OUTLANDER DOWN TO THE WIRE
THE plug-in hybrid is becoming a big seller in Europe, where the locals are encouraged to go green via high fuel prices, tax and registration concessions on low-emission vehicles and, in some cities, restricted access for conventionally powered cars, especially diesels, which EU regulators seem pretty keen to legislate out of existence.
BMW and Mercedes-Benz each have plug-in hybrids available here, including the Mercedes C350e and BMW’s new 530e iPerformance, and more are on the way. At the affordable end, though, the only plug-in available here is Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV, at $50,490 in LS specification or $55,490 for the Exceed, which we're in today.
So what's a plug-in hybrid? Exactly what it says on the box.
It uses a hybrid drivetrain with a petrol engine, an electric motor (or two, in the Outlander) and a battery pack to store electricity.
As you drive along, it automatically deploys the engine, the battery or both to supply power, while also generating enough electricity to keep the battery charged.
The plug-in bit refers to the fact that you can also charge the battery from a 10-amp household power point, or a specialised fast charger, and run on electricity alone for quite a distance: up to about 50km in the Outlander.
So a plug-in gives you the best of both worlds: minimal-emissions motoring (especially if you buy renewable-sourced electricity from the grid, or generate your own via solar) and low running costs of a pure electric car, plus the everyday convenience and long-distance capability of a hybrid.
The Outlander PHEV has a 2.0-litre petrol engine and an electric motor at each end. There's no gearbox or propeller shaft, it's all driven by wire.
In other respects, the PHEV differs little from the petrol and turbo diesel Outlanders. It's been given the same tweaks for 2017, including the obligatory new infotainment with digital radio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility, worksburger driver assist safety tech package (on Exceed only) including radar cruise and blind- spot monitoring, plus improved ride, handling, refinement, efficiency and performance.
As with any hybrid, Outlander is designed to shine in the city. The more feral the traffic, the more efficiently its hybrid gear works because you can use battery power nearly all the time.
Our test car did 50km on the battery alone, using the regenerative braking function (adjustable via steering wheel paddles) to maximise its range. In Normal mode, running as a series hybrid on electricity with the engine kicking in from time to time to keep the battery charged, it used only a couple of litres per 100km.
One of the bigger mid-size SUVs around, the Outlander has a spacious, versatile cabin and huge boot. Ride comfort is fine, while features such as surround and bird'seye view cameras, power tailgate and hill holder are useful.
If you're going to leave town on a regular basis, a turbo-diesel is more efficient over long distances.
It's no sports wagon but the PHEV carries its weight low, so it's reasonably flat and well-mannered on corners and handling is secure. It's comfortable and quiet.
Verdict: The Outlander PHEV is a fascinating, elegant piece of machinery that combines the fossil fuel-free capability of a pure electric car with the everyday practicality and range of a typical mid-size SUV.
Mitsubishi's highspec Outlander PHEV.