The 2019 HILDA (Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia) survey found that the average Australian was spending around 4.5 hours per week commuting to and from work: 27 minutes each way, Monday to Friday.
If that sounds like you, and you drive to and from work each day, then this 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV might just be the perfect electric vehicle for you.
Why? Because half an hour behind the wheel means you’re probably travelling around 25km or less. That means this Outlander plug-in hybrid electric vehicle will ostensibly be a fully electric vehicle. According to NEDC testing, the Outlander can cover 54km before needing to burn any dinosaur bones.
The Outlander PHEV came out in 2013, breaking ground as the first of its breed in SUV format. It’s been tweaked up for 2020, with a new driveline, specifications and pricing.
Prices start from $50,990 drive-away for the ES model, and top out at $59,990 drive-away for the Exceed specification.
It’s an enticing combination: full electric power for your short-haul trips around town, but longer trips are entirely possible without worrying about charging stations, plug types, recharge times or good old-fashioned range anxiety.
Under the bonnet sits a new 2.4-litre engine that makes 94kW at 4500rpm and 199Nm at 4500rpm, replacing the 87kW/186Nm 2.0-litre engine.
Electric drive comes from a pair of electric motors. The rear is now more powerful: 70kW/195Nm (previously 60kW/195Nm), while the front is a carryover (60kW/137Nm). These are fed by a centrally mounted battery pack, which has also been fettled with: it’s steel-skinned these days, and has gone up to 13.8kWh (previously 12kWh).
Completing the circle is a trick transmission unit that lets the petrol engine do two things: power the wheels directly and/or power an 80kW generator that pumps charge back into the battery pack.
I fear that we’re already getting too technical for the kind of buyer that might be interested in the Outlander. We’re not talking bleeding-edge Teslarati-type operators here, who huff and puff over watts, plugs, volts and charge networks. We’re talking non-niche, everyday buyers who fill out the meaty part of the bell curve.
This Outlander is more in beat with the hugely popular RAV4 hybrid. One thing about both the RAV4 hybrid and Outlander PHEV is that they strike you as just normal SUVs to own and use. No special knowledge or planning is required, just hop in it and drive. And when the fuel tank gets low, top it up.
The Outlander hybrid only has one small extra step to consider: plugging it in.
With that in mind, the Outlander PHEV works. It has its shortcomings, sure. But as far as the driveline goes, there’s an almost seamless blend between electric and petrol power that would suit many Australian families down to the ground.
Naturally, the Outlander is impressively quiet in electric mode. There’s a whirring hum from the spinning motors as they burn through the watts, giving you some surprisingly useful take-off speed. That torque doesn’t lay off, either. There’s enough punch available for merging onto highways, as well as plugging shortish gaps in traffic using only electric power. Don’t ask for much more than this, however. The Outlander is by no means fast – pinning the throttle makes a bit more noise when the generator kicks in to help out, but it doesn’t equate to much more acceleration.
When that petrol engine does come into the fray, it’s far from intrusive or annoying. It’s best described as a hum as well, albeit deeper. A little bit of clatter comes on when it’s really working hard, but doing laps around our nation’s capital saw only brief requirements of this – when the battery ran dead flat, and I needed full acceleration for a few seconds.
What’s most important, I think, are the smooth transitions between the three different driving modes: Pure Electric, Series and Parallel.
The first mode doesn’t need explanation, but Series refers to the petrol engine charging the batteries via generator, and the wheels being driven by the electric motors. This mode will kick in when the battery is running low, and/or you are asking for some extra performance.
Parallel mode refers to when a hydraulic clutch in the trick transaxle locks up, and lets the petrol engine also power the wheels, by a fixed ratio at speeds over 65km/h.
You hear the engine running, and performance does feel a little different in each mode, but the jumps between are smooth and unobtrusive, and close enough to seamless.
Jumping from vehicle to vehicle for a day didn’t give me an opportunity to really test out fuel and energy economy figures accurately, but a straw poll of readouts saw figures ranging between 0 and 4.5 litres per hundred kilometres. Although, I am sure we could have got a higher figure if we tried.
In terms of charging, you can expect your normal 10-amp wall plug at home to give you 80 per cent in about 5.5 hours, or 100 per cent in 7–8 hours. Or, if you can find a DC fast charger in your travels, you can get a refill in 25 minutes.
The Outlander’s ride is a bit flawed: a bit coarse and unforgiving on lower speed bumps and potholes, but things slowly smooth out as you add in more pace. While cruising along a well-maintained road, the ride is mostly very comfortable. Remember, it is dealing with a bit more weight than an average Outlander (1880kg tare).
The interior is a bit of a mixed bag, as well. Some basic plastics are still littered around the cabin on both ES and Exceed specifications, most notably around the centre console, parts of the door, and around the glovebox.
The Outlander holds the road well, no doubt helped by those heavy batteries being slung low and central in the chassis. It’s no dynamic delight, but the Outlander PHEV feels composed and balanced enough for the modus operandi.
Overall, the interior doesn’t feel overly cheap, but doesn't have much semblance of premiumness at the same time. For those chasing a premium interior and experience, their money will be better spent elsewhere, but they will of course have to forgo the plug-in hybrid driveline at this pricepoint.
The driver’s pew has adjustable lumbar support, along with your usual range of adjustments. Combined with tilt and rake steering, you can find a sweet spot behind the wheel quickly enough. The steering wheel impresses with some nice perforated materials and stitching, but the leather seats in Exceed specification feel quite firm and unforgiving.
The interior seems comfortable enough in practice, however, but our time behind the wheel wasn’t exactly long.
The second row is a winner in terms of space, with lots of leg room and head room available. Air vents and USB points are always a winner, and the slightly elevated seating position gives nice visibility and airiness. The second-row seats don’t slide at all, but the backrests can tilt forward and back for some extra space and comfort.
For child seats, there are ISOFIX points on outboard seats, with three top tethers. Cupholders also hide in the middle fold-down armrest.
The Outlander PHEV's boot size is 463L, which isn’t exactly huge for a five-seater SUV of this size. But, them’s the breaks for housing a whole additional driveline under the body. There are still cupholders in the back – a hangover from seven-seat-specification Outlanders without this hybrid drivetrain. And, no, it doesn’t look like you can get a seven-seat hybrid in the future.
The boot has a noticeably high floor line, with some additional storage hidden below amongst the goo/inflator kit (35L). Yep, no spare wheel. No space-saver, either. There is a 12V plug, deeper recesses in the wings, and a couple of tie-down points. And in the Exceed, there is a power tailgate.
The centre console bin and door cards have average storage: space for a bottle in each of the latter, supplementing two cupholders hiding under a folding cover. The carbon-fibre finish for the Exceed looks okay, and is much better than some kind of try-hard chintzy wood or something.
The infotainment system is another area of improvement over the superseded model. This has an 8.0-inch ‘SDA’ unit, which has a more modern look and operation about it. Digital radio is there, but more importantly both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are supported. Move up to the Exceed and the same unit has TomTom native navigation, and pumps sound through an improved 510W six-speaker sound system. You navigate via the flat buttons along the bottom of the flat screen, or use the responsive touchscreen. It’s a good system.
We’ll know more about the Outlander’s effectiveness around town after more time behind the wheel, but first impressions are good. What’s most important for the Outlander PHEV, and what will resonate with buyers who will test-drive it, is that it doesn’t drive or feel like an electric vehicle. The real test will come with long-term effectiveness of the electric drivetrain, and how well the petrol generator copes when batteries are low.
Range anxiety is definitely a ‘thing’, and people don’t want to buy a car they are scared of or don’t easily understand. Additionally, most families don’t want to be stuck with a car that they can only use sometimes.
These folks want to buy something that just seems like a normal car: get in, drive it, and fill up the petrol tank when it gets low. That’s why the range of Toyota hybrid vehicles have been so successful. Buyers don’t need to change their habits or perceptions, but they get the advantage of a greener vehicle that uses less fuel and emits less emissions.
That’s the sweet spot for this Outlander. While you don’t have to search far for something with a nicer ride or better interior for this price, the unique driveline and versatility of electric and petrol power cannot be matched elsewhere. And for some people, that could make for a perfect fit.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Interior photos of the updated MY20 Outlander PHEV are in short supply. The dash photos here are of the MY20, but to illustrate interior design and space, we've used some seat and boot shots from the MY19 Outlander. Note there are small trim differences.