Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
This page is dedicated to our long term review of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (MY2019). Updates include how we got on with the car, trips we accomplished, fuel consumption and more. Check back for regular weekly updates. By Alex Grant.
EV range (WLTP)
‘Race on Sunday, sell on Monday’ might be an ageing automotive mantra but, as a teenager in the late 1990s, motorsport had a transformative effect on Mitsubishi’s image and desirability. The red and white RalliArt war paint of the Lancer Evolution and the tunability of its roadgoing counterparts quickly made the company synonymous with performance cars instead of rugged off-roaders. If you were the right age at the time, then that probably hasn’t worn off since.
Two decades on and Mitsubishi has changed again; now more ‘EV’ than ‘Evo’, and just as well tuned to the public mood if the Outlander PHEV’s sales performance is anything to go by. However, unlikely though it might sound, a little of that rally-bred engineering lives on beneath the whisper-quiet subtlety of this plug-in SUV.
For a start, the Outlander PHEV’s architecture – the platform on which it sits – is the same as the Evo X. That’s not a bad foundation for a driver’s car, even if what’s on top is a little boxier. My lasting memory of the Evo was that it was both enjoyable enough and thirsty enough to require two petrol station visits in the same day back when I had my first one on test a decade ago. There are EVs now on sale with a longer range.
Grip was the Evo’s forte; good not only for eating up rally stages but also underpinning the 440bhp versions Mitsubishi UK was offering right off the forecourt. Fundamental to this was AWC (All Wheel Control), a term coined with the Evo VII as a catch-all for its sophisticated, electronically-controlled four-wheel drive system. This later became S-AWC (Super All Wheel Control) with the Evo X and, if you’re a nerd like me, you’ll spot that same acronym in the Outlander PHEV’s rear glass.
Despite the entirely different hardware, the end goal is the same. S-AWC controls torque output to each corner and can individually brake wheels, depending on available grip and steering inputs, to give more predictable cornering responses. The Outlander does this too, albeit by controlling the front/rear torque split using separate motors at each axle instead of the Evo’s clutched central differential. There are Evo-like drive modes for different surfaces, and a dashboard display showing what’s going on underneath.
Obviously it’s worlds apart from the visceral performance of an Evo, but the Outlander has inherited some of its former stablemate’s natural on-road confidence. Last year’s update added bigger disc brakes, steering recalibrated for more feedback and boosted the power from both its petrol and electric drivetrains. The result is something closer to its European-engineered counterparts; sure-footed and predictable handling, direct responses to driver inputs and a healthy surge of overtaking power in Sport mode, though it leans heavily on the petrol engine to do so. Regenerative braking is dialled in, in five stages using paddles behind the wheel, giving similar control to a downshift on a conventional automatic – the paddles themselves are yet another carry-over from the Evo.
Ultimately the Outlander PHEV isn’t a car that wills you to drive aggressively, but the bare bones of something very interesting are woven into it. If Mitsubishi’s future plans involve emphasising the ‘EV’ into ‘Evolution’, reincarnating the bloodline as some sort of electronically-boosted performance car, then my inner teenager is very much on board.
SUVs have become the automotive industry’s Swiss Army knife, merging estate car load space, MPV visibility and that rugged kerb appeal drivers seem to have an unending appetite for. Europeans bought a record 29.8 million of them last year, according to JATO Dynamics, and some manufacturers are dropping other products to make way for an even broader range of soft-roaders to keep up with demand.
That practical, upright shape offers another talent. SUVs are also ideal for swallowing bulky plug-in hybrid, electric and even hydrogen fuel cell drivetrains. Ironically, that could make a segment once demonised for its gas-guzzlers an important route into electric mobility for many buyers. But as the underlying technology becomes more versatile and buyers view it as just another option alongside petrol and diesel, it is packaging shortfalls that will divide them.
The foundations of the Outlander PHEV are relatively old considering how quickly the technology has changed since, but this was always a neatly-packaged car. Dig out a picture of the battery box in the boot of a first-generation Mercedes-Benz GLE 500e for an example of getting it very, very wrong. I have a three kids, my own business, and an incredibly variable work-life balance, and the Mitsubishi has taken everything in its stride.
For a start, this is (until the Ford Transit and LEVC’s taxi-derived van come along) also sold as the UK’s only plug-in hybrid commercial vehicle. Where some SUVs have put the emphasis on sport, the Outlander is fundamentally a utility-focused off-roader. There’s no tapered roofline to stop bulky objects getting into the back, the boot is a metre wide beneath the wheel arches and 1,650mm long with the rear bench folded (and around half that with them upright).
Importantly, that’s a totally uninterrupted flat load area behind the front seats. The rear bench squab tips up and forward, the backrest drops so it’s flush with the boot floor and Mitsubishi has thoughtfully included an under-floor compartment for the load cover near the tailgate.
Our Outlander PHEV has swallowed mountain bikes, photography gear, two folded buggies and an expired washing machine, and I’ve previously had a two-seat Ikea sofa in one. I’ve yet to have anything trigger the anti-pinch function on the electric tailgate because it doesn’t quite fit. It’s so big that my eldest and I sat on the folded rear bench building Lego sets while waiting for the exit queues to die down at Legoland a few weeks ago. It’s brilliant.
But its biggest shortfall can be levelled at almost all SUVs – electric, hybrid or combustion engine. We’re a family of five, three of which are in booster seats. The Outlander will accommodate the three kids, including using the passenger-side ISOFIX point to have one of them up front (a popular feature with our older two). However, there’s not enough room for an adult or booster seat between two ISOFIX bases in the back, and the PHEV doesn’t have a seven-seat option like its petrol counterpart. However, the third row wouldn’t be overly useful with kids our age, as it’d mean there’s nowhere for the buggy.
We’re an unusual case with our oversized brood, but it restricts our choice to a handful of MPVs, many of which are earmarked to be discontinued and none of which (excluding the rather crude Nissan e-NV200) can do the school run on battery power like an Outlander PHEV. It feels like a suspiciously-absent talent in an otherwise very versatile segment.
When historians reflect on the early part of the 21st century, it might well be the smartphone that gets recognised as one of this era’s most transformative technologies. Whether it’s live streaming events before reporters, fuelling the growth of social media, or the ability to remotely check and control your central heating and lights, that digital experience has quickly become all-encompassing.
This is a pace of change that the automotive industry isn’t used to; development cycles for cars are usually much slower than for electronics, and even Bluetooth connectivity wasn’t a given ten years ago. But consumers are increasingly expecting to take their digital lifestyle on the road, particularly with a high-tech car such as the Outlander PHEV. So how does Mitsubishi live up to those expectations?
The approach is sensible but brave, given that this is a relatively expensive car with no navigation option. Perhaps reckoning that there’s no way to keep up with the development of smartphone apps, the Outlander’s infotainment system relies on Android Auto and Apple CarPlay for mapping. Once you’ve used either, you’ll probably understand why.
Both systems offer multiple apps for turn-by-turn directions, Waze being my pick of the bunch, and I’d argue the constant map updates and live traffic data are better than any manufacturer system I’ve used. Waze enables me to report incidents in real-time, and for drivers ahead of me to warn about conditions I’m about to face. If it tells me to take a detour, I listen.
The downside, for now, is that these systems don’t integrate with the rest of the car. So whereas some of the German premium plug-in hybrids have built-in navigation systems which meter out the electric range to suit topography and urban stretches on the route ahead, no smartphone-based app can provide the car with this information yet. Pre-planning in the Outlander is a manual process – in my case, saving a couple of mlles of electric range after a long journey so I can waft into Cardiff’s suburbs without anything coming from the tailpipe.
There’s a lot going on behind the smartphone apps, too. The touchscreen offers access to functions enabling pre-setting of charging to suit energy tariffs, and for the car to pre-warm its cabin while still plugged into the mains. Most of the useful information is within the PHEV menu, which features the usual energy flow graphic, historic graphs showing efficiency and electricity use, and a trip computer.
Being picky, the latter defaults to a per-journey setting every time the car turns off, and the lifetime energy use (almost 60mpg and 2.9mpkWh over 4,700 miles, if you’re interested) doesn’t give the one metric PHEV drivers probably want to know. It only ever shows the share of driving done on battery power since the last full charge – surely a lifetime average would be more relevant?
That said, I’d forego such minor details for a better smartphone app. The original Outlander PHEV was one of the first cars I tried with its own app, way back in 2014, and it doesn’t seem to have changed much. There’s no function for checking whether the car is locked, for example, and it communicates via a short-range WiFi connection rather than an on-board SIM card. If you’re out of range – and in our case that’s any part of the house – it doesn’t do anything at all.
So it’s one digital feature I’ve barely used, and even Mitsubishi’s recent owner survey suggests only 57% of them also make do without. If it’s a choice between a good smartphone app and the ability to use Waze for navigation, I’ll always take the latter.
It’s funny how your priorities change as life throws new commitments your way. Ten years ago I’d probably have been enthusing about the Outlander PHEV’s electrically-boosted 223hp and Lancer Evolution X platform sharing. These days, with a need to transport three kids aged five or less, I’m enjoying some very different qualities.
When even leaving the house turns into a half-hour process of locating shoes, last-minute nappy changes and hurriedly packing supplies, ease of use becomes so important elsewhere. All Outlander PHEVs include keyless entry – handy when you’ve got arms full – and only the base-spec Juro misses out on the electric tailgate. A hands-free tailgate would be desirable but, given that they’re a little hit and miss, I can make do without.
There’s plenty of space on board, too. The Outlander makes no pretence of being ‘coupe-inspired’ and it’s all the better for it, with a buggy-friendly boot and loads of headroom in both rows. Petrol and diesel versions get seven seats, which the PHEV doesn’t have due to drivetrain packaging, but those additional two seats aren’t much use for the kids once there’s a buggy in the back.
The downside is all five of us can’t fit in the car at once. The same is true for almost all cars in this class, but with a pair of child seats on the rear bench there’s no room in the middle for another. Or for an adult. I’ve taken to using the front seat ISOFIX point when I’m on daddy day care duty, with the upshot that it’s popular with whoever gets to ride shotgun. For two-child families that’s enough flexibility for visiting friends – again, important when car seats are mandatory until 12 years/135cm.
Of course, you could bypass any flexibility compromises with an MPV – and that’s what this car shares a driveway with – but the Outlander PHEV has a significant advantage over our own family-mover. In a period of unseasonal downpours, I’ve been able to take my eldest to school without having to do the return trip with an engine on its least efficient, most polluting warm-up cycle. Judging by the air quality around the school gates each day, I’m really looking forward to more cars being able to do the same.
At the start of 2014, I was coming around to replacing a Vauxhall Ampera and, although I’d got on well with it, I was getting a sense that the powertrain was about to start ageing badly. The Outlander PHEV offered as much range without the practicality sacrifice, while the i3 REX travelled twice as far on battery power and, like the Mitsubishi, it had rapid charging. This, I predicted, would be the standard going forward.
I got that one wrong. Five years on, most PHEVs are only now catching up with the Ampera’s EV range, and even some of the newcomers only offer 3.6kW charging. I know rapid charging isn’t essential when you’ve got a combustion engine to fall back on, and I know it adds cost to an already expensive car, but if the goal is to reduce fuel consumption then surely it makes sense to have it as an option? Particularly for luxury marques.
Some etiquette here. I’ve watched a Dutch-plated Tesla queue at an Electric Highway point near Cardiff, waiting for an unattended C-Class PHEV to trickle charge on the AC side. I’ve also had the heart-sink moment of rolling into a motorway services in a range-depleted EV to find the rapid charger occupied by a plug-in hybrid. So I’ll always leave a note with my mobile number in case someone wants me to move, but I’m also making the effort to plug in where possible as it’s worth doing so in this car.
The Outlander has a Chademo connector offering DC charging at up to 22kW. I’ve been getting an indicated 20kW on Electric Highway points I’ve used so far, which is easily enough to get most of its range back in around half an hour. However, the networks are better suited to full EVs, which offer at least twice the charging speed, are typically more energy-efficient, and are reliant on rapid chargers for longer journeys. So the cost benefits are tight if you’re in a PHEV.
Rather like buying fuel at motorway service stations, roadside rapid charging is a convenience and thus attracts a premium. It costs 30p per kilowatt-hour to top up at an Electric Highway point which, with indicated lifetime average energy economy of 2.5 miles per kilowatt-hour, equates to around 12p per mile on electricity. This isn’t cheap, but neither is the alternative. The Outlander averages around 38mpg once the battery range has depleted, or 14p per mile based on the AA’s most recent average fuel price report.
So it’s tight, but I should stress here that I’m not pulling out all the stops. I’d pay half as much per kilowatt-hour to use the Electric Highway if I switched to an Ecotricity home energy tariff, for example, which makes a clear-cut business case for plugging in. BP Chargemaster also offers “just off the motorway” rapid charging for 10.8p per kilowatt-hour, albeit with a £7.85 monthly fee for Polar Plus membership. Given that this also offers free access to slower “destination” chargers, committed Outlander drivers ought to be able to claw back the membership fee fairly easily.
Frankly, I’m determined enough to use the car properly that even the slightest cost benefit feels like a bonus. Rapid charging might not have become the norm for plug-in hybrids, but I still believe it’s a useful and underrated feature for those who care about using these cars as intended.
This year marks the fifth anniversary of Mitsubishi’s first Outlander PHEVs arriving in the UK. It’s become so ubiquitous since (more than 40,000 sales and counting) that it’s easy to forget just how forward-looking this car was back in 2014 – a low-CO2 SUV, launched with enough of a head start that some manufacturers still haven’t caught up. In 2013, the total UK market for plug-in hybrids was around 1,000 cars – in an incomplete 2014, Mitsubishi alone sold ten times that volume.
Granted, that early lead has been a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand it’s been a practical route into plug-in motoring for thousands of motorists, many of whom wouldn’t have been willing or able to go fully electric. On the other side, heavy incentives and a steep learning curve – particularly for fleets – have resulted in some unfair criticism as a result of poorly-deployed early cars. This has never been a straight swap for a diesel engine for high-mileage drivers, and what’s the point of a plug-in hybrid if you never plug it in?
Of course, competition has expanded significantly in the last five years, and the Outlander has upped its game to match. Last year’s heavy technical update (launched, frustratingly for Mitsubishi, just before the UK’s Plug-in Car Grant for PHEVs was withdrawn) effectively renewed most of the hybrid system. Significantly, the larger capacity battery, more powerful motor-generators and a new 2.4-litre Atkinson cycle petrol engine all helped keep CO2 emissions under 50g/km, despite that data being converted from figures derived under the tougher new WTLP fuel economy test. This was a major overhaul, despite being hidden beneath a subtle styling change.
So, can the car that put plug-in hybrids into the mainstream still cut it today? We’ll be spending the next few months tasking a range-topping 4HS model with the rigours of family and business life – long journeys included – to get a feel for how effective those updates have been. And it all starts with unboxing that Type 2 cable stored in the boot.