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 time to find out what our long-term Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) is like to drive – can a 4×4 capable of 156mpg really also be good to drive?
Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is yes. A number of people have driven the Outlander, including some people who aren’t fans of large cars, and the overwhelming response is that everyone likes driving it.
Although the concept of a large 4×4 being capable of 156mpg AND being good to drive may come as a surprise to some, for those who have previously driven electric cars, this isn’t actually a surprise.
Over the last three years Green Car Guide has been part of a project which involved recruiting over 200 people to drive electric cars for 18 months. Through this project, and through other EV trials and demonstrations that we’ve been involved in, we’ve seen first-hand the reactions of people when they drive an electric car for the first time.
In many cases people have heard ‘the bloke down the pub’ giving views about electric cars, having never driven one. Typically, people are left with the amusingly stereotypical view that electric cars are like milk floats to drive. This is great, because when people drive an EV for the first time you can actually see their head doing a huge readjustment to the reality of driving an EV.
Click on images to enlarge and for slideshow
So, like other EVs, you (silently) start up the Outlander, and (silently) move off. Within a matter of seconds people push down the accelerator and in response they experience a (silent) linear surge of torque taking the car to 30 mph in just a few moments.
At this point they realise that the bloke down the pub is a bit of a muppet, as within just a matter of seconds their experience of an EV is very un-milk float-like. They then start to appreciate that this is a highly refined car. There’s none of the noise of diesel-engined vehicles, and the steering and suspension also contribute to the sensation of smoothness (the steering is heavier than the previous model, and there’s a thicker steering wheel, making the latest PHEV much better for it).
Then the driver of the Outlander remembers that they’re piloting a 4×4. For anyone who has driven a Land Rover Defender, the Outlander PHEV feels very unlike a utility vehicle (as well as unlike a milk float).
The silence – and responsiveness – of the powertrain continues up to motorway speeds, when the Outlander can still run on electric power. No gear changing or clutch action is required, so the car is easy to drive.
If you drive far enough, then the charge in the Outlander’s battery will become depleted (it has an official range of 32.5 miles on electric power). When this happens, the car will switch over to petrol power. The vast majority of the time, you won’t notice that the car has switched to petrol. Which is why the most useful display in the instrument cluster is a simple diagram showing if the battery is powering the car, or if the engine is powering it.
Click on images to enlarge and for slideshow
Occasionally, if you floor the accelerator to overtake a slow moving vehicle on an A-road, then you’ll hear the revs rise, reminiscent of a CVT transmission. We’re not fans of most CVT transmissions, and we don’t like this revvy sensation, but it happens very infrequently in the Outlander, and when it does, the car is well insulated from the engine noise.
The Outlander is also comfortable – it has suspension designed to cope with off-roading, and the combination of its suspension and its tyres does a good job of providing a well cushioned ride most of the time.
Handling is pretty much what you’d expect from such a vehicle. This is a tall, 1,845kg 4×4, so it’s not a sports car. When it goes round corners you’re aware of the bulk, but otherwise there’s not much wrong with the handling.
In terms of grip, there’s very occasionally a slight momentary slip from the front wheels under enthusiastic acceleration out of a junction when it’s wet and cold, but Mitsubishi’s S-AWC (‘Super-All Wheel Control’) system sorts things out pretty quickly. In normal on-road driving, grip levels are good – as you would hope from an all-wheel drive car. In terms of traction off-road, you’ll have to wait for another couple of weeks to find out more about that.
The Outlander has steering wheel-mounted paddles, so you might think that you can change gear using these. However the car just has a single gear automatic transmission, so these paddles are there to provide the option of varying degrees of brake regeneration – from level 0 to level 5. Although you can’t change gear, if you’re heading into a downhill bend, you can use the paddles to ‘simulate’ the increased engine braking that you would experience if you did change down a gear.
So overall the Outlander PHEV is easy and refined to drive, around town as well as on longer A-road or motorway journeys. But we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t report on areas for improvement. Chief amongst these is something that is not unique to the Outlander, it’s an industry-wide annoyance: Lane Departure Warning.
This is a feature that many new cars have, in the interests of lower insurance groups, and it results in the car beeping at you because you’ve driven near a white line. The idea is that if you aren’t concentrating/you’re falling asleep/you’re texting etc, then it stops you crashing when you inadvertently wander out of your lane. Now, I can only speak from my experience, but I’ve been driving for over 30 years and I can absolutely, categorically state that I have never unintentionally wandered over a white line. I do cross white lines all the time, but this is done very consciously – yet new cars such as the Outlander still beep incessantly when you do it.
There’s a button to switch off this feature. However the first time you drive the car you’ll probably come close to crashing while you’re trying to rummage around under the dashboard to find the ‘off switch’. And it appears that you need to switch off the LDW feature every time you start the car. However, we’ve found out a secret about the Outlander. We’ve now discovered that you can actually switch off the LDW, and keep it switched off. You do this by holding the LDW button down for 10 seconds when the system is on, and it changes to ‘LDW 2’, which keeps it switched off until you want to switch it back on. Hooray!
Other than that, and again like many other new cars, the Outlander has a touchscreen which can only be controlled by touching the touchscreen. Taking your eyes off the road at high speeds to try and spot small buttons on the touchscreen and then trying to touch these over uneven road surfaces is not a safe or user-friendly solution in our view. Sorry, but you can’t beat BMW’s iDrive controller that sits just in the right position between the front seats to select items on the screen (although Mazda has tried to copy and beat it).
One final item to note is that there isn’t much reach adjustment on the steering wheel – we’d really prefer the driving position if the wheel came out much further.
Anyway, details such as the above aside, overall the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is a very pleasant car to drive. You’ll notice on the photos that there’s some snow, but this time we’re not reporting on how the car drives off-road or in snow – you’ll have to wait a couple of weeks to read all about that.
But the next report is the one that will be of interest to many people: Real-life fuel economy of the Outlander PHEV – can a 2 tonne, 2-litre petrol-powered 4×4 really return 156mpg in real-life? Check back soon to find out…
Real-life economy: Yet to be tested
NEDC electric driving range: 32.5 miles
Real-life electric driving range: Yet to be tested
Official CO2 emissions: 42 g/km
Green rating: VED band A (£0)
Weight: 1,845 kg
Company car tax liability (2015/16): 5%
Price: £35,999 (after the current UK government Plug-in Car Grant of £5,000).
Insurance group: 22E
Power: 200 bhp
Max speed: 106 mph
0-62mph: 11.0 seconds
Torque: 385 Nm