CarAdvice has attended plenty of overseas launches for vehicles due to land locally at a later date – there's nothing new there. Our drive of the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV in Portugal is something of a rarity though. Not because we're among the first outlets in the world to drive the vehicle, but rather because our test car is a right-hand-drive UK-specification Outlander PHEV, giving us a better taste of what's to come when the plug-in hybrid SUV lands in Oz early next year.
Supply will be the key according to Mitsubishi Australia. The vehicle is so popular in markets like the Netherlands, the UK and Russia, that Australia simply has to wait its turn. It’s one of the downsides of being such a small market comparatively.
The local division hasn’t confirmed exactly when the new Outlander PHEV will get to Australia, but we’re eager to sample the new model, having had our own long-term test example of the old version for six months. So here we are in Portugal, driving a Japanese car from the United Kingdom, with German registration plates – go figure.
Intrinsically, the Mitsubishi Outlander is a strong competitor in the incredibly combative medium SUV segment. The styling has always been a love or hate proposition, there’s no getting away from that. But the comfort, second row space, extensive luggage area and relatively compact external dimensions make it one of the more compelling choices in the segment. In PHEV trim, it is also one of the most accessible EVs on the market with genuine room for five adults and their luggage. Currently priced around the $53k mark, it’s not a bargain basement vehicle, but it does offer EV sensibility and SUV practicality at an affordable price.
Though exact pricing won’t be announced until closer to the local launch, it’s fair to assume Mitsubishi will try to price the Outlander PHEV as competitively as possible. In many segments domestically, value and pricing is Mitsubishi’s strongest weapon and there’s no reason to think the Outlander PHEV will be any different. The fact remains as well, if you’re in the market for an SUV and you desire EV technology, the Outlander PHEV will continue to mount a strong case.
Study the photos closely, and you’ll no doubt notice the most obvious change from the outgoing model. The styling – not to everyone’s tastes previously – has been revised and in our opinion, is now a lot more attractive than before.
Designed around the ‘Dynamic Shield’ theory Mitsubishi has been spruiking, the front end continues with cues we’ve seen from recent models including the facelifted Triton.
The black detailing and wrap around-style bumper design improve the whole appearance of the front end, while LED daytime running lights are now housed inside the LED headlight system, making for a cleaner look.
At the rear, the light system incorporates LED brake lights that modernises the whole design. The new-look Outlander PHEV also gets exclusive 18-inch alloy wheels with a two-tone finish.
Inside, Mitsubishi has listened to feedback from owners (and long-term testers like CarAdvice) and worked hard to improve overall cabin quality. The designers realised the market wanted a more premium feel and they started with the seats.
In addition to upgraded black leather trim, you can also now opt for brown leather in Europe – an alternative we’d love to see available in Australia. The seats themselves get extra bolstering and padding, along with accent stitching, while the door trim inserts also get the same accent stitching and padded inserts.
Trimmed in matching leather, there’s a restyled steering wheel for drivers to familiarise themselves with. The aforementioned accent stitching extends to the dash housing and the centre console design is ‘all-new’ too. The result is an interior that definitely feels more premium than the outgoing model, so kudos to Mitsubishi there. Our only gripe is hard surfacing at elbow touch points on the console and door lining, a little more padding would be ideal there.
Another aspect of our long-term Outlander PHEV that grated a little was the interior refinement in terms of insulation. At speed, especially on coarse-chip surfaces, various road testers noticed wind and tyre noise entering the cabin. Again, that feedback has been heeded, with no less than 30 separate improvements factored into the cabin.
Additional sound proofing material has been added along with anti-vibration material and dynamic sound dampers. Mitsubishi claims the result is a much more comfortable cabin, especially over longer distances. The Japanese company has even improved the door seal design. The reason is twofold: door seals keep dust and water out obviously, so the more effective they are, the better the vehicle will stay insulated, but they also help to create that satisfying ‘thud’ when you close the doors. And there’s nothing tinny about the resultant sound when you close an Outlander PHEV’s door.
The finicky infotainment system remains and we’re somewhat torn here. CarAdvice testers universally thought it was too difficult to master and simple tasks like pairing a phone took longer, and were more complex than they needed to be. I was one of those testers. I just couldn’t see any reason why the system needed to be as annoying as I found it.
Subsequently, I’ve quizzed three different Mitsubishi owners who all think we’re mad and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the system. They all reckon once you set the phone up, it stays paired and whatever else we didn’t like about the system, they have become accustomed to. Whatever the reality, the infotainment system could be better than it is – especially in the newly revised model.
Mechanically, the 2016 Outlander PHEV is essentially the same vehicle as the previous model. The 2.0-litre petrol engine can power the front wheels or act as a generator. There’s the same high-capacity battery system mounted under the floor, and the electric motors can still power the front and rear wheels independent of the petrol engine.
We always liked the transition from electric power to the petrol engine cutting in too, it’s never harsh or too obvious. On its own, the low-stress petrol engine makes 89kW of power at 4500rpm and 190Nm of torque at 4500rpm. The front electric motor adds a maximum of 65kW and 137Nm to the system, while the rear adds 60kW and 195Nm.
Mitsubishi has revised the calibration of the plug-in hybrid system to dial in better acceleration and throttle response off the mark. The fuel claim is 5.5 litres per 100km when the batteries are fully drained, which is certainly competitive for the segment. The 1.8L/100km figure you see referenced over the combined cycle relates to fuel use for 100km, when you start off with a fully charged battery pack – and therefore get the optimum distance of petrol-free propulsion.
We found over our long-term test that the claimed 52km range doesn’t always translate to the real world, but if your commute to work is 15-20km each way, you can safely get to and from work without using any fuel whatsoever.
Plug in and charge at home overnight and you’re ready to go again the next day. If you can charge up at work, even better. It’s here the Outlander excels. It manages to provide a proper EV mode for the average commute, but also offers much longer cruising capabilities when you want to head out of town on longer drives. There’s no ‘range anxiety’ when you’re driving an Outlander PHEV.
Steering response, while not perfect, has been improved as well thanks to increased chassis rigidity and changes to the front suspensions cross member. The rear suspensions cross member has also been reinforced which tightens up handling but reduces the amount of noise and vibration that could potentially enter the cabin. Larger rear stabilisers and new rear shocks work with a new front strut design to assist in the improved overall handling. While the Outlander PHEV is no sports car, and it’s not meant to be, it handles a spirited drive over twisty country roads in the hills outside Lisbon with confidence.
We thought the old model rode a little on the stiff side, and we still think that’s the case with this new model. It’s not uncomfortable, but sections of cobblestones and marbled dirt tracks indicate the Outlander isn’t quite as forgiving as we’d like from the segment.
It’s a trend we’ve seen across the board – Mitsubishi isn’t on its own in terms of a taut ride – but we’d like to see the SUV segment be aimed more towards comfortable cruising than sports car-like firmness. It would be great to drive the old and new models back-to-back, because while the bump absorption around town isn’t perfect on the 2016 car, our gut instinct is that it’s an improvement from the outgoing model.
The extra boost offered by the electric motors translate to more than respectable grunt for roll-on highway overtaking. At around 1800kg, the PHEV variant is no lightweight, but it feels more nimble than it should.
The Outlander PHEV gets up to speed from a standstill rapidly enough, and can work its way from 80-110km/h effortlessly, making for safe overtaking manoeuvres.
We love the fact that the Outlander PHEV – especially in top-spec trim – comes packed with just about everything you could want. There’s no need to tick expensive options boxes if you want to price an Outlander PHEV. Pricing of the new model should remain competitive too, when stacked against the price of some of the segment’s petrol and diesel alternatives.
It might not be perfect, but the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is still a clever combination of EV technology and SUV sensibility. The fact it’s wearing a Mitsubishi badge means it should also be virtually indestructible over the longer term. We can’t wait to drive the first Australian-spec cars come 2016, but initially at least, it seems the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is a definite step up from the model it replaces.