Electrification is the buzz word rocking the automotive world, and premium automakers are falling over themselves to join the race. All the while Mitsubishi has quietly offered plug-in hybrid technology on its Outlander SUV for years.
As part of an updated Mitsubishi Outlander range in Australia, the Outlander PHEV arrives to uphold Mitsubishi’s commitment to plug-in technology. A new entry-level Outlander PHEV, dubbed the ES, aims to make the technology even more accessible to more people.
To do that Mitsubishi has taken a big red marker to the price, with the new price leader starting from $45,990 before on-road costs.
It’s a price that should prove friendly enough to both fleets and families, especially compared to the previous $50,490 starting point of the outgoing Outlander PHEV LS model which this car essentially takes the place of.
Still, the regular Outlander ES with an auto, seven seats (compared to five for the PHEV) and a 2.4-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine could be yours for $30,990 driveaway right now. Tough upsell, right?
Maybe not. There’s been no powertrain changes to the ‘new’ PHEV but it does come with all-wheel drive thanks to an electric motor on each axle, plus a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine that primarily functions as a generator but can also propel the vehicle at speeds over 70 km/h.
The entire plug-in idea is fairly high tech. For the most part other mainstream manufacturers haven’t tackled this kind of powertrain yet (with a few exceptions) and some of the Outlander's closest rivals come from brands like Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW. Esteemed company for a humble Mits.
Price leader though it may be, the Outlander PHEV ES packs in a decent amount of equipment with auto headlights and wipers, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, microsuede seat trim with leather bolsters, proximity key with push-button start, and electrically adjustable front seats.
There’s no navigation, but there is a seven-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity plus DAB+ digital radio and Bluetooth. New for MY19 are redesigned front and rear bumpers, new alloy wheels, rear ventilation outlets, and a new rear spoiler.
Safety incorporates seven airbags, a rear-view camera, reverse sensors, and traction/stability control – but Mitsubishi has been a bit cheeky stripping some of the old LS grade's safety kit and making it a $1500 option pack.
Opt for the ADAS pack (that’s advanced driver assist system) and you’ll also add forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, auto high beam, and self-dimming rear view mirror which was fitted to the car we took for a spin.
How is it to drive then? More than adequate, actually. The fear with an EV or hybrid is that the focus on being ‘green’ might take away from the overall driving experience, but that really isn’t the case.
Although Mitsubishi hasn’t made any powertrain changes the PHEV puts forth 120kW in total, rated at 60kW/137Nm at the front and 60kW/195Nm at the rear. Able to run as a pure EV for short stints (a claimed maximum 54 kilometres) a series hybrid where the electric motors move the car and the petrol engine charges the battery, or a parallel hybrid where both petrol and electric power is used to turn the wheels directly.
The 2.0-litre petrol engine is rated at 89kW/190Nm but Mitsubishi doesn’t add its contribution to the total system output for calculation purposes.
If it sounds tricky it’s really not. Plug the Outlander in when you get home and unhook it in the morning. Jump in, press start, select drive and then commute to work like you would in a regular car.
Although you can select pure EV mode, letting the car do its own thing gives priority to the electric system with the petrol engine kicking in here and there to keep the batteries juiced. At times that means the engine revs up unrelated to driver demands but it doesn’t take long to get used to the sensation.
It’s not a fireball of acceleration, but drop the hammer and the Outlander PHEV feels as spritely as any similarly sized SUV, really. Since it’s not a traffic light grands prix hero anyway there’s no significant shortcoming there.
Mitsubishi claims to have finessed the suspension, steering and noise-vibration-harshness characteristics. Without driving back-to-back with the old car, the differences are hard to pick.
The Outlander does ride incredibly well over rattly rural tarmac, and could even be one of the most compliant SUVs in its class. It’s no handler, with added weight to account for and steering that’s still light and not full of feel, but again as a frugal family car or an image building fleet proposition it’s unlikely to matter one bit.
Fuel use is claimed to be a very ambitious 1.7 L/100km… For the first bit of your drive at least. The real world, running out of the heart of Melbourne’s CBD on nearly but not quite full battery and making no attempt to hypermile, saw the fuel use settle at a still respectable 5.4 L/100km.
Once the battery was all out, and a few hills were negotiated that figure read 7.0 L/100km. With more time in the car it would be possible to get a clearer figure. Even with an ‘empty’ battery the electric system still contributes, and it’s possible to replenish the battery from the petrol engine on the go should you need to.
The feeling of rushing through Melbourne’s inner freeway network, keeping up with 80 km/h traffic, and hearing nothing but the faint hiss of wind and tyres on tarmac seems at odds with a car of its size and purpose, but in terms of running refinement the Outlander PHEV really impresses.
There’s still a hint of science experiment to that whole PHEV experience, though there really need not be. While it may not be for everyone, the idea translates to a workable real life solution, all the better if you can power it from your own solar array or stored off-peak power too.
The important family bits are all in place too, a 463-litre boot, genuine rear seat space, the security of all-wheel traction perfect for muddy soccer practice car parks. Value is still a hard sell though with plenty of diesel SUVs in the same ballpark.
Even if you never touched a drop of fuel on your commute to work, and only used the petrol engine to take you on weekends away or occasional longer journeys, the pay-off period (the difference between this and, say, a regular petrol Outlander) is going to be a very long one.
That said, in the week this quick spin took place regular unleaded petrol in Melbourne jumped from around $1.35 per litre to about $1.60. One or two more jumps like that and all of a sudden the idea of a plug-in family car becomes more attractive.
Mitsubishi deserves praise for being the first to bring this technology to Australia in 2014, and for packaging it in a perfectly practical SUV body instead of an efficiency optimised teardrop on wheels.
While a more enticing entry price is sure to get the attention of fleet buyers looking to green-up their image, it’s hard to see the Outlander PHEV boosting its fortunes with average Aussie families. It’s a real shame too – while it might not be the most modern or fashionable SUV on the market, it’s the only one of its kind to put plug-in tech within the reach of average households.