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There’s no better way to test the claims of automotive manufacturers than to put a car through its paces over a long period of time - particularly one that claims to be the most efficient SUV on the market. Cue the latest member of the CarAdvice long-term garage, the plug-in hybrid Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.
The Outlander PHEV went on sale in March this year, priced at $47,490 for the entry-level model and $52,490 for the flagship Aspire that we've got our hands on for the next six months. That price may seem high for an SUV - not to mention a Mitsubishi - and indeed it is dearer in this specification than many diesel rivals, but there's a price to be paid to be at the cutting edge of drivetrain technology, and thankfully in the Outlander's case it's not as high as, say, the Holden Volt (four-seat sedan priced from $59,990).
That said, the Aspire comes packed with equipment, including leather seats, a sunroof, satellite navigation, heated seats, an electronic tail-gate, keyless entry with push-button start, forward collision warning and auto-braking, radar cruise control, 18-inch alloy wheels and a reverse-view camera with rear parking sensors.
Far and away the most technologically-advanced Mitsubishi on sale at the moment – not to mention one of the country’s greenest models available – the Outlander PHEV combines a petrol engine with a battery pack, but unlike many other hybrid cars it can be recharged using a plug.
The complex drivetrain of the Outlander PHEV includes a pair of electric motors, two inverters, a generator and a petrol engine. Add all-wheel drive to that equation and the sheer complexity of the drivetrain starts to become mind-boggling.
The thing that’s perhaps most astounding about the Outlander PHEV is that it doesn’t look like a science experiment: from the outside it looks almost like any other Outlander out there, though its plethora of blue exterior badges does give away its secret identity. A keener eye will also note a lack of exhaust pipes at the rear, and filler flaps on either side of the car – the driver’s side one is where you plug in the power, the passenger’s side is where you glug in the petrol.
The car comes with a cable that fits the oddly configured socket, which can be a little tricky to plug in. Thankfully – and unlike some other plug-in hybrids we’ve driven – there’s a light that helps you see what you’re doing when you recharge.
However, that plug-in system isn’t as useful as it could be. It requires a 15-amp power outlet to recharge, and a refill takes up to five hours - and there's no capability for fast-charging. That it requires a specific plug means most buyers will need to have an electrician install a new powerpoint at their home or workplace. That’s exactly what I did, and it cost me a chunky $600.
That kind of outlay is a bit tough to swallow, especially if you’re an actual buyer who may have just shelled out as much as $55,000 on the car itself. It makes Mitsubishi look a bit silly, too, when brands like Audi – with its upcoming A3 Sportback e-tron – are planning to offer an at-home or in-office charge point as part of the sale.
Having said that, my initial impressions during the 77-kilometre (one-way) commute I endure from the lower Blue Mountains to North Sydney every morning have been largely positive.
For the first 40-50km, the battery takes care of propulsion, while the petrol engine is ready to fire up at a moment's notice. It does so under harder acceleration, or when the batteries run out of juice. The general result is that my commute is between 60 and 75 per cent emissions-free driving, and it gets better the more traffic I encounter due to the effectiveness of the regenerative braking system. I’ve been noticing a combined consumption figure of between 3.8 and 4.1 litres per 100 kilometres on the car’s instrument display, which has been as low as 2.1L during a particularly treacherous run.
That is truly awe-inspiring for a family-friendly SUV that weighs 1810kg without my extra mass added.
But in the first weeks of the PHEV being part of the CarAdvice garage, I’ve had to fight for the chance to spend some quality time in the car, as everyone in the office has wanted to experience what it’s like to drive. As such, we’ve racked up more than 3000km in just 30 days, including a few long trips without EV charging available.
In doing so, the PHEV has had its own 15-amp powerpoint installed in the CarAdvice garage, too – but it took several weeks before we had one installed, and as such the fuel use average we’ve seen is considerably higher than its claimed 1.9 litres per 100 kilometres – over five fill-ups, we saw 6.2 litres per 100km, which is still thoroughly impressive. Several staff members have taken the PHEV home to challenge its electric range since the 15-amp plug was installed, and I plan to share the car between some of our writers who live closer to the office than I do to see whether it’s a truly viable EV for family buyers.
Speaking of families, there’s no denying the utterly useful nature of the Outlander PHEV. With five seats and a decent 463-litre boot capacity (accessed by an electronic tailgate), it again gives little away in terms of its appearance or practicality. Indeed, storage through the cabin is excellent, and five adults can ably pile in without much fuss. For parents, there are outboard ISOFIX seat points and three top-tether restraints.
There are some giveaways, such as the PHEV’s unconventional looking gear selector, a different gauge on the instrument cluster that replaces the tachometer in favour of a dial that shows charge, eco and power. Charge is when the batteries are charging, eco is when you’re driving cautiously and primarily on battery power, and power is when you call on all available forms of grunt.
There’s also a pair of buttons behind the shifter, one that allows you to save the amount of battery charge available for later on (running the vehicle on petrol power only) and the other uses the engine to add charge to the batteries.
The media system shows up a variety of eco menus so you can monitor how you’re using your energy and how much of each type of power you’re using. However, that system has already offered up a few foibles, including confusing menus, annoying buttons and Bluetooth connectivity that hooks up easily enough but doesn't allow you to input a number to dial when the car is moving – thus defeating the purpose of having Bluetooth connectivity.
The audio streaming is also annoying in that it won’t pick up a track from where you left it, but will instead start at the beginning of your music list in alphabetical order. I like screamo music, but even I get sick of hearing the same throat-shredding track every time I get in the car. Talk about aaaaaah!
But those complaints are minor when considering the complexity of what this car is capable of – and that is, a family-friendly SUV that can complete the school run and the trip to work, all while using not a drop of fuel… if you don't live in the sticks.
Stay tuned for our monthly updates on the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV as we put it through its paces.
Date acquired: August 2014
Odometer reading: 4822km (upon picking the car up); 7939km at end of month one
Travel this month: 3117km
Consumption this month: 6.2L/100km