When the 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander Exceed PHEV arrived in the CarAdvice garage, it looked just like any other SUV. But, after taking a closer look, PHEV badges suddenly started to appear.
Unlike the bizarre designs of other hybrid and electric cars (*cough* Toyota Prius *cough*), Mitsubishi adopted the less-is-more approach, and nailed it, in the process becoming the world's first plug-in hybrid SUV.
With that said, there is a large price gap between the entry-level Outlander LS petrol at $28,750, to the top-spec Exceed PHEV, at $55,490, before on-road costs. However, you do get a lot of kit for that money, which we will delve into soon.
The only other hybrid SUV in the market is the Nissan Pathfinder ST 2WD that starts at $48,601 drive-away and climbs to $76,079 for the Ti 4WD. That pricing makes the Exceed the more affordable choice, but the Outlander does miss out on seven seats due to the room the batteries take up. This is something Nissan has achieved with the Pathfinder.
At each axle is an electric hybrid motor, with a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine under the bonnet, which pumps out 87kW of power and 186Nm of torque. The Pathfinder features a 2.5-litre supercharged petrol engine.
The list of standard safety features is extensive. Blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning give you peace-of-mind on long trips. And it caters for urban driving too, with collision warning and brake assist.
Reversing is a breeze with rear-cross traffic alert, as well as rear-view and 360-degree cameras with guidelines. While the cameras don't have the clear quality of, say, a Mercedes-Benz, it’s a feature you can’t say no to.
Front and rear parking sensors are handy too, and these also come standard. And because the car is so quiet, an audible warning for pedestrians has been installed for reversing. How thoughtful.
The main reason why people buy hybrids is to save money, and this is precisely what it does. At the cost of 29 cents a kilowatt per hour, a full charge uses 9.8KWh, which adds up to just $2.84.
Mitsubishi claims a full charge will nett you a 50km range. My drive home is 49km, and quite a few times I arrived home with around 2km left on the range without having used a drop of petrol. But, this was done without climate control turned on. In the real world, with the climate control on low, the range drops to around 30-40kms.
With a full charge at work during the day and one at home at night, at around $6 worth of electricity a day, it makes the trip to and from work the cost of a pie and drink.
There are three levels of driving modes to choose from the joystick selector. In the normal D mode, the car decides which engine, and when to use it, to achieve the best performance. When B mode is selected, the Outlander focuses more on the six levels of regenerative braking, which can be adjusted without taking your eyes off the road, via solid metal paddle-shifters. And EV mode sees the Outlander run purely on its electric motors, only using the petrol engine once the range gets too low.
The transition between electric and petrol motivation is seamless and smooth. Even at highway speed, the sound is barely audible but, it is a little more obvious at lower speeds.
We towed a small teardrop trailer, weighing approximately 300-400kg, to Historic Winton. With a towing capacity of 1500kg, the Outlander had no problem pulling the little camper. There was barely any tow ball rattle, even over small undulations. And seeing as the trailer was so small, the rear-view camera saw plenty of use.
With stacks of house items packed into the rear seat and boot, plus with the weight of the trailer, the Outlander guzzled through its 50km electric range in about 15km. With no access to power at the camp ground to charge it overnight, the car ran purely on petrol the following day.
Fuel economy was reading around 11.5L/100km on the freeway with cruise control. Mitsubishi claims a combined reading of 8.6L/100km for the petrol engine and just 1.7L/100km with the electric motors in use.
With everything unloaded, the 2.0-litre engine does the job, but we would welcome perhaps a little more power to cope with its hefty 1.8-tonne weight.
You can feel how heavy the car is when cornering hard too, as it does lean. The all-wheel-drive platform coped well when it was taken onto slippery muddy conditions at Winton, even with the trailer hooked up. At one point, it easily drove through some snow on the Hume Freeway!
It doesn’t ride around town as well as it does when its legs are stretched on a long road. It is a tad firm, but it is still more than comfortable.
The electric steering through town is light, with a 10.6-metre turning circle. When at higher speeds, especially on sweeping bends, it requires both hands firmly on the wheel to keep it from springing out of your hands.
The cabin is a really pleasant place to be and is an improvement on the previous generation Outlander. The kids in the back wouldn’t have any trouble sleeping, as the cabin noise is eerily quiet. The improvement on insulation has paid off, with thicker glass also helping to keep the outside world, well, out.
There is some wind noise from the large side mirrors, and strangely from the top of the front passenger window (yes, the window was fully up!). When you want the outside to come in though, a quick flick of a switch will open the sunroof and, pleasingly, it is not too noisy over 60km/h.
There’s decent support in the partial leather seats, and after a long three-hour drive, there were no complaints. White stitching with grey lines is a nice touch, and there’s quality padding on the door trims, too.
The seat position is very high, even when the seat is at its lowest point; you can see the entire top of the dash and most of the bonnet. Heated and cooled seats, plus dual-zone climate control, is a welcome addition.
Storage in the front of the Outlander is hard to come by, with only limited space in the doors, and some extra room in the centre console where one 12-volt and two-USB connections are placed.
Connecting the phone cable, to perhaps use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, is awkward, as you need to reach behind you, and most often you just blindly fumble to connect it.
Mitsubishi’s infotainment via the 7.0-inch touchscreen has a lot of PHEV information to look through, with diagrams and graphs showing you how much you’re saving and what engine is being used, et cetera.
It does feature very dated-looking satellite navigation, but annoyingly, it’s found right at the very end of the menu. Bluetooth quality from the recipient's end sounds a tad muffled and bassy. The Pathfinder sounds crisper with more treble.
Downloading the Outlander PHEV app brings some added luxury. But this is after some confusion because there are three apps to choose from. The first one that appears in the App store will not register with the car, so make sure you download Outlander PHEV II.
Once that’s done via Wi-Fi, you can monitor the charging, turn headlights on/off, and schedule climate control before you even get in the car, which is heaven on an icy morning or a blistering hot afternoon.
The back seats can recline and would be comfortable on long journeys with good legroom. Meanwhile, headroom is a problem for taller adults, with not much room at all. No rear ventilation or connections are a big omission for a top-of-the-range model.
Without third-row seating, the boot can fit 463 litres worth of luggage, stretching to 1602L with the 60:40 back seats folded. An electric tailgate helps when you have your hands full of groceries. Looking under the floor, you’ll find a space for the charging cable, but no full-size or space-saver spare wheel.
The Outlander, with its six airbags, received a five-star ANCAP safety rating when it was last tested in 2015.
It receives a five-year/100,000km warranty, two more years than the Nissan. Servicing over three years is $1000 for the PHEV, which is $310 more than the petrol 4x2 Outlander and $66 more than the Pathfinder Hybrid. Each service is due at 15,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first and includes one year of roadside assistance.
If you want a hybrid for long-distant driving, then the Outlander PHEV really isn't the economical choice, as we discovered a few years ago. For similar money, the Mazda CX-5 or the 7-seater Kia Sorento in diesel are the better options if you're 'clocking up the kays'. Plus, the lack of third-row seating may deter some.
But running the Outlander for the trip to school or work will save you the type of money you could be spending on a cheap family holiday.