The SUV platform would appear - on paper at least - to be the most versatile petrol/hybrid option for manufacturers looking to explore new plug-in technologies. Yet, in the volume market at least, Mitsubishi seems to be pioneering alone with the Outlander PHEV.
It’s hard to believe the PHEV has been around long enough for a refresh, but following Mike Costello’s drive in Norway a few weeks ago, we now get to sample the 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV on local roads.
Australian demand for the Outlander PHEV remains relatively strong. “It's currently running at around 800 units per annum, and since 2014, we’ve sold 1650 units in Australia,” Mitsubishi Australia head of Product Planning James Tol says.
“Mitsubishi has sold 118,000 Outlander PHEVs globally, which is 15 per cent of all PHEV sales globally.”
While the plug-in hybrid EV technology is the most obvious factor that differentiates the Outlander from its medium SUV counterparts of other manufacturers, there’s some gravitas that comes with Mitsubishi’s experience in various other segments too.
Aside from packaging advantages, what the SUV platform does allow Mitsubishi to do is appeal to the masses, given how many buyers are rushing to SUVs and the mid-size SUV segment particularly. You’d think with the increasing popularity of SUVs - not just in Australia but globally - the platform would be absolutely perfect for showcasing new technology.
The Outlander PHEV can draw from three modes, that aren’t especially easy to explain, but all work together to choose the most efficient way of powering the vehicle given the road speed and throttle load required. The system also works out the smartest way of storing energy and minimising fuel usage to deliver the most efficient overall result.
There’s pure EV Mode, Series Hybrid Mode, and Parallel Hybrid Mode, with the overall result being a drop in fuel consumption to 1.7L/100km on the ADR cycle. That’s down from the previous model’s 1.9L/100km.
In the real world, with some highway running thrown in, you’re likely to see that average number sit somewhere between 5.7L and 6.0L/100km if you’re not too heavy with your right foot. So it’s pretty hard to use little or no fuel, unless your commute is entirely electric.
Mitsubishi quotes a maximum EV-only cruise at 54km, but you’re likely to access around 35-40km in real terms. The addition of a DC fast-charge socket means you can now charge the PHEV up to 80 percent battery capacity in around 25 minutes. The battery pack can also be charged on the go, or via regenerative braking as per the previous model.
That means if your commute is 10 to 15 kilometres, you’ll get to work and back each day without using any fuel. Or, if you can charge the Outlander PHEV up at work, you’ll benefit there too. But, as we saw with our long-term Outlander PHEV in the CarAdvice garage, it isn’t always practical or realistic to access EV-only driving in real terms.
Mitsubishi quotes the same 120kW combined power output as the outgoing model and the 2.0-litre engine, which acts largely as a generator, remains. The front motor generates 60kW and 137Nm, while the rear motor adds another 60kW and 195Nm.
The 2.0-litre internal combustion engine is quoted at 89kW and 190Nm, but Mitsubishi doesn’t add that into the overall rating, given it rarely powers the wheels.
We noted a near seamless transition between driving modes, and the petrol engine is very gentle when it does cut in so there’s no harsh lurching or loading and unloading as it starts working or cuts out. A 45-litre fuel tank means you can genuinely drive the Outlander PHEV like any normal SUV in its class, devoid of range anxiety or fears of being left in the middle of nowhere.
As you’ll see in our pricing and specifications article, there are two models (as with the outgoing Outlander PHEV), but the naming convention has changed to PHEV LS (starts from $50,490) and PHEV Exceed (starts from $55,490).
While pricing is up, Mitsubishi says the Exceed especially has a lot more standard kit for the money. The fact remains, though, that if you compare a PHEV Exceed to a normal Outlander Exceed, there’s a fair price difference. Early adoption doesn’t come cheap, though.
What you will like about the Outlander PHEV is the styling that is coherent with the rest of the Outlander range. The Dynamic Shield grille, and much of the dark chrome and silver plated detailing seen on the new Outlander is now present for the PHEV and there’s nothing that looks weird or strange, as we often see with electric or hybrid vehicles.
Both grades get LED headlights, LED DRLs and LED fog lights up front, while there’s LED combination rear lights and a new bumper design.
We spent our drive time at launch in the base-model LS, which, aside from active driver technology and safety aids, doesn’t seem to miss out on any kit that makes it feel like a ‘cheaper’ experience. The cabin retains that premium feel we’ve noted in recent Mitsubishi product - especially Triton - and the addition of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto is a welcome touch that lifts the infotainment system overall.
Both model grades get a five-star ANCAP rating and a five-year/100,000km warranty. The Outlander PHEV also benefits from Mitsubishi’s four-year capped price servicing plan, which is scheduled every 15,000km or 12 months whichever comes first.
The revised seats are more comfortable and supportive, and do their bit to enhance the sense of luxury from behind the wheel. Yep points here are improved lateral support and stiffer side bolsters, which better keep you in place. The new Outlander’s cabin has always felt spacious, comfortable and well executed, and its another reason the PHEV theory works so well in an SUV in practice. We tested both Apple CarPlay and Bluetooth as well, and both worked faultlessly at launch.
The cabin remains quiet and calm, with only some tyre noise entering the cabin at 100km/h on coarse chip bitumen. There’s thicker glass, new insulation material and damping, new weather strips and additional air dams all doing their part to quieten the cabin down as much as possible.
There’s still no seven-seat PHEV, so buyers have to make do with five spacious seats, and a huge luggage area. The second row will easily accommodate adults even with taller occupants up front, there’s plenty of storage in the door pockets and console, and requisite power outlets too. There’s no USB inputs in front of the shifter though, so you’ll have to plug into the centre console under the lid.
One of the main, recurring issues we had with our long term PHEV, was with doughy throttle response low down, but off the mark especially. Mitsubishi has worked to rectify this, and while we’d love to drive them back-to-back, there’s no doubt the new Outlander PHEV feels sharper, more spritely and more urgent off the mark. It’s amazing how much difference the simple act of recalibrating the throttle can make and you can get moving in the new PHEV much quicker than the outgoing model.
Twin electric motors remain, thus delivering the AWD system, with the front and rear axles each getting their own motor. While we didn’t get to experience any really slippery instances, this proper AWD system should deliver tangible benefits if you're driving in the wet, mud or snow.
Mitsubishi has made extensive revisions under the skin too, with handling and stability improved via new front struts, revised damper rates, revised rear spring rates, thicker rear roll bars, more chassis bracing and improved motor mounts. According to Mitsubishi, this is all designed to improve not just handling and stability but quietness as well, while the front brakes have moved to a twin-pot design to improve response and feel.
The question, then, is on how this translates in the real world. Strangely, around town (which is where the Outlander PHEV will likely spend most of its time), it can feel a little firm. Expansion joints and sharp-edged inconsistencies in the road can be felt in the cabin, and the ride feels a fair bit firmer than we’d like in an SUV. It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s a point worth making.
Head out of town, though, and the Outlander PHEV starts to shine. It’s the opposite of what we expected going in. Firstly, the bump absorption over undulating, repetitive dips and potholes is excellent. Secondly, when the PHEV does have to iron out road surfaces like that, it does so comfortably and then settles quickly.
If you push the PHEV hard into a twisty section, you will definitely feel it lean and the body transfer its weight, but this is no race car and won’t be driven as such, so we can forgive it that. The ride, though, once out of the urban confines, is excellent all round.
That trend continued over an extensive stretch of country dirt and gravel roads. They weren’t the worst roads we’ve ever traversed, but they were typical of much of rural Australia and the Outlander PHEV handled them with aplomb. A little more noise started to enter the cabin over the really rough corrugations, but the Outlander retained a secure, planted feel at all times.
Thankfully the steering, which is light at parking speeds and loads up nicely as speed increases, manages to sidestep that ‘video game’ feel so many hybrid and electric vehicles deliver. It’s connected and direct enough to make driving enjoyable under most circumstances and it’s a strong point many manufacturers seem unable to nail down.
While the price comparisons to regular Outlanders might paint the PHEV as a little on the expensive side, clever tech doesn’t come cheap, especially early in the piece. There’s also the relative frugality of the PHEV system, and we think that over time, if you keep a PHEV longer-term, it will start to make even more financial sense.
The fact you get such high-tech trickery taking place under the skin with what is a comparatively normal driving experience is the real genius in the Outlander PHEV’s portfolio of skills. Loaning it to someone unfamiliar with how it works is as simple as showing them how to use the start button and put it in gear.
The more accessible this type of tech becomes for more people, the better off we’ll all be, and the PHEV continues to move the game forward.
Listen as Mike Costello rides with four-time Finnish rally champion, Jari Ketomaa, in the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, on snow in Norway, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.