The Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) is a 4×4 SUV with the capability for 32.5 miles of all-electric driving, an official fuel economy figure of 148mpg, and emissions of 44g/km CO2.
For most of the last 100 years of motoring, the majority of cars in the UK have been powered by petrol. Over recent years, diesel has become popular, giving motorists an option that provides lower running costs for higher mileage drivers. Then electric cars appeared, providing an ideal solution for people who drive short distances, resulting in zero tailpipe emissions – something that is seen as increasingly important in the fight against urban air pollution.
Now we have Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles – PHEVs – these are designed to provide the best of both worlds – electric driving for shorter distances, and petrol power for longer journeys. Now, for the first time, this combination has appeared in a 4×4 SUV. In theory, it sounds like the perfect car – but how does it perform in real life?
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has a 2-litre petrol engine and two electric motors, one at the front and one at the rear, which are based on the motor found in the all-electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV. The battery – also based on the technology used in the i-MiEV – sits under the floor. It also has four-wheel drive. The car can drive on pure electric power, or petrol power, or using a combination of the two.
The Outlander is therefore pretty advanced – so it’s a shame that the external styling isn’t as cutting-edge as the technology under the skin. Its looks may be fine for many people, but it’s not going to have the same presence as a Range Rover Evoque.
It’s a similar story inside. Overall the interior is fairly conventional, however the satnav and surrounding fiddly controls feel dated. With such powertrain technology, you’d imagine that a flashy touchscreen would be more in keeping with the car’s concept.
The Outlander certainly offers lots of space, both in the rear seats and in the boot. It also has a trick up its sleeve – whereas most hybrids and electric cars have no towing rating, the Outlander can be used to tow a trailer or caravan up to 1500 kg. Driving short commutes during the week then towing a caravan at weekends seems an ideal use for the car.
So the concept of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is excellent – you just hope that this is matched by the driving experience.
First things first, we struggled to get the ideal driving position. The driver’s seat doesn’t go particularly low, and the steering wheel didn’t extend out far enough for our liking.
When you’re moving, everything is generally agreeable, but you’re in no doubt that this car is engineered for economy not performance. If you do need to put your foot down to overtake a slow moving tractor on a country road, then there’s lots of CVT-style revs and noise, but less acceleration – even though it’s an automatic transmission, not a CVT.
Overall the Outlander has a decent ride and it’s comfortable. The car features technology from the Evo, such as Super All Wheel Control (S-AWC) which combines front and rear-wheel drive control, and left and right wheel brake control. Our test at launch wasn’t long enough to make a definitive verdict about the car’s handling, but we struggled to find any genes of the sharpness and agility of an Evo.
We had the opportunity to do some limited and fairly unchallenging off-road driving in the Outlander – perhaps not surprisingly it coped perfectly well. The Twin Motor 4WD system delivers power independently to the front wheels (from the front motor and/or engine) and rear wheels (from the rear motor). Even when using just electric power, due to the twin motors, the Outlander can operate in 4WD. There’s also a 4WD Lock Mode.
You can adjust the strength of the regenerative braking – which helps to recharge the battery when braking – using steering wheel-mounted paddles, which is a very useful feature.
There’s also a ‘save’ button – allowing you to save charge if you’re due to, for example, enter a zero emission zone. And a charge button allows you to recharge the batteries while in petrol mode.
Economy and emissions are the trump cards of the Outlander PHEV; the vehicle has an official economy figure of 148mpg, and emissions of 44 g/km CO2. This sounds amazing, but it must be remembered that the NEDC figure is calculated by a test of 2.5 urban miles at an average of 12mph, plus 4.3 extra-urban miles at an average of 39mph. This combined figure is therefore based on just 6.8 miles of driving at an average of 29.1mph. The test for a plug-in hybrid is carried out with a full battery so it’s obvious that plug-in hybrids will gain a crazily high mpg figure.
On the Outlander launch there were three drives, with the car being recharged between them, and all carefully organised to produce good economy figures. For journeys of less than 30 miles or so, it’s possible to drive on purely electric power (up to 70mph), thereby using zero petrol. For journeys up to around 50 miles, you may be able to drive around half on electric power and half on petrol, thereby effectively doubling fuel economy from the 48mpg of the petrol engine to around 100mpg.
On longer journeys you’re likely to return around 40-50mpg. Mitsubishi, both on the launch event and in subsequent advertising, have attempted to be honest about the fact that you’re not likely to get 148mpg from all driving patterns. In fact the company says that after 106 miles the economy of the PHEV drops below that of the diesel model.
So – the Outlander has the potential to offer very high economy and very low tailpipe emissions, if you mainly drive short distances and if you can recharge the car regularly.
In terms of recharging, you can plug the car into a standard three pin domestic socket, when a full recharge would take five hours, but a home wall box charger – which you can have installed free of charge – is recommended. A rapid charge to 80% takes just 30 minutes.
The entry-level Outlander PHEV GX3h starts at £28,249, which is a relatively low purchase price for a Plug-in Hybrid. This is after the £5,000 discount courtesy of the government’s Plug-in Car Grant. This is exactly the same price as the Outlander Diesel GX3 automatic. Having no price premium for the plug-in hybrid is a great strategy as it makes it easy for consumers – if you do lots of motorways miles, buy the diesel Outlander; if you do lots of shorter journeys, the PHEV is likely to offer lower running costs.
There’s also the Outlander PHEV GX4h priced at £32,899, and the GX4hs at £34,999 (both prices after the grant).
The Outlander PHEV is particularly attractive to company car buyers, as it has a benefit in kind rate of just 5%. Mitsubishi calculates that the Outlander PHEV could save a 40% tax payer more than £10,000 in tax over three years compared to some other SUVs.
The Outlander PHEV is also exempt from the London Congestion Charge.
An accusation that is frequently levelled at electric cars is that they are dangerously quiet. The Outlander PHEV has an Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System (AVAS) which produces an audible warning sound to alert pedestrians when in EV mode. This can be heard whenever the vehicle is in motion, up to a speed of 22mph.
The Outlander sounds like the perfect car on paper. It’s spacious, with five seats, it’s four-wheel drive, it can be an electric car for up to 30 miles, then after that you can drive anywhere on its petrol engine.
If your motoring patterns mean that you can drive for most of the week on electric power – ie. less than 30 miles between recharges – with occasionally longer trips to, for instance, the countryside at weekends, then you’ll make the most of this car and it will be very cheap to run.
In reality, the driving experience and the exterior and interior styling don’t quite match the exciting perception created by the high tech powertrain. However these issues may not be deal-breakers for all buyers.
Based on the relatively limited driving on the launch, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is awarded a Green-Car-Guide rating of 9 out of 10, however we would aim to live with the car for a week to give it a more in-depth verdict.