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
Thanks to an extended stay at the Green Car Guide stables, we’ve been able to get beneath the skin of Mitsubishi’s groundbreaking plug-in hybrid, putting it through the mill both on and off road. So far it has taken everything in its stride, so as our time with the Outlander came to an end it was time to swap keys and see if consensus or trench warfare broke out.
It may seem like the Outlander PHEV came out of nowhere to claim the title as the UK’s best selling plug-in car (since you ask the Nissan LEAF is second overall and is top of the charts for pure electric cars) but Mitsubishi was one of the first mainstream manufacturers to offer a modern EV in the form of the i-MiEV so it knows a thing or two about electric propulsion.
In addition SUVs and four-wheel drive run deep in the veins so it’s easy to see why the Outlander was picked to spearhead Mitsubishi’s electric ambitions. Picking an SUV platform allowed the engineers to squeeze a 2-litre petrol engine, a couple of electric motors and a modest-sized battery pack in without compromising on passenger space. It also allowed them to hide the extra cost which was a sticking point with the city car sized i-MiEV, and crucially, after a little help from the Government, provided customers with a simple choice: a diesel Outlander, or the PHEV for the same price.
Since then the plug-in car grant has been changed so rather than attracting a £5,000 contribution you only get £2,500. This led to a run on PHEV orders to beat the drop in subsidy but Mitsubishi remains bullish about 2016 sales and we wouldn’t bet against another strong year.
‘Our’ PHEV is the current model which benefits from styling tweaks that keep it looking fresh. The exterior is confident and appealing, the interior less so. The friends and family test resulted in a unanimous thumbs down for the cabin which was described as bland, low rent and old fashioned looking.
Full marks here, the PHEV feels rock solid, even after 6,000 miles at the hands of car journalists there isn’t a single rattle or creak present. The way that the petrol and electric elements combine is also impressive with a seamless transition between the two.
In a word, polished. The Outlander could be prescribed by GPs to tackle road rage, it is the car equivalent of a lullaby. The ride quality is very good with minor road imperfections disappearing and larger bumps dealt with in one stroke. The steering is slightly on the heavy side but it contributes to straight line stability; with very little steering intervention necessary on motorways, it practically steers itself. In combination with a hushed cabin it’s easy to arrive at your destination unruffled.
If you think that means that there’s a lack of entertainment, you’d be correct. Tackle a series of corners with gusto and the polish quickly disappears. The steering may have plenty of weight but it has very little feel, and ultimately the hefty kerb weight is always waiting in the wings. If you do keep pushing you’ll be met with understeer and a feeling that the dampers can’t quite contain the body at the limit. More surprisingly power understeer is also on the menu with the front tyres struggling to contain the instant torque from the electric motor in greasy conditions and less intervention from the rear axle and stability control than expected.
The best way to enjoy the Mitsubishi is to kick back and let it waft along. When you do arrive there’s another welcome benefit of the electric drivetrain which is that low speed manoeuvring is a doddle. Unlike many dual clutch gearboxes the automatic Outlander can be moved with millimetre precision thanks to the electric motors doing the work, and in combination with more cameras than a TV studio, getting in and out of even the tightest spots is child’s play.
In a week of very mixed driving the best petrol consumption was 236 mpg and the worst was 42.5 mpg. In other words pretty respectable for a 2-litre petrol SUV at worst, and amazing at best. The key to this of course is maximising electric running.
The interesting bit with the PHEV is that maximising the electric range doesn’t just mean making sure it’s plugged in, because when the battery is depleted it switches to hybrid mode. One 60 mile journey illustrates the point nicely; the part-full battery range ran out after 18 miles but 62% (37 miles) of the journey was covered in EV mode. So even when the battery is low, eco-driving can tease a surprising amount of electric running out of the Outlander.
Having said that you still definitely want to plug in as often as you can. We found 20 miles of EV range to be realistic during a chilly week, with electric consumption more predictable than mpg. Generally around 200 Wh/km is a good guide with the best being 189 and the worst 260. Using standard electricity that means CO2 emissions somewhere around 87 g/km – 119 g/km with an average of approximately 92 g/km which is excellent in the real world.
To put that in context 92 g/km is around 71 mpg in a petrol or 81 mpg in a diesel. And with the UK electricity grid de-carbonising, it’s a figure that will go down even further over the next few years, so a PHEV will emit less CO2 the longer you keep it!
Should you buy one?
If you don’t mind forgoing driving dynamics and don’t cover more than 20 miles between recharging points then absolutely. The Outlander is refined, comfortable, very practical, good looking (outside) and dispatches miles with consummate ease. The electric range allows you to combine this with fuel costs of around 2 pence per mile, very low company car tax rates, zero VED and even with recent price rises this is a lot of car for the money.
That is a pretty unsurprising conclusion, however the PHEV may still make sense even if you are covering more miles between charges if you’re willing to drive sympathetically. If you do maximise EV hybrid running the electric range can be stretched significantly beyond the plug-in range.
One word of caution though, if you aren’t planning to plug-in and don’t want to moderate your driving style you definitely need to look elsewhere, as when the petrol engine was required to both drive the wheels and recharge the battery fuel consumption sat stubbornly in the mid 20’s. So there’s no point buying the PHEV just to swerve company car tax as your petrol bills will be astronomical (if you rather than your company pay petrol bills) and we can think of much more entertaining machinery if you’re happy with 20 mpg…
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