Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV plugging the gap between now and the future

Mitsubishi’s updated plug-in SUV continues to impress with improved engine and price cut

Make: Mitsubishi

Model: Outlander

Year: 2018

Fuel: Hybrid

Date Reviewed: December 23, 2018

Sun, Dec 23, 2018, 16:18

   

You’ll have noticed, if you care to notice such things, that many plug-in hybrid models have recently disappeared from sale. If you’re a putative Poirot, or an up-and-coming Columbo, you’ll have also noticed that, recently, the new WLTP and NEDC2 fuel economy and emissions tests were introduced, and that the one and the other are inextricably connected.

More than a few car-makers have had trouble getting their plug-ins through the new test with their emissions and tax advantages intact, and so have actually retreated from the market altogether.

Not Mitsubishi, though. Mitsubishi has doubled-down.

Mitsubishi can be a funny company, depending on how you look at it. Once famed for its Lancer rally cars, and its domination of the world rally championship with the great Tommi Makinen (now managing Toyota’s rally team), it also made such forgettable dreck as the Carisma (most inappropriately named car ever) and the last-generation Colt.

And then the whole company almost went bust, driven to near-financial ruin by a scandal over misreported fuel economy figures, which caused such a degradation in Mitsubishi’s share price that the Renault-Nissan Alliance was able to step in and snap the entire company up for a song. Given recent Renault-Nissan headlines, one wonders if the whole under-reporting thing was a case of minds thinking alike . . .

Still, for all of Mitsubishi’s oddness, and its recent travails, it has done well when it comes to plug-in hybrids. The original Outlander PHEV was effectively the first of its kind on the market, and did well, especially in the UK where favourable tax breaks saw it leap up the company car lists. It was clever, well-priced, and easy to use and as long as you didn’t ask it to undertake long motorway journeys, it was perfectly pleasant.

For 2019, Mitsubishi has given the Outlander a major mechanical going-over, one that’s not immediately obvious from the outside, as the styling has barely changed at all. It has had a very noticeable price cut, though. Include the SEAI electric car grant, and the VRT reduction for buying a plug-in, and prices now start at €39,900 for a basic Intense model. That’s only a little more expensive than a Toyota Prius Plug-in, which is smaller inside and in the boot.

When we did charge it up, it got close to that 45km range around town, but with a lower range, more like 25-30km, if you were taking it out on bigger roads
When we did charge it up, it got close to that 45km range around town, but with a lower range, more like 25-30km, if you were taking it out on bigger roads

There’s an all-new engine, though. The old 2.0-litre petrol engine has been chucked out, and replaced by a new 2.4-litre petrol unit, running on the efficiency-friendly “Atkinson” combustion cycle (there’s a deep and meaningless technical explanation of that, but basically it changes the way the engine ‘breathes’ its intake of air).

It’s a little more powerful and a little torquier than the old engine, and there’s a new electric powertrain to go with it. The battery stack now has 10 per cent more charge capacity, at 13.9kWh. There are two electric motors, one for each axle, and the rear motor gets a power boost to 95hp (the front motor continues to provide 82hp).

The upshot of all of this is greater efficiency, or so claims Mitsubishi. Even with the tougher fuel and emissions tests, the Outlander PHEV still undercuts the 50g/km Co2 figure (46g/km to be precise) and will go for a claimed 45km on a full charge of the battery, without ever using the petrol engine.

The main part of the dashboard still looks like something from the early 2000s - big, blocky, lacking in style - but the new, optional, quilted leather seats look great and proved exceptionally comfortable. Overall quality levels are very, very good too
The main part of the dashboard still looks like something from the early 2000s - big, blocky, lacking in style - but the new, optional, quilted leather seats look great and proved exceptionally comfortable. Overall quality levels are very, very good too

That of course is the whole point – to get the best from the Outlander PHEV, you need to plug it in like an old-school iPhone. Keep the battery topped up as much as you can, and keep your mileage to short urban and intra-urban hops, and you might just manage to match that magical claimed 2.0-litres per 100km (139mpg) fuel economy figure.

If you’re not driving it mostly in town, or if you’re not able to (or don’t care enough to) keep it plugged in, well then . . .

The old Outlander PHEV was positively disgraceful in this regard, and I can remember a long motorway run from Belfast to Waterford and back where it struggled to do better than 30mpg. With a small 45-litre fuel tank, that’s no joke. Thankfully, the updated Outlander does rather better than that, albeit only by a small margin. Long motorway hauls will still have it heading down towards 30mpg, but thankfully not below that mark this time. In fact, generally speaking, when using it with a flat battery in mixed conditions, the Outlander would hover closer to 40mpg. Not as advertised, but not terrible in the scheme of things, considering we were not (at that point) using it as it was designed to be.

When we did charge it up, it got close to that 45km range around town, but with a lower range, more like 25-30km, if you were taking it out on bigger roads. In that sense, the Outlander PHEv is not as impressive a plug-in as the likes of the Toyota Prius nor the Kia Niro PHEVs, both of which can provide much, much better economy in mixed conditions.

Then again, they’re not big, practical SUVs, and then again they’re arguably not as nice to drive around in as the Outlander. Note that I say drive around in, as opposed to drive, as with its massively over-light steering and distant, detached chassis, you’d never describe the Outlander as fun. It is pleasant though – the powertrain is exceptionally refined, even when you’re working the petrol engine hard, and the updated interior is rather pleasant. The main part of the dashboard still looks like something from the early 2000s – big, blocky, lacking in style – but the new, optional, quilted leather seats look great and proved exceptionally comfortable. Overall quality levels are very, very good too.

As in-town transport, the Outlander PHEV is really rather nice. It’s quiet and smooth, comfortable and light on its toes. Select Sport mode and the twin electric motors really do kick very hard, and make the Outlander feel almost aggressively quick, at least at city speeds.

The downside? As with many cars that come with plugs, there are still compromises to be made, by you, to get the best from it. Your lifestyle and your daily driving regime have to suit, and have to gel with, the Outlander’s talents. Take it out of its comfort zone, and it’s much less impressive. Just as well it’s a likeable car, then (and that it’s had that significant price cut) as we find ourselves tending to forgive it that.

The lowdown: Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV InStyle

Price: €43,900 as tested (Outlander PHEV starts at €39,900, inclusive of SEAI grant and VRT reduction)

Power: 135hp (engine) 177hp (electric motors)

Torque: 211Nm (engine) + 332Nm (electric motors)

0-100km/h: 10.5 seconds

Claimed economy: 139.7mpg (2.0 litres/100km)

CO2 emissions: 46g/km

Motor tax: €170

Verdict: You still need to work hard yourself to make the Outlander work properly, but the updates keep it in the game.

Our rating: 3/5