There’s something weirdly normal about Mitsubishi’s groundbreaking electric-power Outlander PHEV.
Base price: $66,990.
Powertrain and performance: 2.0-litre petrol four with two permanent magnet synchronous motors, 88kW/189Nm (petrol) plus 60/60kW (front/rear) and 137/195Nm (front/rear), twin-motor four-wheel drive with optional petrol-engine engagement, Combined economy 1.9 litres per 100km.
Vital statistics: 4655mm long, 1680mm high, luggage capacity 888 litres, fuel tank 45 litres, 18-inch alloy wheels with 225/55 tyres.
We like: Genuinely clever technology, ease of use, refinement, equipment, value.
We don’t like: No third-row seating, not so frugal on long trips.
How it rates: 9/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? Electric cars are not futuristic. Electric cars are here right now and there is outwardly nothing remarkable about them.
Well, at least if you’re talking about the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle). To look at and even to drive, it’s pretty much a normal Outlander. Even to buy, for this flagship VRX model only costs $7000 more than the equivalent diesel version.
It just so happens that the PHEV is designed primarily to be an electric car, with two battery-powered motors on board and the capability to go about 50km on a full charge. That’s the plug-in bit.
But it’s also a hybrid because it has a petrol engine which springs into action when the electricity runs out, giving a theoretical range of 800km.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? That’s a loaded question because the PHEV works in a variety of ways. It can operate as a pure electric vehicle (EV), which means you motor along in weird silence and produce zero emissions.
It can also run as a series hybrid, which means that the petrol engine acts as a generator to charge up the batteries.
Or it can be a parallel hybrid, which is the kind we’re most familiar with (think Toyota Prius): the petrol engine drives the wheels, with help from the electric motors when required.
The PHEV is easy to drive because you don’t have to think about any of this stuff. The car chooses the mode of operation for itself. As a general rule it will prioritise EV running, opt for series operation when the battery gets a bit flat (down to 30 percent) and run as parallel hybrid at higher speeds.
You simply drive it like you would any other car. Even when you’re engaging in EV technology, you’re not necessarily aware of it. There are shift paddles on the steering wheel, for example - except that they’re not paddles at all because the PHEV doesn’t have a conventional gearbox. What those levers do is increase or decrease the level of resistance for regenerative braking, to assist battery-charging. But because increasing the drag with one paddle slows the car down, and reducing with the other speeds it up, it just feels like you’re using gearshift paddles. Brilliant.
The PHEV is the flagship of the Outlander range in every possible way: it’s the fastest-accelerating model in the range and has the most high-tech Super-All Wheel Control (S-AWC) chassis Mitsubishi can muster.
Not that the Outlander is especially sporty, but this model handles and rides better than any other model in the range.
The average economy figure of 1.9 litres per 100km is a bit misleading; it simply represents what the PHEV achieves on a standard-cycle test, taking into account a full battery.
You can of course drive the PHEV without using a drop of fuel, providing you go no further than 50km between six-hour charges.
The beauty of the PHEV is that you can also drive long distances, just as you would in a conventional car. But on long trips the economy does unravel: we did 600km in one brisk stint and could manage no better than 8.0l/100km, which would be soundly beaten by the diesel version.
That should not surprise: once the battery has run out, what you have in open-road running is an Outlander with a very small petrol engine and 200kg extra weight to lug around. It has to work hard.
That is somewhat missing the point, of course. The PHEV is designed to be an urban EV, with occasional long-distance capability. An EV completely free of range anxiety.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? The PHEV is a family-sized SUV like any other Outlander, so yes: it’s very easy to live with. You do miss out on the third-row seating of conventional models because the underfloor space is required for the batteries.
If you own a PHEV you will need a parking space close to a power outlet, because the cord provided with the car is rather short and you are prohibited from using an extension. That’s one area where Outlander PHEV could learn from the Holden Volt, which comes with a massive length of cord. Sometimes, it’s the little things that count.
The PHEV is also the quietest Outlander by far, even when it’s running in parallel hybrid mode. That’s because it carries more sound-deadening material than other versions – for the simple reason that research has shown that customers expect EVs to be unusually quiet. It’s all part of the experience.
The rest of the car is standard Outlander VRX: lots of equipment, including leather upholstery and adaptive cruise control, but prosaic cabin styling and terrible, shapeless seats. Like we said: not outwardly futuristic.
SHOULD I BUY ONE? If you have any interest in being a (relatively) early adopter of electric vehicles, this one is a no-brainer. It’s an SUV, which is New Zealand’s most popular type of car, and there is very little compromise compared with a conventional Outlander. The price premium is also entirely acceptable when you consider the level of technology in the car.
Why wouldn’t you? Perhaps because you’re doing a lot of open-road driving, in which case the PHEV doesn’t look quite so efficient.
But for anybody else attracted to the idea of plugging into our automotive future, the Outlander PHEV is a stroke of genius. Little wonder this new model is already responsible for doubling the number of electric vehicles on New Zealand roads.
- Air conditioning: Dual climate
- Audio: CD, iPod compatible
- Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
- Blind spot warning: No
- Bluetooth: Yes
- Cruise control: Adaptive
- Driver footrest: Yes
- Head-up display: No
- Heated/ventilated seats: Yes/No
- Keyless entry/start: Yes/Yes
- Lane guidance: No
- Leather upholstery: Yes
- Parking radar: Yes with camera
- Power boot or tailgate: Yes
- Power seat adjustment/memory: Yes, height only/No
- Remote audio controls: Yes
- Satellite navigation: Yes
- Seat height adjustment: Yes
- Self-parking technology: No
- Split/folding rear seats: 60/40
- Steering reach adjustment: Yes
- Stop-start: Yes
- Trip computer: Yes
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