The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV joins a new generation of production vehicles embarking on an alternative-fuels crusade in the coming years.
PHEV, which stands for Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicle, is essentially the next evolution of hybrid vehicles, with a greater skew towards electric-only power thanks to a much higher capacity battery than the petrol-dominant hybrids we are used to.
For example, the Outlander PHEV can indeed run on electricity alone for 60 kilometres, substantially more than the handful of EV-only kilometers you will get out of a Toyota Prius.
The mains reasons are the large battery capacity (12kWh) and the dual electric motor setup for both front and rear wheels.
In Australia at least, only the Holden Volt can match the Outlander PHEV’s electric-only prioritisation, but it is a medium hatchback with one electric motor driving the front wheels, where the Mitsubishi is an SUV with two electric motors each driving a front and rear axle.
Nonetheless, there are unanswered questions about the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. It’s arguably a first generation vehicle - though Mitsubishi has learned a great deal from its i-MiEV full-electric vehicle program - which is always a point of concern, but in this day and age manufacturers don’t bet on their entire future on a product lineup, as Mitsubishi has, without serious consideration.
Mitsubishi, along with Nissan, are the two Japanese manufacturers that have really led the electric-vehicle revolution. While Toyota has found it difficult to move on from its profitable hybrid program, the other two essentially skipped the hybrid hype and gone a level above.
In technical terms, PHEVs sit in the middle between hybrid and full-electric vehicles. The ability to plug them into a power socket means the need for petrol is not always necessary (at least for the first 60km after a full charge), but unlike pure electric cars – and like the Volt – the Outlander PHEV carries with it a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that can act as either a generator to make more electricity or as a traditional engine to drive the wheels.
Power comes from two electric motors at each end, generating a combined 120kW of power. It’s coupled to 2.0-litre engine with around 70kW (detuned to act more as a generator than a traditional engine). By comparison, the Volt only gets 111kW total power with a 55kW 1.4-litre, but the Holden claims 87km electric-only range – or 27km more than the Mitsu.
So, how does it drive? Surprisingly well.
We came to the Mobara circuit in Japan and found ourselves behind the wheel of a production-ready Outlander PHEV.
Mitsubishi brought us to a racetrack because it wanted to emphasis not only the PHEV’s power delivery but also its S-AWC, or Super All Wheel Control, technology it has learned from the rally-bred Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X program.
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV sits 30mm lower than the standard car and its battery pack is located on the boot floor. This means its centre of gravity is much lower, which helps with its dynamic character.
The other interesting thing is the power control to the four wheels, which are entirely driven by an electric motor up to speeds of 120km/h – can be controlled to extremely precise levels, so torque can be sent to each wheel in exact measurements.
This sounds like a bit of techno jargon, but what it means is the Outlander’s computers can work out which corner the power is needed, just how much of it, and send it without limitations that come with a traditional engine setup.
Around a race track the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is a blast, it corners and breezes through the straights without much complaint. It’s faster on the move than its petrol brothers but doesn’t always feel it.
It’s comfortable to be in and there’s no compromise with luggage space given the battery’s underbody placement.
There are three modes for the Outlander PHEV to operate on. In EV mode the battery and two electric motors do the work for up to 60km. When the battery level drops below a certain level the petrol engine kicks in to generate electricity – this is called Series mode, which will work up to 120km/h, at which point the petrol engine will actually help drive the front-wheels while also charging the battery.
There’s even a button you can press which forces the engine to charge the battery at all time. This way you can charge the battery when on a noisy highway and use the electricity for pure-EV mode when in suburbia.
The paddle shifters on the steering wheel can be used to increase the regeneration force (when the vehicle is coasting), which helps charge the battery faster.
With a full battery and fuel tank, the Outlander PHEV can manage a claimed 897km without stopping, which is more than reasonable.
It will take about four hours to charge the battery from a power socket, which means an overnight charge is a non-issue, or you can even plug it in at work or in a shopping centre. In Japan and some European countries (plus California) where electric and plugin hybrids are taken seriously, fast charge stations are also readily available, which can recharge the Outlander PHEV in about 30 minutes, although this isn’t recommended to often as it affects battery longevity.
Nonetheless, you can’t just plug it into any plug. It needs to be a 10W or 200V household socket. It will cost you about $500 (depending on setup and distance to fusebox) to have it set up in your garage by any qualified electrician.
One of the features that Australian buyers wont get when the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV arrives in April next year is the power out socket. In Japan and Europe, you can plug a household appliance into the Outlander – an excellent alternative to a generator when you go camping or when the power gives out - but given our differing power requirements, this won’t be available in Australian vehicles at launch.
Mitsubishi Australia will bring in the Outlander PHEV priced somewhere between $50-60,000, or around the price of a $59,990 Volt, and is likely to have at least two variants to appeal to both private and fleet customers.