Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV firstdrive

May 8th, 2014:    Text and images © ecodrive 2014 unless otherwise indicated.  No reproduction without express permission.

Mitsubishi are back in the EV game. After breaking new ground with the i-MiEV around 7 years ago, Mitsubishi hadn't really done much to further their EV offering. Until now.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. Photo: Mitsubishi

Outlander PHEV is a new plug-in hybrid version of their mid-sized 4x4 'SUV' which was renewed last year. It largely appears the same as the diesel counterpart, save for a few oversized 'PHEV' and 'Plug In Hybrid EV' badges and the addition of the charging flap on the driver's side rear quarter panel. In the UK, with Mitsubishi being a direct subsidiary of the Japanese parent company, the PHEV is more keenly priced than it is in Europe, launching with price parity to equivalently spec'ed diesel models.

Using essentially a 60kW version of the electric axle from the i-MiEV on the front and rear gives it four-wheel-drive, stump-pulling torque and real off-road ability without the complexity of a transfer case or diff lock. It operates as a 'series-parallel' hybrid with a 2.0 litre petrol engine: From a full charge of its 12kWh battery (4 hours from a 16A home charging point) it can run between 20 and 30 miles in EV mode, up to about 75mph as purely electric. Unless you tell it otherwise, or exceed the 75mph limit, it will use the battery before seamlessly switching to the engine. (Actually, it always keeps 30% charge in order to provide the electric assist at all times)

The 89kW (122bhp) petrol engine is coupled to a 70kW generator (think BIG alternator) to produce the electric power to keep driving the motor, i.e. in series. It's hard to even sense that the engine is running apart from the dashboard indication since it merely hums along at a constant RPM. But when conditions dictate, such as demanding maximum acceleration, the engine is connected (under the car's control) to mechanically drive the front axle in parallel to the electric motor. You don't feel a thing - and only under duress do you hear the engine revs rise. One of the dashboard display choices that can be shown centrally between the power gauge and analogue speedometer will show the energy flow (electrical and mechanical) between the battery, engine and wheels.

Only 2 buttons are provided to modify this 'electric first' operation: 'Save' will freeze the current battery level to allow you to run in zero emission mode later. Although not currently required in the UK, there are zones in some European cities where you can only run in zero emission mode (and we suspect that this might come to UK cities too) so this mode lets you save the battery for later use. If you should forget and exhaust the battery, a 'Charge' button lets you replenish the battery to 80% in around 30 minutes, by working the generator harder - with a consequential impact on fuel economy. The 'do nothing' option assumes that you will charge from the grid for maximum economy and, usually, minimum impact. It doesn't need to be any more complicated than that.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV MPG
Outlander PHEV shows achieved fuel economy with electric/fuel mix © ecodrive

Outlander PHEV quotes 148mpg on the EU point of sale label. We're not fans of this outdated labelling scheme since you can't digest the economy of a plug-in hybrid down to one figure. It depends on your own pattern of journeys and charging to determine what economy you'll see. Once we'd exhausted the battery, motorway running with the cruise control set at 70mph (driver only, no passengers or luggage, in good weather) saw a fuel economy the healthy side of 40mpg.

With a typical 15-20 mile round trip commute, your normal Monday-Friday could just be electric with Outlander PHEV performing as an EV, charged overnight. With more general use exceeding the battery capacity, the trip computer constantly re-calculates the fuel economy based on the mileage covered in total since the last recharge. Combined economy during our test varied between 60 and 100mpg. It also shows the percentage proportion of the journey that has been electric.

Outlander Public Quick Charging
Outlander PHEV at public Quick Charger © ecodrive

Outlander PHEV is the first plug-in hybrid that can Quick Charge, in this case using the long-established Chademo type DC connector that every public Quick Charger already has. This is also found on Nissan LEAF and Mitsubishi's i-MiEV (along with the Peugeot iOn and Citroën C-Zero clones) The Quick Charge is limited to taking it to 80% which gives you only about 15 miles at motorway speeds. Driving down the M5 on a weekday evening I took the opportunity to stop for a coffee where I got the 80% charge in 24 minutes. Later, I did the same while I had a quick dinner.

The motorway services Quick Chargers under ecotricity's 'Electric Highway' project are currently free. That 15 miles equates to about £2 saved on fuel based on 40mpg. I wouldn't go out of my way to find a Quick Charger and I wouldn't queue to use one if a 'pure' EV was already using it. At this time of evening I was confident that I wouldn't be depriving an EV of the charger but if driving one regularly I would, as a courtesy to pure EV drivers, leave a note in my windscreen to indicate that I'd be happy to disconnect if required.

Quick Charging makes more sense at a fleet facility or works car park where the charger would be shared with other vehicles. The smaller battery in the PHEV (only half the size of the battery in the Nissan LEAF) can't make use of the full power of the largest public chargers and so the intermediate 20kW chargers that we supply into fleet operations still offer the fastest recharge possible (technical detail: maximum recharge current is 50 Amps DC)

Outlander 20kW semi Quick Charging
Semi Quick Charging (20kW) at fleet base with no time penalty © ecodrive

Whether by Quick Charging or using the standard 3.3kW slower charge, daytime charging at work poses a near philosophical question. If you can't do your commute solely on the overnight battery charge, should you charge it at work - assuming that you have, or could have, the facility? It would likely be cheaper than fuel, even if you do have to pay for it, but this is the folly of a low EV range PHEV. It is not desirable for the grid and 'upstream emissions' to add to daytime consumption routinely and certainly not in aggregate across a population of vehicles. A 'pure' EV may be able to perform that commute comfortably on just the overnight charge.

After a few days and a few hundred miles it was time to make the 230-mile return trip to deliver the Outlander PHEV back to the nest (Mitsubishi HQ). Stopping for a comfort break (and a coffee) on the M5 I fought my instinct to carry on without charging. But the urge to do more EV miles was overwhelming. Unfortunately the charger was suffering from an 'under voltage supply' problem and wasn't working. But it didn't matter in the PHEV. I used £2 more fuel but had no issues and my schedule didn't change.

Features

The model we drove was the top-spec GX4hs featuring Lane Departure Warning, Forward Collision Mitigation, Adaptive Cruise Control, electric sunroof, electrically operated (remote controlled) tailgate with reversing camera, full leather, DAB radio and sat-nav. Standard keyless start with the key somewhere in the car or in your pocket/handbag/man bag lets you boot the car up with just a press of the Power button.

The centre console features a conventional handbrake, a 'Twin Motor 4WD lock' button and a driving range selector somewhat akin to that of Nissan LEAF but taking the form of a lever rather than a 'puck:' Over and back for Drive, over and forward for Reverse and straight back for the 'Brake' extra regenerative braking mode. This has two levels of 'regen' showing on the dash display as B3 and B5 (the maximum) You can't toggle between B3 and B5, only choose to select D again and then go to B3 which is a bit perverse. A (P)ark button engages an electric parking lock which is also engaged automatically if you just press the Power button to turn the car off.

The flappy paddles let you access B0-B5 giving more than enough control over the regen. B0 is no regen at all and B2 is virtually the same as D. Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to get the car to default into regen mode so, as an experienced EV driver who likes all the regen he can get, I have to perform 'D' - 'B' - 'B' or hit the left paddle 5 times every time I start or change direction to get the 'feel' that I like. And even then, the regen isn't as strong as it is on most EV models and nowhere near what is possible. The 'Eco' mode button seems only to serve to marginally modify the throttle pedal response to encourage less acceleration but also modifies the energy delivery. Similarly, it doesn't seem possible to get it to stick to Eco mode from one journey to the next so you either discipline yourself to press the button every time you start - or to go easy with your right foot IF range is your priority.

Outlander PHEV badging
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV badging

The Lane Departure Warning is great on motorways but is annoying on country roads where you inevitably get close to the white lines anyway so is best disabled with a single button press. The Adaptive Cruise Control can be a little too eager to keep its distance and can 'see' the wrong vehicle in the bends. The Forward Collision Mitigation flashes a 'Brake!' message on the dash at the first sign of a pending impact (such as changing lane coming into a roundabout) which is ironically distracting causing you to take your eyes off the road!

The interior of the car is spacious, with very generous legroom for the rear 3 passengers. Each of the rear 3 positions has a separate seatbelt indicator prominently in the centre of the dash - great for parents to keep tabs on their kids. The capacious boot has a nice retracting tonneau cover and a couple of useful storage bins either side along with a shallow storage space under the rear of the floor suitable for keeping charging cables. It also has a couple of cup holders - a vestigial leftover from the diesel version which is available as a 7-seater but that is not an option here because of the hybrid architecture of the car.

Outlander PHEV app
Outlander PHEV app

The trim is fair quality for the price tag, but very Japanese. It's not 'premium' compared to other (German) brands of SUV lifestyle vehicles or contemporary European crossovers but has nice soft-touch plastic to the dash top and 'piano black' on the centre console. Everything seems to fit, nothing creaked or groaned, lots of storage areas, deep door bins and power options (12V and USB)

The infotainment system is very similar to LEAF's and is, for the most part, generically Japanese in style. As well as allowing charging and preconditioning scheduling, it also allows customisation of some of the vehicle features such as auto-folding the door mirrors and flashing the indicators when plip locking the car. The sat-nav system (on the GX4h and GX4hs) is 'full postcode' although the verbal directions didn't interrupt the DAB radio, or even moderate the volume, with the sat-nav voice competing with the radio.

Outlander PHEV also has a dedicated app (iOS and Android) which, unlike any other we've seen, doesn't use a 3G connection but creates its own WiFi-like hotspot to which you can connect. So even if you have no mobile phone signal at your remote farmhouse, you can still 'talk' to your car. You can't be online at the same time though since your phone or tablet has to switch over to the car's WiFi connection (SSID) whilst you are chatting. Functions include checking charge level, scheduling and other niceties such as turning on the sidelights or headlights which can be a useful personal safety feature.

Competitors

The competition from other SUVs includes Honda CRV, BMW X3 and Audi Q3, all of which are not as well equipped for the money once you factor in the Plug-In Car Grant and, especially, as a company car with only 5% BIK compared to 23% or higher on the others.

The competition with other plug-ins really only comes from 2 vehicles: Vauxhall/Opel's Ampera has a similar technical architecture but boasts a better electric-only range and can also do 300+ miles on a tank. BMW's i3 is a similar price proposition as the Range Extended model with a few options including Quick Charge (the so-far rare CCS Combo versus Chademo) but i3 doesn't cope with long journeys half as well. It does, however, have a practical 80 mile range as an EV. Both of those are only 4-seaters with small luggage space.

Our Choice

Any of the range of GX3h, GX4h or GX4hs give equal or better spec than the equivalent diesel model at the same price. The GX3h gives you all the EV benefits including the Quick Charge capability, but without sat-nav and preconditioning via the app. For this you need to go to at least the GX4h which is our choice at £32,899 (after the Plug-In Car Grant)

Verdict

Starting at £28,249 for the GX3h, the Outlander PHEV is a compelling proposition: at the same price as the equivalent spec diesel vehicle, the potential to be an all-electric commuter but with 40+ mpg on longer journeys, it's hard to see why you wouldn't choose it over the diesel if you were looking to buy an SUV. As a business proposition it is only a 5% Benefit-in-Kind as a hybrid in the 2014-15 tax year thanks to its official 44g/km CO2 figure. With Contract Hire from just £219 per month it might prove very popular as a company car.

In the Netherlands, over 13,000 Outlander PHEVs have been sold or ordered to date, in a market where annually Mitsubishi normally only sell 4,500 vehicles of all descriptions!

Full-time 4WD and a 1,500kg towing capacity mean it's no token effort either. A practical, workhorse family vehicle. Not over-complicated to use and Quick Charge capability where you can access it gives extra economy without being essential.

The real world EV range is a little on the low side. If it was a real 40 miles (a la Ampera) it would be far more attractive. It would benefit from improved regen to help towards that, albeit in a small way, but more so to 'feel' more like an EV. With other manufacturers such as BMW not shying away from making their EVs feel different to drive, it doesn't necessarily have to feel 'normal.'

Look out for the technology also coming to future versions of the larger and smaller SUVs in Mitsubishi's range, Shogun and ASX, reflecting Mitsubishi's aim that 20% of all vehicles they sell will be plug-in by 2020. They've been building EV for many years. They know what they're doing. If you can trust anyone's foray into 'new' technology, it's Mitsubishi.

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