Australians aren’t exactly rushing to buy electrified cars compared to a number of equally mature markets with greater purchase incentives and public charging networks.
Sales data shows that electric and PHEV cars sold last year accounted for a tick over 0.1 per cent of vehicle sales (excluding Tesla, which refuses to disclose its sales data, but which is a niche player and wouldn’t change this figure greatly).
But that hasn’t stopped some brands getting on the front foot anyway. In fact, the rollout in 2019 shows that the so-called ‘green revolution’ is gaining ground. Or charge.
Cases in point are the two you see here, Mitsubishi and Hyundai, which sell plug-in hybrid (PHEV) versions of the Outlander SUV and Ioniq hatch respectively, which are designed to travel daily commutes in full-electric mode while relying on petrol power for longer drives.
In markets like ours where infrastructure is still quite limited, and where there’s a cultural attachment among many people to having plenty of driving range ‘just in case’, such vehicles make some sense. No power plug or charging station handy? Don’t worry about it.
Indeed, they suit someone like me perfectly. I’m an urban commuter Monday to Friday, and often head to my family farm on weekends.
As a side point, the PHEV market is (very slowly) maturing in Australia just as it hits some snags in Europe, where newer WLTP efficiency measures are rendering some PHEVs – albeit not the Outlander – less tax-friendly. Is this an opportunity for brands to diversify? Maybe…
Clearly, the Outlander PHEV and Ioniq are different vehicles. The former is a practical SUV, the latter is a high-tech hatchback. However, they can be priced within $500 of each other ($45,990 and $45,490 respectively) and operate the same way, so the comparison is valid.
It’s safe to say here that, as well as working out which of this pair is better at more things, it’s also incumbent on us to decide if PHEV ‘bridging technology’ – so called because it straddles between mild hybrid tech and full battery electric cars – works in practice, full stop.
Let’s not forget that regular ‘mild’ hybrids are doing way better thanks to Toyota, which is selling big volumes of its petrol-electric Camry and Corolla. These cars can’t drive daily commutes as full EVs like the pair on test, but they’re much cheaper and still very frugal.
Why should you fork out a premium for something like a PHEV? Well, let’s find out…
PHEVs are a pretty simple concept once you’ve got your head around the tech, though there are all sorts of different tricks and driving modes to navigate and get your head around.
Both cars here have sufficient battery storage to drive each car with pure electric propulsion for most daily commutes, and can be plugged into a battery charger or just a powerpoint. But they also have petrol engines to power the wheels once the battery is depleted, meaning ‘range anxiety’ is negated.
Sometimes-derisive EV devotees will note that most modern electric cars can drive anywhere between 300 and 600km and be recharged quite rapidly. However, Australia’s public charging network still isn’t brilliant, and the bigger the battery storage capacity, the more expensive the car gets. The accepted figure is about $150 per kWh.
On a side note, one thing both of these cars have in common is weight: all those batteries are heavy. The Ioniq is around 150kg heavier than a similarly sized i30 hatchback, while the Outlander PHEV is a whopping 360kg heftier than a comparable-spec AWD Outlander ES petrol. Hard-charging performance cars, these are not.
If you pull the Outlander PHEV’s body away, you’d see: a rolling chassis; a 2.0-litre petrol engine making modest figures of 87kW/186Nm; 60kW/166Nm electric motors on each axle that can run in tandem in all-wheel drive; and a 12kWh-capacity lithium-ion battery pack under the seats (9.8kWh useable).
This Twin-Motor AWD is a real selling point, as is the fact the PHEV can tow 1500kg unlike most rivals.
In the default driving mode, the Outlander’s ‘brain’ tells the battery and motors to do as much heavy lifting as possible while there’s plentiful charge, and supplemented under heavy loads by the petrol engine, which in this case doesn’t power the wheels, but instead powers the front electric motor via the system’s 70kW-capable generator/converter.
When the battery is full, you’re almost always using electric power. Once it’s depleted, the car reverts to feeling something like a conventional hybrid car rather than an outright petrol one, since sufficient charge remains to give you at least some electrified driving, where instant torque is handy.
The petrol engine can also couple directly to the front wheels and power them with the motor/s. This set-up is called Parallel Hybrid mode.
What’s interesting is the unobtrusiveness of it all. Under heavy throttle, you can hear the engine rev out thanks in large part to the single-speed transmission, but the actual changes in allocation between power sources are otherwise tough to notice. Unless, of course, you’re watching the cool animations on both the centre touchscreen and driver’s instrument display.
But the flagship setting is the pure electric and silent EV Mode with torque-on-demand twin-motor AWD, which differentiates a PHEV from a regular hybrid car like the Prius. We almost matched the manufacturer claim of 54km BEV range by doing a 47.9km combined-cycle zero CO2 driving loop without trying overly hard.
That’s surely enough for many people’s daily commute to be conducted in EV based on stats showing how much driving Australians do.
In this mode the PHEV is actually quite sprightly, with the sort of instantaneous torque you expect from battery-powered cars. In hybrid mode, the PHEV is happier cruising on highways and coasting around town than doing performance-oriented driving, but we’d venture to say that this is entirely the point.
Charging the battery can be done various ways, but the most effective is plugging into a wall. The supplied 10A power cable will charge the car in about 6.5 hours from your 240V wall socket, while a 16A AC single-phase set-up on your wall will juice you up in about 3.5 hours. A public DC fast-charger will get you to 80 per cent in around 25 minutes.
The Outlander PHEV can also charge up its batteries internally. One way is via brake energy recuperation, which you can ramp up (causing more friction, meaning you slow down quickly when lifting off the throttle rather than just rolling) using the gear shifter’s B-mode and tapping the paddle shifters.
Beyond this, the Charge Mode button tells the petrol engine to directly charge the battery up, at the obvious expense of fuel consumption. For some insights, I charged the depleted battery to 75 per cent this way while driving for 35km, and using about 4L of 91RON petrol to do so.
The final trick is the PHEV’s Save Mode, which uses the engine to keep the battery charged up. You might use this mode for highway driving where the engine is at its most efficient, leaving you 50km of EV driving when you arrive in town. Yes it’s complex, but don’t PHEV buyers kind of like that?
The overall stats were very interesting. My dedicated 197km drive loop with plenty of unfavourable highway time, and where I just let the car do its own thing, saw fuel use of 5.2L/100km, 61 per cent electric reliance, and 17.6kWh energy consumption per hour. The factory ADR claim of 1.7L/100km is a bit of a crock for any PHEV since that test involves way fewer than 100km being done.
Overall, including dedicated stints in EV mode and generally pushing all the buttons, I travelled 320km and brimmed the tank with 14.32L of petrol, which equates to outputs of 4.47L/100km. That about matches something like a Camry or (imminent) RAV4 hybrid. The benefit is the fact daily commutes can be done in pure EV mode, meaning your petrol use could theoretically be zero.
There's a problem we should flag before moving on. European and Japanese Outlander PHEVs are rocking a newer drivetrain, but supply concerns mean it's not yet sold in Australia in this form. Disappointing.
Said updated Outlander PHEV swaps the current 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine for a 2.4 unit for "higher torque, smoother operation and overall higher efficiency". A new 13.8kWh battery pack (15 per cent bigger than before) and 66kW rear electric motor (10 per cent more powerful) have both been fitted too.
The hybrid all-wheel-drive system has gained Sport and Snow modes, supplementing the existing Normal and 4WD Lock modes that we'll flag in a sec.
The Ioniq is about 400kg lighter than the more practical Outlander PHEV, giving Hyundai a major advantage.
The drivetrain comprises: a 77kW/147Nm 1.6-litre petrol engine; a single electric motor mounted at the front making 44.5kW and 170Nm; and a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The 360V lithium-ion battery pack has a 25 per cent smaller capacity than the Mitsi’s at 8.9kWh (25Ah).
As with the Outlander, the Ioniq’s default driving set-up is a hybrid mode where the battery/motor duo do the bulk of the work while there’s plentiful charge, but even when the useable battery charge is at zero, the car retains enough to act as a ‘regular’ hybrid at low speeds, meaning some electric intervention is available. With no useable EV-only charge, we still averaged 4.4L/100km.
Also as with the Mitsubishi, you can watch a cool animation showing you what’s happening underneath and ahead of you in real time.
Hyundai claims a superior EV range to the Mitsubishi. Our dedicated EV Mode loop lasted 58km before the car reverted to hybrid drive, which is 5km shy of the factory claim. Again, pretty reasonable. However, unlike the Mitsubishi, under heavy throttle where the battery is being taxed the most, the Hyundai’s petrol engine will fire up briefly.
While Mitsubishi does not provide a system output, Hyundai does. Adding the engine and motor’s figures together is not the right formula, because they’re never working at 100 per cent at the same time. The claim is instead 104kW and 265Nm, which is about on par for a small hatchback.
As such, the Ioniq’s performance is acceptable without being brisk, while the DCT gearbox has a more natural feel and more aggressive characteristics than the Outlander’s single-fixed-speed set-up. The Ioniq feels more conventional, though neither car here will shock a traditionalist.
One thing the Outlander has over the Ioniq is the adjustable brake-regeneration system, which we’d like to see in the Ioniq. ‘One-pedal’ driving is quite addictive. On the upside, the Ioniq’s adaptive cruise control works in EV mode unlike the Mitsubishi’s.
Beyond this, the Hyundai also has a Sports mode controlled by the gear shifter, which changes the throttle mapping to give you a more instantaneous response at the expense of fuel/charge use. In this mode it actually feels quite punchy, though you have to wonder what the point of a thirstier PHEV is…
What you all want to know is how I went on my combined-cycle driving loop where I simply left the car to its own devices, running mostly as an EV for the first 50–60km and then as a hybrid afterwards. The Outlander finished up at 4.47L/100km, remember.
The figure was 3.3L/100km at an average speed of 62km/h – triple the ADR claim, but more reflective since said testing regime does not drive once the useable EV battery is depleted. The cool onboard computer told me that I was driving aggressively 19 per cent of the time, economically 31 per cent of the time, and normally 50 per cent of the time.
In terms of charging, the Ioniq comes with a factory-approved wallbox, whereas Mitsubishi leaves that to the buyer to source externally. Hyundai charges you about $2000 fitted, and with this garage-mounted three-phase (Type 2 plug, 3.3kW onboard charging capacity) set-up, you can charge the batteries to 100 per cent in approximately two hours and 15 minutes. The onboard emergency 10A cable will charge you up in around six hours, claimed.
Ride and handling
Hyundai Australia invests in an Australian-based engineering team to fettle the ride and handling characteristics for our market's roads, which are vastly more challenging than Korea’s.
These spring, damper and bar tweaks typically give its product a lovely loping ride quality, an ability to iron out sharp inputs, without sacrificing handling. The Ioniq is no exception, with a low centre of gravity helping its (relative) agility, and its light steering pairing well with predictable body control. This is helped by the fact it's rolling on 16-inch wheels shod in tyres with decent sidewalls.
In short, it rides and handles just like any other decent small hatchback, which will go a long way to normalising its tech.
Mitsubishi recently finessed the Outlander's suspension, steering and noise-vibration-harshness characteristics, resulting in better directional changes via the well-weighted steering, and a more cosseting yet controlled ride that absorbs hits well, though still occasionally jars over sharp edges.
As my colleague Kez Casey pointed out, the Outlander rides "incredibly well over rattly rural tarmac". It’s ultimately no great handler, with that added weight to account for, but for its target buyer it's totally fine.
Mitsubishi also offers a fairly interesting twin-motor AWD system called Super-All Wheel Control (S-AWC), incorporating active yaw control driven by each axle motor, plus individual-wheel brake torque vectoring. The fact it can get muddy is again a key differentiator.
The Ioniq's well-built interior is likewise very... Normal. The only signs you’re in a hybrid car are the power/eco/charge and battery charge displays in the instruments, the energy flow diagrams buried in a submenu on the 8.0-inch touchscreen, and the EV/HEV button near the gear shifter.
You’re not lacking equipment, though. Standard fare on our Ioniq Premium tester includes LED headlights, keyless-go, rain-sensing wipers, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, sat-nav with SUNA, DAB+ digital radio, wireless phone charger, leather seats with heating/cooling up front, and a sunroof.
Safety equipment comprises seven airbags, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitor, forward-collision alert, lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control.
It’s not as practical as the regular hybrid with its smaller battery, even though that car gets a proper spare wheel unlike the PHEV. The boot falls from 457L to 341L, though for context that's still more room than a Mazda 3. The sloping roof does eat into rear seat headroom, too. A few kids or shorter adults will be fine.
By contrast, the Outlander PHEV ES cabin may be looking a little dated, but it 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 7.0-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. Opt for the $1500 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. Probably ought to be standard, that...
Naturally, it's far more practical than the Ioniq, with bigger back seats and about a 30 per cent bigger boot. The fact it's a higher-riding, roomy SUV is a real selling point.
As with all Hyundais, you get a five-year warranty with no distance limit and capped-price servicing for life. There are also roadside assist and map update plans. The ownership experience should be pretty painless.
Servicing happens every 15,000km or 12 months, and will cost $265 for the first, second, third and fifth visits in both the Hybrid and Plug-in, while the fourth visit will set you back $465. Meanwhile, the first five services in the Electric each cost $160.
The Outlander also comes with a five-year warranty capped at 100,000km, and matches the Ioniq's battery warranty term.
The servicing intervals are every 15,000km or 12 months as well, priced at $310, $430 and $365 for the first three visits.
The Ioniq is the more modern design and in some ways feels it. It rides and handles better, has a more sophisticated interior design and offers slightly superior economy. But let's not underestimate the Mitsubishi's AWD ability and bigger boot, at ostensibly the same price.
In a more macro sense, it’s actually quite hard to make a purely economic case for a PHEV as a private buyer – a mild hybrid pays for itself in a few years once fuel use is taken into account, and most of our grid is coal-fired. A PHEV’s premium is not offset by fuel savings or well-to-wheel CO2 reductions quite so elegantly. Yet.
But then again, try making a totally economic argument favouring a Golf GTI or Toyota 86, or anything that isn’t whitegoods on wheels. Cars aren’t about economic rationality, at least not for anyone who’s ever aspired to a sporty car, or a luxurious one, or a city-focused SUV.
What these two PHEVs offer is a toe in the waters of the new world, which won't require any revolutionary changes on the part of the buyer, and at an achievable pricepoint. There's value in that.
Click the Photos tab to see the full gallery. There are heaps of pics by Frank Yang.
|Hyundai Ioniq Premium PHEV||Mitsubishi Outlander ES ADAS PHEV|
|Petrol engine||1.6 4-cyl||2.0 4-cyl|
|Electric motor output/s||44.5kW/170Nm front||60kW/137Nm front60kW/195Nm rear|
|Max. system output||104kW/265Nm||N/A|
|Battery warranty||8 years/160,000km||8 years/160,000km|
|Plug||Type 2 (IEC 62196-2)||Type 1 (J1772)|
|AC wallbox charging time 100%||~ 2 hours, 15 min claimed||~ 3 hours, 30 min claimed|
|Trickle-charge time (230V/10A)||~ 6 hours claimed||~ 6.5 hours claimed|
|Transmission||6-DCT dry clutch||Single-speed fixed|
|ADR EV range||63km||54km|
|ADR/NEDC fuel consumption||1.1L/100km 91RON||1.7L/100km|
|Our EV range||58km||47.9km|
|Towing capacity||N/A||1500kg braked|
|Cargo space VDA||341–1401L||463–1602L|