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.