Outlandishly electric

Road test: Outlander PHEV

Mitsubishi’s Outlander has gone electric. We liked the capable diesel so the new PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) model raises two questions. First, what is it? Second, does it detract from what’s good about the conventional model?

Without getting too bogged-down, it’s a petrol-electric hybrid which can be charged from the mains – either from a standard 13A/16A socket or a higher output outlet such as those at some motorway services. It can also be charged by the two-litre petrol engine (by pressing the charge button) on the move. Otherwise, depending on the particular situation, the car decides the most efficient power delivery from the following four combinations: all electric; petrol engine providing additional energy to the motors (but only using the motors for propulsion); petrol engine driving the wheels; or both petrol and electric driving the wheels.

First plug-in SUV

It’s not the first plug-in on the market but it is the first plug-in SUV and as such, offers something different. But is it any good? In this case, we’d define ‘good’ in terms of usability of the technology and driveability.

From the technology perspective, it is all very clever and the different power sources switch in and out harmoniously. A run at busy commute time in rather dire traffic used almost three quarters of the electric range in just 12 miles. In charge mode, the return journey charged the battery up to where it was at the start. We’re not sure this proves anything but it’s mildly interesting. The Outlander PHEV also allows mobile ‘phone connectivity to heat/cool the cabin, check status of charge and turn the headlights on or off remotely. That said, the ‘phone did struggle to pick up the car’s own Wi-Fi signal consistently, even when in close range.

Plug it in!

The fact it is a plug-in hybrid means it makes use of electricity which is cheaper and cleaner (let’s leave the discussion around fossil-fuelled power stations on hold for the moment). Of course the big drawback is having to plug the thing in and those trailing wires which will be an issue for those living in apartments or without a dedicated parking space.

Look beyond the charging hurdle and there are immediate benefits. Of course the fuel gauge will stay reasonably static while the batteries provide power but the quiet drive is also pleasing. Is it any good to drive? Here at Motor Writer, we aren’t afraid to state that whatever the power source or technology solution, this shouldn’t hinder driving pleasure or ease of use. With any EV, there’s a tendency to have a fixation on the gauges to monitor what’s powering the wheels and what the state of charge is, in a way that we’re used to generally ignoring with petrol or diesel given their larger ranges. Put these to the back of your mind and the Outlander is a reasonable drive. Motors are torquey from zero rpm, so pulling away is fine but a 1,810kg kerb weight (250kg more than the diesel) means mid-range acceleration is rather gentle. When the petrol engine is needed (we have plenty of steep hills in the Pennines), it has to work very hard but it does the job.

Respectable

Handling is good for a truck of this size; turn-in is respectable and turning circle excellent for manoeuvring. The ride feels beefed-up over the non PHEV model (to cope with the added battery weight) and is therefore slightly unsettled over smaller imperfections on the road surface. It copes better with the larger lumps and bumps.

One of the main reasons for buying a large truck is to be able to cover reasonable distances. The total range of the PHEV is quite limited though and the 32 mile (max) electric range is soon eroded with any hilly terrain. Then, having exhausted the battery power, the available fuel range from the modest 45 litre fuel tank falls considerably faster than the ‘distance to go’ on the sat-nav display, especially on the motorway.

So, pottering locally, the Outlander PHEV is easy to use and the technology fine. For medium and high distance coverage, it is a constant battle to keep recharged and enough juice in the small tank. The card up this model’s sleeve is the low company car tax (BIK 5% vs. 24% for comparable diesels).

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, from £28,249 to £34,999 (prices incl. £5,000 government plug-in car grant)

Petrol: power : 121 PS (@ 4,500 rpm), torque: 190 Nm (@ 4,500 rpm)

Electric: power/torque: front motor: 25kW/137 Nm; rear motor 25kW/195kW

Emissions: 44 g/km CO2 (band A), 0-62 mph: 11.0 secs.

Motor Writer rating: ●●○○○





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