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heavy technical update (launched, frustratingly for Mitsubishi, just before the UK’s Plug-in Car Grant for PHEVs was withdrawn) effectively renewed most of the hybrid system.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.