Mit­subishi is now the queen of serene. But it wasn’t al­ways

The Observer Magazine - - Wheels - @Mart­inLove166

For boy rac­ers and speed queens who came of age in the 90s, Mit­subishi was syn­ony­mous with one thing: wheel-smok­ing ac­cel­er­a­tion of such abrupt in­ten­sity that it was like strap­ping your in­nards to a fire­work. The model in ques­tion was the Lancer Evo­lu­tion, known to all as the Evo. It was a bland-look­ing sa­loon, but it packed a phe­nom­e­nal turbo-charged en­gine be­neath the shell of its in­nocu­ous bon­net. What I loved about it was its be­lowthe-radar ap­peal. It had a coy “Who me?” in­no­cence, which added to its sub­ver­sion. You had to be in the know to ap­pre­ci­ate its power. There were clues, of course: the huge rear wing, the gap­ing air in­take and the in­fa­mous FQ vari­ant – the “FQ” stand­ing for “Frig­ging Quick.”

Mit­subishi has made a habit of spring­ing the un­ex­pected on us. I’m not sure many would guess that the best­selling plug-in hy­brid ve­hi­cle in Europe and the best-sell­ing plug-in (hy­brid or full-elec­tric) for the past three years in Bri­tain is a Mit­subishi. Not a Nis­san, not a Toy­ota, not a Re­nault, but a rather or­di­nary look­ing SUV called an Out­lander PHEV (which stands for plug-in hy­brid elec­tric ve­hi­cle). It doesn’t look fu­tur­is­tic. It does a very good job at be­ing vir­tu­ally anony­mous. But the PHEV per­forms an as­ton­ish­ing con­jur­ing trick. It can be driven by its nat­u­rally as­pi­rated 2.4-litre petrol en­gine, or by its elec­tric mo­tors pow­ered by bat­ter­ies alone, or by a com­bi­na­tion of the two. Its bat­ter­ies can be charged on the move or the car can be plugged into the mains. It can cruise on elec­tric power alone at up to 84mph – how­ever, the range on pure elec­tric is only 28 miles. That op­tion has been de­signed for users who do short, daily, ur­ban jour­neys. If your of­fice com­mute is around 25 miles, you could in the­ory drive to work, recharge and drive home, with­out burn­ing a sin­gle drop of petrol.

For longer jour­neys, you’ll need to use a com­bi­na­tion. You don’t need to make these judge­ments your­self: the on­board com­puter is more than happy to choose which mode is most ap­pro­pri­ate with­out be­ing asked.

The car is an SUV, which is a su­per use­ful body style: it’s one we Bri­tons can’t get enough of. There isn’t a car­maker to­day who isn’t rush­ing to get an SUV on to its books. The fact that you can now have a roomy fiveseater with a spa­cious boot that is also kin­der to our planet means you will have so much rea­son to feel smug, you might even get sick of your­self.

The new Out­lander looks pretty much the same as the old one – stu­dents of car de­sign will spot the re­vised LED head­lights. But this isn’t a car that has ever traded on its looks: cus­tomers like it as it is. In­side it’s com­fort­able and well laid out. It makes a virtue of prac­ti­cal­ity. To drive, it’s al­most un­set­tlingly smooth. It couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent to the smoke and fire of Mit­subishi’s Evo. If the Evo was a young per­son’s car, the Out­lander is def­i­nitely one for the ma­ture mo­torist – and as I drifted peace­fully along the M4 en route to visit the grand­par­ents for Sun­day lunch, I couldn’t have felt hap­pier driv­ing one. ■

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