22.10.2015Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV review
As the best selling plug-in vehicle in the UK, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is an important model for British car buyers. Mitsubishi has just brought out a new version and Next Green Car attended the launch to get a taste of what it's like.
Review by Chris Lilly
Under the bonnet sits Mitsubishi's 2.0 litre four cylinder petrol engine which is tried and tested, though with refinements made in terms of efficiency. This unit is combined with two 60kw electric motors - one for each axle - to produce 200bhp and 244 lb ft of torque. What the figures don't tell you though is how well the two systems - internal combustion engine and electric drivetrain - work together. The up-shot is very well indeed. Just like the last generation, the switch between electric and engine power is almost seamless and, because of a motor on each axle, the Outlander PHEV runs in electric four-wheel drive most of the time.
This helps grip and acceleration off the line, with Mitsubishi claiming that it is two seconds quicker from 0-25mph. Although I didn't put a stop-watch on it, the Outlander PHEV certainly makes the most of the instant torque available from the electric motors and picks up quickly for a car that weighs more than 1,800kg. This focus on practical acceleration is of most use in the town but the Mitsubishi ran perfectly comfortably on the open road too and would be a great car to take on a long motorway journey. The 0-62mph time takes 11.0 seconds before heading on to a top speed of 106mph.
The Outlander PHEV's ride and handling has come under quite a bit of scrutiny from Mitsubishi's engineers. Tweaks to the car's suspension are intended to give the Mitsubishi a more composed and upmarket feeling while driving. The new model performs well, soaking up lumps and bumps without fuss, while retaining a stiff enough set of springs and dampers to resist body roll through the corners.
The Outlander PHEV will never be a B-road blaster but drivers won't feel in danger of getting sea-sickness as they drive along, and the Mitsubishi feels composed, less wallowy and more engaging to drive. The grown-up nature suits the Outlander PHEV and, although the changes have been subtle, Mitsubishi has improved on the old set-up rather than ruined it. It is all helped by a lower centre of gravity that makes the car feel nicely planted, and a sophisticated four-wheel drive traction control system developed when Mitsubishi ruled the world rallying scene.
As you can see, the new Outlander PHEV is very much an evolution rather than a revolution from the previous model. In practical terms, it sits halfway between a facelift and a completely new version - more comprehensive than a refresh but with definite familiar elements. The styling is the perfect embodiment of this ethos, managing to look both new and familiar at the same time. The five door, large family SUV features Mitsubishi's new corporate face - or the Dynamic Shield in marketing speak.
It's a stylish design, with a gloss black section to the grille and LED running lights, that certainly stands out and again gives an impression that the Outlander PHEV is growing up and moving up a class. Further back, there are new wheels, a range of paint options, new light clusters at the rear, and elements like the bumpers have also been reshaped for improved aerodynamics.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
The interior is the most noticeable area of change for the new Outlander PHEV, marking a dramatic improvement over the old version. The design and quality of trim is much better than before and equipment levels have been enhanced too, while a large amount of attention has been paid to NVH - noise, vibration and harshness. These are the aspects that affect what a car feels like to drive and Mitsubishi has made the interior a much quieter and smoother place in which to sit. This is down to a number of features including additional sound proofing, a quieter engine and exhaust, and improved aerodynamics to tackle wind noise.
Although this has effectively shifted the Outlander PHEV up a class, it won't put it among the likes of the forthcoming executive plug-in hybrids like the BMW X5, Volvo XC90 and Audi Q7. But then it will cost around half as much so it isn't reasonable to expect it to challenge them. As with its predecessor, the new Outlander PHEV can seat five adults comfortably and swallow a great deal of luggage too. The ability to throw bags, pushchairs and the like into the boot made it easy to see why the Mitsubishi PHEV is a hit with families, and there's no reason why the new one won't be either. Because of the addition of the electric powertrain, you can't get an Outlander PHEV with seven seats but these extra couple of pews are still available in the diesel version.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
It must be a tough task for an engineer to be given the Outlander PHEV and told to make it more efficient, but that's what has happened. The officially quoted fuel economy figure is now 156 MPG, up from 148 MPG. It can return these high figures by switching between driving modes, and can run purely on electric power or with support from the petrol engine. The engine can also be used as an on-board generator to top up the batteries while the motors are doing the work. On the launch we managed a fuel economy figure of 941 MPG at one point. It must be said though that this was on a 20 mile section where the electric motor was used almost the entire time, with the petrol engine kicking in only a few times when the Mitsubishi needed a boost. It goes to show though that, if you are only completing short journeys, the battery's charge will dramatically cut down on fuel usage.
Electric-only range is quoted at being 32.5 miles at a cruising speed. Around town we got through almost a full charge in around 20 miles though, including using regenerative braking to top up the battery where possible. The Outlander PHEV comfortably qualifies for the UK Government's Plug-in Car Grant, is exempt from London's Congestion Charge and costs nothing in terms of road tax. A full battery charge will take 5 hours on a 13amp supply, 3.5 hours on 16amps and 30 minutes for an 80 per cent rapid charge.
With changes to the petrol engine, the Outlander PHEV's CO2 emissions are now 42 g/km - down from 44 g/km. This is helped significantly by the ability to run in electric-only mode which not only makes driving in traffic easier but also takes the strain off the petrol engine. As with all plug-in vehicles, you can help supplement the car's charge with energy recuperation under braking. But unlike some plug-in vehicles, the Outlander PHEV has a set-up where you can control the strength of that engine braking. You control this with paddles behind the steering wheel and can knock the system up or down between six different strength settings. The reason behind this is that you can balance the amount of braking carried out with the amount of momentum you want to maintain.
Down a long but shallow slope for example, it is better to keep rolling with a small level of recuperation, while down a steep hill, you can set the system to maximum regeneration. This helps the car achieve a combined range of 541 miles at cruising speeds, with the big benefit of a plug-in hybrid over a pure EV being that you can quickly top-up the tank and go another 500 miles, even if there's no charging point around. Plan your journeys sensibly though and you can stretch that further with the addition of quick charging top-ups, with the Outlander PHEV able to be rapid charged using a CHAdeMO connector.
Adding to the increased interior quality is an improved level of kit. Alloy wheels, cruise control, climate control, leather trim, Bluetooth connectivity and auto-dimming rear view mirror all come as standard on the base GX3h trim. Move up to the GX3h+ and it adds a pre-heater, which works with an app to control the cabin temperature, and heated front seats. The GX4h includes a touchscreen satellite navigation system, leather seats, DAB radio, powered tailgate, electric sunroof, all-round camera view and heated steering wheel.
The top of the range GX4hs features adaptive cruise control, emergency brake assist, lane departure warning and parking sensors. As before, the Outlander PHEV costs the same as a comparative diesel model, a scheme that helped the first generation become a runaway plug-in sales success. The overall cost increase over the outgoing model is Â£1,000 for each trim grade, with that more than off-set with the extra equipment and improved cabin quality.
What Mitsubishi has done is take a very successful and popular product and improved lots of little bits of it. All the things that you had to excuse on the previous version - arguing that the PHEV part of the car made up for them - have been worked on, making the Outlander PHEV a genuinely good all-round car in its own right, rather than simply a clever and frugal one. It remains in a class of its own but Mitsubishi has pre-empted the potential for manufacturers catching up by improving its offering first.
If you need a practical family car and have around Â£30,000 to spend, the Outlander PHEV should be right towards the list of possible contenders. Many will find that it comes out on top too. Expect to see many more Outlander PHEV's on the road soon, with no end in sight for Mitsubishi's table-topping performance in the plug-in sales charts.
Model tested: Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GX4hs
Body-style: Large SUV
Engine/CO2: 2.0 litre petrol with 2x60kWh electric motors / 42 g/km CO2
Trim grades: GX3h, GX3h+, GX4h, GX4hs
On-road price: From £29,249. Price as tested £35,999 (after Plug-in Car Grant)
Warranty: five years/62,500 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.5 stars