The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has received minor revisions for 2017, including the ability to lock it into EV mode for the first time; does it still deserve to be one of the best-selling plug-in vehicles?
We recently had a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV on a 6-month long-term test, and one of the key recommendations that we made was that it needed a button to lock the powertrain in EV mode, as it was all too keen to fire up the petrol engine when trying to drive on electric power. Mitsubishi has now released a revised Outlander PHEV for 2017 with such a feature, called ‘EV Priority Mode’, so we thought this would be a good excuse to get behind the wheel again.
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is a large SUV with a 2-litre petrol engine plus two electric motors, powered by a lithium-ion battery. It has an official all-electric range of 33 miles (an increase of one mile compared to the 2016 model). It also has all-wheel drive, and, unusually for a hybrid, a towing capacity – of 1,500kg.
Apart from the new EV Priority Mode button, the Outlander’s suspension has been revised, with new dampers and rear suspension bushes, with the aim of improving refinement.
Rapid charging has also been made even more rapid, reducing its charging time to 80% from 30 minutes to 25 minutes.
The interior is best described as functional and practical rather than premium.
Under most circumstances, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is very refined. This is always true in EV mode, and is mostly the case when using the petrol engine. However if you need to push on when the battery has been depleted then the powertrain can resemble a CVT, as it can get revvy and noisy.
It’s very comfortable overall, with a good ride on most roads, although when off-road it doesn’t absorb rough surfaces as well as rivals such as a Land Rover Discovery Sport.
The Outlander is a tall, heavy car (weighing 1,845 kg), so it’s never going to handle like a sports car – and despite having all-wheel drive capability, it operates in front-wheel drive most of the time. The steering has much improved weight compared to the first Outlander PHEV model.
The reason we wanted to review the 2017 model was that when we ran the Outlander for 6 months we were trying to drive it on electric power as much of the time as possible, but it often chose to fire up the petrol engine, which isn’t great if you’re aiming to achieve maximum economy and generate zero tailpipe emissions.
So as soon as we discovered that the 2017 model had the new EV Priority Mode button, we were keen to review it so we could aim to drive it as an electric car for as much of the time as possible. So it was somewhat of a disappointment to discover that even with the EV Priority Mode button activated, the vehicle can still choose to fire up the petrol engine. This happened after a cold start and with the heating on; this could be prevented if the heating was switched off. However that’s what we did with our long-term test car to prevent the petrol engine starting up, so it’s difficult to see what difference the new functionality makes.
Apart from this new button, there are switches for Save (to save the battery charge by using the petrol engine) and Charge (to charge the battery from the petrol engine). You can also select ‘Twin motor 4wd lock’ for off-road excursions.
There’s an ‘Eco’ mode, but no Sport option. You can recuperate extra energy for the battery by selecting ‘B’ mode, or by increasing the level of brake energy regeneration using the steering-wheel mounted paddles. Although you can’t change gear manually, if you’re driving quickly on twisting, hilly roads, then increasing the brake regen does help when going into corners by mimicking engine braking.
Because the Outlander is a 4×4, a test wouldn’t be complete without taking it off-road. If you drive bearing in mind that there’s not a huge amount of ground clearance, and there’s quite a long, low front overhang, then the Outlander is perfectly fit for purpose. When we had it for a 6-month test, we took it into the hills of Wales in the snow, and even with tyres that weren’t particularly ideal for winter conditions, it coped amazingly well. If you can save electric power for off-roading, it’s even better, thanks to the improved levels of torque.
So overall the Outlander PHEV is mostly pleasant to drive. However it does have some areas that really need to be improved for the next model. Chief amongst these is the infomedia system. This really does lag behind most other cars on sale today. In particular the satnav is very disappointing, and when driving through Wales, it often just showed an arrow in the middle of a grey screen, as the map graphics are so poor.
Also, it’s extremely difficult to connect a phone to the car. And the lane departure warning system is very annoying, beeping at you whenever you drive near a white line. You can switch this off using a button under the right hand side of the dashboard, but you have to do this every time to you start the car. Because this was driving us completely insane during our six months with the car, Mitsubishi phoned us and talked us through how to disengage the feature permanently, which saved us from having to rip the switch out of the car, but it was such a convoluted process we couldn’t remember how to do it for this one week test.
The official combined NEDC economy figure for the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Auto is 166mpg – equating to 41 g/km CO2. This is a completely meaningless figure as you could get anywhere between 1000mpg if you drive the car on electric power virtually all of the time, down to around 30-35mpg if you mostly drove the Outlander on the motorway on its petrol engine and never recharged it.
During a day’s driving on Welsh A and B roads on petrol power we averaged 38.5mpg, which is reasonable for a large petrol 4×4. After a week with the Outlander we averaged 44.3mpg; around 80-90% of our driving was on petrol, with only around 10-20% on electric – in other words, the opposite way round to what should be the case with a plug-in hybrid.
The electric range should be 33 miles, however typically we had 25 miles displayed after a full charge, but more like 20 miles of electric power in actual driving.
Prices for the Outlander PHEV start from £32,249 (after the £2,500 Plug-in Car Grant), however our test car, a top of the range Mitsubishi Outlander GX5hs 2.0 PHEV Auto, cost £43,554 (after the current UK government Plug-in Car Grant of £2,500). This is quite a lot of money for a car with such a disappointing infomedia system.
One of the main selling points of the Outlander PHEV is the low company car tax liability of just 9% (for 2017/18).
If you really want an Outlander but you don’t feel that your driving patterns will allow you to charge it sufficiently to get the electric driving benefits, then a diesel model is available.
Our test car was supplied with a rubber boot mat and dog guard so we thought we should bring a dog along to test it (the dog thought the mat was a bit slippery).
Although we booked the Outlander for this review because we wanted to see how our recommendation for being able to ‘lock’ the Outlander in electric propulsion mode improved the ability drive the vehicle with zero emissions, in real life this new feature didn’t appear to make that much difference. And the other minor improvements made to the 2017 Outlander haven’t addressed the vehicle biggest fault, the infomedia system.
However, the Outlander is still unique in providing a solution if you have a particular problem. That problem is the need for a large, spacious, practical vehicle to drive on the school run and/or the commute every day with zero, or nearly zero, tailpipe emissions, and then use the same vehicle at weekends to drive into the mountains. On that basis the Outlander scores a Green Car Guide rating of 10/10.
However what it shouldn’t be bought for is its low company car benefit in kind tax rate of 9%, and then driven up and down the nation’s motorways all week, when it will be uneconomical and expensive to run.
Over recent years the Outlander has been unique as a large 4×4 with electric capability and the ability to drive hundreds of miles on its petrol engine. However there’s now an increasing amount of competition, so Mitsubishi will have to find a way to position the next generation of the Outlander PHEV ahead of the game.