The 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid is, in many ways, the best of three worlds. It has electric driving range for urban dwellers, a petrol engine to take you beyond city limits, and the convenience of an SUV body.
The original Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid went on sale in Australia in 2013 and has been facelifted or updated almost every year since. This update, introduced over the summer holiday break and arriving in showrooms now, may have subtle visual differences, but there are big changes under the skin. The price has risen across the range to reflect some of the new tech.
There are three models in the line-up: the base-model ES priced from $47,390 plus on-road costs; the ES with an advanced safety pack from $48,390 plus on-road costs; and the flagship Exceed tested here from $56,390 plus on-road costs.
As this article was published, the Mitsubishi website listed the Outlander ES plug-in hybrid at $50,390 drive-away (once a $1000 discount was taken into account) with a seven-year warranty instead of five years coverage.
All grades of the updated Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid have a bigger petrol engine, more power, and better real-world electric driving range than before.
The original 2.0-litre petrol engine (87kW/186Nm) has been replaced by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder (94kW/199Nm), while the battery pack has grown from 12kWh to 13.8kWh to boost petrol-free driving range from a real-world 30km or so to a real-world 50km or thereabouts.
The front electric motor is the same as before (60kW/137Nm), while the rear electric motor has had a mild boost to 70kW/195Nm (it was 60kW/195Nm).
It still takes seven hours to charge the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV from empty on a household power socket, or 25 minutes to 80 per cent of its capacity when using a DC charger. The fuel tank holds 45L of petrol, enough to take you at least 500km on an open road and 350km to 400km in suburban driving.
Inside, the infotainment screen is larger than before (8.0 inches), although it’s still missing the convenience of volume and tuning dials that were recently added to the smaller and cheaper Mitsubishi ASX. The back seat now gets extra USB charging ports at the rear of the centre console.
There’s one other change you won’t see listed on a brochure, because Mitsubishi doesn’t want to shine a light on the shortcomings of its predecessor. But this one finally drives all right.
In a previous life I lived with a Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV to use industry jargon) for six months. While it gave me a new appreciation for the technology – which is a stepping stone between normal hybrid and full electric cars – the old Outlander handled like a wheelbarrow full of water.
The steering was cumbersome, the suspension felt too soft and underdone, and the tyres didn’t respond very well to your desire to turn a corner in comfort. You could really feel the extra weight of the battery pack and electric motor; it was almost as if Mitsubishi hadn’t tuned the suspension to accommodate the extra 355kg on board. (The petrol-only Outlander Exceed all-wheel-drive five-seater weighs 1525kg, whereas the Outlander Exceed PHEV weighs 1880kg).
Fortunately, car companies rarely sit idle, and it’s apparent that Mitsubishi’s engineers may have experienced the same feeling I did when driving the original Outlander plug-in hybrid, because the updated model is a revelation.
It’s not going to set a scorching time around the Nürburgring, of course, but it finally feels a lot more composed and better balanced whether negotiating a roundabout, a speed bump, or a sweeping mountain road.
It may seem odd to highlight this area of the car, but I’m banging on about it because, quite simply, it proves that electric and hybrid cars don’t need to be dull to drive. Indeed, I would argue that an SUV should feel more secure on the road. After all, as family cars they are more likely than not to be carrying precious human cargo.
That said, the Outlander plug-in hybrid is still a five-seater as opposed to a seven-seater. The battery pack and some of the tech gadgetry take up some of the space where the third-row seats would normally be stowed.
Other key observations? The cabin is still spacious and practical, and while there are no third-row seats, there is still plenty of room for essential cargo.
The new LED headlights have a good spread of light on low and high beam.
The extra power from the petrol and electric motors delivers some welcome oomph, but this is still a family car and not a hot hatch.
The other impressive aspect is the electric driving range. On the pre-facelift model, the best I could get while driving normally – and using headlights and air-conditioning – would be 27km to 33km tops. Driving the same way with this updated Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid, we’re getting 48km to 55km without any particular effort.
As with the rest of the Mitsubishi range, service intervals are 12 months/15,000km; however, capped pricing runs out after three years/45,000km, and each routine service is dearer than petrol-only models ($310, $430 and $365 respectively for the first three visits).
The standard warranty is five years/100,000km (and eight years/160,000km for the battery pack), missing out on the current seven-year warranty/two years free servicing offer available on other Mitsubishi models as this article was published.
Given that Mitsubishi spent most of 2019 with a seven-year warranty offer on its Triton ute and is now spreading it across most other models, we suspect the company is gearing up to move a permanent seven-year warranty across the range, so watch this space.
Dislikes? There aren’t many, and the ones we’ve listed may seem picky, but since you’re here we may as well list them in case these elements bother other owners or potential buyers.
I wish there was a digital speed display, and I lament the lack of volume dials on the infotainment screen (touch controls or buttons on the steering wheel are not as quick or as easy as simply turning a dial).
And, this is really getting into the detail, for some reason the audio for Mitsubishi’s phone speaker comes out of the front passenger foot well, rather than the driver’s door. And the volume isn’t loud enough for my taste. It’s the same dilemma whether connecting via Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
We’re not sure whether this is a left-hand-drive/right-hand-drive preference that Mitsubishi has not changed. Japan is a right-hand-drive country, so surely left-hand-drive audio speakers wouldn’t take priority.
If you know the answer to this riddle, please let us know. Better still, if you know how to make the driver’s side speaker the source for phone audio, please let us know that, too.
On the plus side, if that’s all we can complain about, it gives you a fair indication that the rest of the Mitsubishi Outlander is a decent package.
There will always be the argument about whether or not plug-in hybrid cars represent good value. This example of the Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid is $56,390 plus on-road costs, about $25,000 more than a base-model petrol and $15,000 more than a petrol Exceed.
So, if you’re buying it to save money, it’s probably not the best bet. Those price gaps will buy a lot of fuel in a standard Mitsubishi Outlander – or one of its rivals.But if you’re buying a plug-in hybrid to do your bit to save the planet – or clear your conscience – go right ahead.