With all the hype surrounding Tesla and the seemingly endless conga line of car companies publicising their electric future, it’s easy to forget the move to mainstream electric propulsion still has some way to go.
At present, the case for electric cars can’t be made on economic grounds. The technology is heading in the right direction, however, until mainstream affordability is a reality, an interim measure is needed.
Hybrid technology has been widely available for a while now, Toyota has done the majority of the heavy lifting to bring hybrid cars to the market at a competitive price. New players are now providing the necessary competition to kick the hybrid can along while we wait for the inevitable switch to electric cars.
One such player is Mitsubishi, a brand currently enjoying a renewed prominence in Australia.
On test here is the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Exceed, an important model in what is an ageing fleet.
Mitsubishi has a story to tell with the Outlander PHEV, it’s the world's first plug-in hybrid SUV. Bragging rights can’t hurt in this case, Australian’s are flocking to SUVs and in an increasingly crowded midsize segment, this Outlander is without peer in many respects.
The unique drivetrain consists of a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine and a pair of electric motors – one on each axle. When all the sums are done, the Outlander PHEV produces 120kW of power and 332Nm of torque. The engine and battery-driven twin motor set-up powers all four wheels while a CVT automatic takes care of the shifts.
Convenience is what a plug-in hybrid offers, the Outlander’s battery can be charged from a standard power socket in around 6.5 hours. With a fully charged battery, Mitsubishi quotes an electric driving range of up to 54 kilometres. It all sounds good so far.
In Australia, electricity isn't cheap. Depending on how much you pay for a kilowatt per hour, most people will pay approximately $3 - $4 to fully charge the Outlander PHEV. Of course, there are some sharp deals out there tailored to electric car owners, so shopping around is essential.
Over our week with the Outlander PHEV, we were unable to get near the 54-kilometre range. A full charge gave us around 35 kilometres of electric range before the petrol engine kicked in (it should be said, the climate control was rarely off). This would cover the daily needs of the majority of us meaning visits to the servo would be less frequent, which is the point.
Regenerative braking helps to extend the electric range during a city-run. The battery can be recharged while driving, however, this will pump up the fuel usage figure.
As is generally the case, convenience comes at a cost, in the Exceed trim level the Outlander PHEV is priced at $55,490 plus on-roads. Along with the EV tech, the PHEV Exceed is stocked with plenty of kit to bring additional value to the equation.
Leather trim, sunroof, electric tailgate, 360-degree camera system, autonomous emergency braking, rear cross traffic alert, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are all standard inclusions.
Along with efficiency, the driving experience is one of comfort and refinement. The Outlander PHEV offers a level of refinement that wouldn’t be out of place in the premium segment. It’s a very serene cabin even at highway pace.
The silent propulsion system gives nothing away when driving through the city. When the battery is exhausted the switch to the combustion engine is seamless. There’s no need to worry about the battery running out, the Outlander’s on-board engine management system decides how the power is distributed.
For a car that carries the extra weight of electric motors and a battery pack, the Outlander doesn’t feel as well anchored as we expected. Body control when cornering isn’t one of the car’s strengths, the amount of lean can be off-putting.
It’s a relatively spritely car off the line with prompt torque delivery from the electric motors. It never felt out of puff during any overtaking manoeuvres.
Moving to the suspension, Mitsubishi has done a brilliant job. It’s right on the money, not too firm, not too soft. It’s the same with the steering, the right amount of resistance has been found.
Being a proper all-wheel drive SUV, the Outlander PHEV is more capable than many. It will comfortably handle a bush track or two, however, the 190mm ground clearance will limit how far it can be pushed. In this application, Mitsubishi’s AWD system is more about on-road grip than off-road adventure seeking. In saying that, we did try to unsettle the Outlander on loose gravel to no avail, it maintained its composure.
When the petrol engine is required to stump up, expect consumption to hover around 8.0L/100km, on the open road, a figure in the low sixes is easily achieved.
When designer’s start sketching hybrids and EVs there is a compulsion to make a futuristic statement. The styling of the Outlander PHEV is a refreshing change – similar cars try to overplay the styling angle with an overly futuristic vibe. The Outlander looks like the plethora of other SUVs on the road. It blends in, this might be a turn off for some of the target demographic.
Inside it’s a similar story, there is nothing that really screams modernity or hints at the innovative powertrain. We found the interior a little underwhelming, more so when considering the cost to own the Exceed.
The steering wheel looks like it belongs in an old Pajero and the infotainment screen is too small. It’s all a bit bland and in need of an urgent injection of charisma. A few little things from the Suzuki playbook would make a substantial difference, a splash of colour and some matte surfaces would upgrade the atmosphere.
Tall drivers will immediately notice the cramped footwell caused by a bulge in the tunnel, it proved to be an irritant on more than one occasion.
The absence of rear USB charging ports and air vents detracts from the overall package. These omissions may prove a deal breaker for trendy families with this amount of coin to splurge on a range-topping model.
Mitsubishi back the Outlander PHEV with a five year/100,000km warranty and a three-year capped-price service program. Maintenance intervals are set at 12 months/15,000km intervals with the first three visits to the hoist costing $310, $420 and $365 respectively.
As we head towards a future full of electric cars, the Outlander PHEV is a very clever way to kick the game along. Early adopters of new technology always pay a premium and that’s the case with the Outlander PHEV Exceed. It is a big spend, some of which will be returned with reduced running costs.
There are other virtues that help justify the cost such as excellent levels of comfort and refinement that can easily compete with models wearing a premium badge. These qualities are important, especially in a family car, but it’s the flexibility of the powertrain and the convenience of the plug-in aspect of the Outlander PHEV that make it rather unique in a crowded segment. It gives Mitsubishi something different and like the brand itself, the Outlander PHEV will continue to grow in prominence as the technology evolves.
2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Exceed Specifications
Price from $55,490 plus on-road costs Powertrain 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with twin electric motors Engine Power 87kW @ 4500rpm Engine Torque 186Nm @ 4500rpm Combined Power 120kW Combined Torque 332Nm Transmission CVT automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 1.7L/100km Tank Capacity 45L Length 4695mm Width 1800mm (excluding mirrors) Height 1710mm Wheelbase 2670mm Ground Clearance 190mm Turning Circle 10.6m Tare Weight 1830kg Service Intervals 12 months/15,000km Warranty five-year/100,000km
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