Richard Aucock | April 2014
Mitsubishi UK is extremely excited. With the new Outlander PHEV, it believes it has a gamechanger on its hands. The sort of car that’s so new and has so much potential, the firm doesn’t actually know how many it may sell. It could be 3,000 a year, it could be 6,000… it could even be 10,000 or more.
The excitement, and the unknowns, are because of a Top Trumps set of stats: 148mpg, 44g/km CO2, £28,295. Yes, £28,295. The same price as the diesel Outlander. That’s after the Government Plug-In Car Grant is taken off, but there’s plenty of funds in the pot to ensure funding from there won’t be an issue.
It does this by combining 2.0-litre petrol engine with two electric motors, one on each axle. They are 80hp each (the front delivers 101lb ft, the rear 143lb ft) and operate in three models. Full EV mode leaves the engine out of the picture, driving the Outlander PHEV to motorway speeds so long as you don’t ask too much of it. If you do, Series hybrid mode sees the petrol engine momentarily kicking in, acting as a generator to supply more electricity to the motors, before switching back to full EV.
Parallel hybrid mode leaves the electric motors largely out of the picture. Used for faster cruising, this relies on the petrol engine. But the electric motors are still called upon when the demand is there.
In all, Mitsubishi claims 32.5 miles’ potential electric only running before the engine starts up. Even then, it largely runs in series hybrid mode, so it’s still the electric motors actually driving the vehicle – the engine is just a generator supplying electricity instead of the 12kWh underfloor lithium ion battery. It’s a similar principal to the Vauxhall Ampera range extender.
Mitsubishi has installed this technology within the regular Outlander compact SUV bodyshell. Features such as mounting the batteries in the floor mean space is much less compromised than in some other hybrids. This is critical: the firm’s bullseye, it believes, is offering such clever plug-in hybrid technology in the ‘must have’ vehicle sector of the moment. It still offers the space and practicality buyers like, and the high seating position they love. On paper, it has everything going for it.
What is the 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV like to drive?
It translates out onto the road too. Those used to normal hybrids will be particularly impressed: to all intents, this is an electric SUV, rather than the intermittently EV but usually petrol-powered drive of conventional hybrids. It starts in silent, torquey electric mode and unless you really boot it hard, stays that way until the batteries run flat.
It has a sprightly system total of 200hp and 249lb ft of instant-demand torque, which is impressive on paper: in practice, the electric motors give a punchy response and the extra off-the-line boost compared to turbodiesels is appealing.
Power delivery is very smooth and linear. It feels like a high-end machine to drive, gliding along with fluidity. You can monitor it all through the comprehensive drive monitor on the dash – lifting off shows the energy recovery to the battery, something you can boost with the clever multi-stage paddleshifters behind the wheel. Flick up and down to choose your level of slow-down regeneration. Do it right and you won’t need to use the brakes.
If you come across a really steep hill or need full acceleration, the engine will start up to assist. Generally, it does this pretty quietly – so seamless is it, you won’t notice if you’ve got the stereo on, unless you’re demanding full acceleration: then it will drone and whine and spoil the peace.
As the batteries run low, series hybrid mode takes over. As mentioned, even here, the engine won’t be on all the time. In practice, it cuts in and out, almost imperceptibly, according to demand, and as it’s the motors doing the driving, it still ‘feels’ like an EV (so still has the same sharp response). All very clever, very well engineered and, if you drive it right, likely to see the engine rarely cut in at all.
The rest of the Outlander PHEV is like other Outlanders: good, but not great. It handles OK (aided by the lower centre of gravity from those low-set batteries) but without flair, and the steering is a bit slow. The ride is a bit pattery too (probably the big wheels of the test car) and the sheer silence in EV mode shines the spotlight on a few dash trim rattles.
Which will matter more long term – these grumbles, or the bigger picture advances of the Outlander PHEV’s technology – will be a matter of personal preference.
Is the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV a gamechanger?
Is Mitsubishi right to be so excited? We believe so. In practice, the Outlander PHEV really is a standout drive. It has full electric-only running capabilities, without the anxiety associated with full EVs. It also has the range to capitalise on it, one well within the limits of most people’s daily commute.
We started it up with 15 miles showing and drove it for over 30, spiritedly. MPG? Off the scale. The engine was idle for most of the time, and we even drove the steep hill back to base under electric drive. The experience amazed us – that’s how groundbreaking it feels.
The fact it feels so technologically accomplished for the money is also likely to wow customers. The drivetrain is ingenious and monitoring it all via the umpteen dash screens is fascinating – in this regard, it feels like you’re buying real cutting-edge engineering, for a price tag far from boundary-pushing.
It’s also an SUV. Everyone loves SUVs – particularly one with extended capabilities: this has two electric motors, one on each axle… so, courtesy of Mitsubishi’s decades of 4×4 experience, it delivers all-weather traction and grip plus “better response and finer control than conventional 4WD systems”. It has grip and traction, then, delivered in a manner that in some regards is better than traditional 4×4 systems.
Could it thus be the green family car that has it all?
MR VERDICT: 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is an impressive vehicle that delivers what it promises in a sophisticated, appealing manner. It’s a viable EV but a worry-free one; it’s an SUV that adds plenty more appeal on top of the usual sector attributes. And it’s both priced at a bargain level and will genuinely save money during use, too.
The chassis dynamics are a bit more so-so and we didn’t like to hear a couple of creaky trims and buzzing plastics. The interior’s still a bit plain for all its high tech displays and the stiff ride isn’t quite space age. But all this fades when you consider the Outlander PHEV as a whole. The clever tech and genuinely new experience outweighs them.
It’s an SUV with real wow factor, priced at a bargain that will make people gasp for the right reasons. Mitsubishi calls it a UK market gamechanger: having driven it, we agree. That’s why we’re giving it a full five MR stars. For this money, it deserves them.
- Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid
- Vauxhall Ampera
- Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid
- Nissan Qashqai 1.5 dCi 99g/km
- Nissan LEAF
Engine 2.0-litre petrol plus two electric motors
Drivetrain Twin Motor 4WD, CVT automatic
Prices from £28,249
Power 200hp (system total)
Torque 249lb ft (system total)
Top speed 106mph