmed. This instantly made the Outlander more acceptable to drive.
Before long, virtually all local journeys were done on zero tailpipe emission electric power. Today this local electric driving has come to an end. We really don’t like the man from Mitsubishi who took the Outlander away. Driving a petrol or even worse a diesel car on the school run now feels prehistoric.
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Perhaps the biggest tick in the box for the Outlander comes not from me, but from my wife. She doesn’t like driving big 4x4s at all. Never has done. But she says the Outlander PHEV is the best car she’s ever driven and she wants one.
So why is this? Although the Outlander is a big 4×4, it’s very easy and effortless to drive. There’s no clutch, there’s no gear changing, and the steering is well weighted (not too light but not too heavy). Because it’s electric, you get instant and smooth take-up when moving off – which is something that can’t be said for all of the press cars that come our way.
There’s also the parking sensors, the rear camera, and there’s even a button on the steering wheel that you can press that shows the view in front of the car and an aerial view of the vehicle. So it’s easy to park, and the visibility benefits of being high up have been liked. There’s also the ability to unlock the car by pressing a button under the door handle if the key isn’t in your hand – ie. it’s at the bottom of a handbag. So from the female viewpoint, the PHEV gets a huge thumbs up.
So what about particular likes from the male point of view? Well, it can do a lot more party tricks than the average electric car. Chief amongst these is the Outlander’s off-road ability. A few months ago we set off into North Wales with the intention of testing the PHEV’s non-tarmac capability. However upon arrival we found that our off-road test route had instead become an Arctic test route. The sensible option would have been to not attempt to drive to the top of the mountain in the snow, but, well aware of the phrase ‘curiosity killed the cat’, we gave it a go. Despite being furnished with tyres that were neither composed of winter rubber or that even had a decent off-road tread, the Outlander made it to top of the snowy mountain. The car’s electric all-wheel drive drivetrain was a key reason for its surprising ability in the snow.
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Literally one day before the car was due to go we suddenly realised that because the off-road test had been inadvertently replaced with a winter driving test, we still hadn’t done a serious (non-snowy) off-road test. Our second day at the 2016 Cholmondeley Power and Speed event was hastily aborted and, despite the muddy Cholmondeley car park (ie. field) being a challenge in itself (which the Outlander had no problem with, despite the car park attendant’s warnings), we headed once again over the border into North Wales and to another one of our off-road testing areas. The last time we used this area was with the Mitsubishi L200 pick-up. That was in August last year, when North Wales uncharacteristically featured the moisture content of an African desert. However there were still a lot of challenging slopes that previously caused a Land Rover Freelander’s tyres to scrabble for grip. The L200 had no such problems. But because we took the Outlander to Wales on the weekend of Cholmondeley Power and Speed it was raining (downpouring may be a more accurate description). So, reminiscent of the ‘snow test’, we carefully edged the Outlander onto the off-road course, not knowing what to expect.
We were confronted with steep downhill gravel slopes, steep uphill gravel slopes, steep side-angled gravel slopes, and wet and decidedly uneven grassy hillsides. Did the Outlander have any problems? Not one. This exercise again showed that electric propulsion is highly effective for off-road driving, as you have much better control of creep at low speeds.
The final journey home from Wales in the Outlander reinforced the finding that it is comfortable, quiet, and refined, with a good ride, decent grip levels, and handling that is respectable for a car of this size and bulk. And it’s a sad fact that SUVs are better placed to cope with the UK’s pot holed road surfaces than cars with firm suspension, low profile tyres and expensive alloy wheels.
The other feature of the Outlander that differs from most EVs is the space it offers. It has a large boot, and there’s a huge space for all sorts of domestic paraphernalia if you flatten the rear seats.
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It wouldn’t be a balanced conclusion if we didn’t mention some of the areas that could be improved. However one of these is now less of a problem. The biggest issue during winter was that, despite best intentions, the Outlander would often fire up its petrol engine. This was usually just after starting it up in the morning when heat and demisting was required. At the time I was crying out for an EV lock button to try and maximise my miles per gallon figures. In the very brief spell of spring and summer that we’ve had recently, this has no longer been an issue. It seems you can summon up as much air conditioning as you want and the petrol engine won’t start up.
Once the nice PR man from Mitsubishi had given me lengthy instructions about how to switch off the highly annoying lane departure warning beeps for good, perhaps the main issue for me is the driving position. The steering wheel has height and reach adjustment, but it just doesn’t come out far enough. (Interestingly I drove a new Shogun a few weeks ago and that appeared to have zero steering wheel reach adjustment, which was shocking). The interior environment may not stand comparison to an Audi from a design and materials quality point of view, and the infomedia system certainly isn’t the best in the business, but having owned a Subaru Forester Turbo and a diesel Outback for four years each, I can live with interiors that are functional rather than shiny.
But one thing that was driving me a bit mad was the voice of the woman in the satnav machine, who shouted at you. There was a rumour from the Mitsubishi direction that this voice could be changed, but we searched through menus and sub-menus and couldn’t find out how to do this.
The Outlander could be occasionally revvy, as though it had a CVT transmission, when accelerating using the petrol engine. And fuel economy on long runs could be better. However in the big scheme of things all these items are relatively minor issues.
It should be noted that the Outlander in the top of the range spec that we tested isn’t cheap. At £38,499, after the recently reduced plug-in car grant of £2,500, it sits in BMW SUV territory. However judging by sales, the cost saving opportunities continue to make the Outlander a desirable purchase.
So it’s time for the definitive verdict on six months with the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. So let’s get one thing out of the way first. Because of the low Benefit in Kind rate of just 7%, company car drivers are attracted to buy this car. If they drive lots of miles up and down the nation’s motorways, this would be a mistake. Mitsubishi would much prefer to sell the diesel Outlander to such people. If you discount this scenario, and you use the Outlander PHEV as we have done, primarily for journeys on electric power, with occasional longer trips, then it’s a fantastic all-round, practical, (mostly) electric workhorse.
Two final items to report. Firstly, what faults did we experience over six months?: zero. And secondly, what overall miles per gallon figure did we average over six months? We started off well, then had to move out of our house for the builders to move in, and the economy went downhill due to recharging challenges. But we’ve had a good run for the final few weeks and we can now report that our overall average economy for six months was 80.7mpg. This doesn’t match the official 156.9mpg, but we know that this is due to the silly test cycle rather than any fault on the car’s part. The bottom line is this: We can’t think of another large 4×4 that would come close to this figure.
So plug-in hybrid 4x4s can work, and in a world where all vehicle manufacturers need to be clear about what they stand for as a brand, we say that Mitsubishi should occupy the ground of practical, capable 4x4s with a plug-in hybrid powertrain (or in the longer-term possibly full electric).
Finally, we rate every vehicle we test. We’ve held off rating the Outlander until the end of the six month period. The previous model gained a 9 out of 10 from us. As it arrived, we expected this latest model to be awarded the same rating. However living with the Outlander PHEV for six months – and more critically living without it for a day – has shown that it’s a great all-round practical workhorse that has the ability to be very economical if driven (and critically recharged) in the way it was intended. The result of this is that the Outlander PHEV fulfills our criteria for a Green Car Guide rating of 10 out of 10. It should also be noted that living with the Outlander for six months has improved our view of the PHEV; that certainly doesn’t happen with all cars.
As the issues surrounding vehicle emissions that have an adverse impact upon local air quality continue to rise up the political agenda, Mitsubishi should be ready to capitalise on the opportunities from this situation.
Next report: Second opinion on the Mitsubishi Outlander GX4hs 2.0 PHEV
Real-life economy: 80.7mpg after 6 months
NEDC electric driving range: 32.5 miles
Real-life electric driving range: 22 miles after 6 months
Official CO2 emissions: 42 g/km
Green rating: VED band A (£0)
Weight: 1,845 kg
Company car tax liability (2016/17): 7%
Price: £38,499 (after the current UK government Plug-in Car Grant of £2,500).
Insurance group: 22E
Power: 200 bhp
Max speed: 106 mph
0-62mph: 11.0 seconds
Torque: 385 Nm