I hit what I guess must be a PHEV milestone this month. Flying into Heathrow Airport (not a cheap place to plug in) after an early start, I did a non-stop run back to Cardiff and had a double dose of range anxiety, fully depleting both of the Outlander’s “tanks” by the time I got home.
One of the attractive features of PHEV life, for those taking their first steps into electric mobility, is convenience. I’m an advocate of plugging in whenever possible, but even the fastest charge is no fun when it’s late and your bed is beckoning from some 100 miles away. Been there, done that. But convenience also brings some compromises, and PHEVs have a few common ones that this car hasn’t quite escaped.
For one thing, finding space for a battery pack typically reduces the fuel tank size. A petrol Outlander has a 60-litre tank on board and returns 32.5mpg, according to the new, tougher WLTP economy test. Assuming that’s right (I haven’t driven one, so I can’t vouch for it) that’s enough dinosaur bones to take you 425 miles on a brimmed tank.
The PHEV is more efficient, even when it hasn’t been plugged in, typically returning 38mpg on a mixed cycle trip. But it’s only got a 45-litre tank, so you’re out of juice after about 340 miles. That’s further than an EV, but, if you’re used to an equivalent size diesel car then the PHEV’s supermini-sized tank might come as a surprise. And it’s not as stingy as some others.
The Outlander PHEV also loses some of the petrol car’s flexibility. There’s no seven seat option, owing to the large under-boot compartment where the electric axle lives, but it does have the narrow folding rear bench to give access to the absent third row. And, while I can vouch for its surprising capability on loose surfaces, the under-floor battery pack slightly reduces its ability to straddle bumps between the axles when driving off road.
There are compromises as an EV too. Give the throttle an over-enthusiastic prod coming out of a junction and, even with a fully charged battery, the combustion engine hums into life to augment the power. To reduce wear, it’ll also carry on running for a couple of minutes to warm up and get the fluids moving around, before the car eventually switches back to battery power. No amount of prodding through drive modes will make it shut down beforehand. Trust me, I’ve tried.
Of course, there’s a mindset change required here. If you’re finding 340 miles of range a problem then you’re either not right for a PHEV, or you’re not plugging it in regularly enough. Used correctly, the smaller tank can easily be stretched beyond the range of the petrol version. Even with regular long journeys I’m getting around 500 miles between trips to the pumps which, careless late-night jaunts aside, is plenty.
And, while charging regularly might sound inconvenient to the uninitiated, my journey home from Heathrow wasn’t interrupted by a bleary-eyed detour to my local fuel station. I plugged in when I got home and topped up with unleaded a couple of days later. The car runs on battery power for most journeys I’m doing, so most of the time it’s just wasteful for me to be hauling 45 litres of fuel around.
Which is ironic, when you think about it. Petrol and diesel cars typically get praised for their convenience, due to long ranges and short filling times. Already used to plugging in every night for a full charge – which takes minutes – it’s the trip to the local fuel station which has become the bigger bind.