► Petrol-electric plug-in hybrid SUV
► Averages 148mpg – on paper…
► Tall car, low CO2 emissions, and low tax
Mitsubishi success stories have been a bit thin on the ground since the WRC glory days and Evo/Impreza wars heyday. But the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is actually doing rather well for itself, in the world of fleet sales at least.
That’s because PHEV, of course, stands for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle, and the Outlander’s partial electrification means it’s allowed to declare improbably low CO2 emissions of 44g/km, which in turn mean a lower-than-low company car tax band.
Officially, it’s the best-selling plug-in car in the UK – and by an enormous margin. That alone makes it worthy of investigation. Is the PHEV’s appeal more than just BIK-band deep?
How much does the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV cost?
Were you to buy one outright, prices start at £28,249 for the entry-level GX3 trim, rising to around £40k for the most kit-laden examples at the time of writing (and with the current £5k government grant for plug-in cars factored in). Post-grant, the PHEV is priced to compete directly against the conventional diesel-engined Outlander. So there’s no hefty premium for plugging in here.
But the majority of Outlander buyers are likely to be spending their company’s money, not their own, because it’s in the fleet world that the PHEV makes the most sense. That 44g/km CO2 rating places the car in the lowest possible BIK banding of 5% (for 2015/16 – it’ll rise a little each year), which represents a temptingly huge potential saving over a similarly sized conventionally powered SUV. Plus the handy bonus of ducking under the London congestion charge.
What’s under the bonnet?
That’s the straightforward bit: a 2.0-litre petrol engine, fuelled by a 45-litre tank. An oft-taken route for 4wd hybrids is to use the engine to power the front wheels and an electric motor for the rears, but the Outlander has two electric motors, one to drive each axle. They generate around 80bhp apiece, although the rear one enjoys a little bit more torque because it has to power the rear wheels on its tod.
The batteries are centrally mounted between the two axles, protecting them from crash damage and, usefully, avoiding them pinching any of the 436-litre boot space. Using the motors alone, Mitsubishi claims an electric range of 32 miles, with the usual caveats of driving style dependency, cold-weather drop-off and so on. Even taking a few miles off, there’s a real possibility of driving to work without once waking the engine, assuming you’ve remembered to plug it in overnight.
When the battery starts to run out of juice the engine can act as a generator to charge it in ‘series mode’ or, for longer distances and heavier right foots, roll its sleeves up and drive the front wheels by itself. Combined range from a full charge and a full tank is 510 miles, according to Mitsubishi. And a brazenly optimistic 148mpg average.
Does it feel odd to drive?
Not especially. Power delivery is as quiet and ultra-smooth in EV mode as you’d expect, and when the engine does cut in it manages to do so pretty unobtrusively – a polite cough rather than the blaring fanfare you’d get in a Toyota Prius Plug-in, for example. It’s not the most charismatic of engines, but since it’s a family SUV not a coupe that’s fair enough, and with a total of 200bhp and 249lb ft on tap it manages to avoid feeling slow. Quiet though the drivetrain is, there’s no escape from the cascade of bings and bongs from various overprotective warning systems. Punching the ‘off’ switch for the lane departure warning system quickly becomes as natural as putting your seatbelt on when you climb in.
There’s plenty of body roll from the soft suspension, but body control’s okay – it reclines nonchalantly onto its door handles rather than pratfalls onto them when cornering – and overall the Lancer-related platform handles well for such a tall, heavy car. With a total of 204bhp and 249lb ft combined, it manages to avoid feeling slow though it’s certainly no performance car.
It can manage motorway speeds in electric-only mode if it has to, but you’d be wiser to press the ‘Save’ button, which reverts to petrol-power alone and saves the remaining electric range for when it’d be more useful.
How practical is the Outlander?
Very. While regular diesel models have the option of seating seven, the hybrid is a strict five-seater but there’s plenty of interior acreage for tall passengers to stretch out in. Despite the seats’ oddly flat shape, they’re far comfier than they look.
Despite the extra electric drive componentry packaged beneath it, the boot’s more or less identical in size and shape to that of the regular Outlander, i.e. very big. A good thing.
Did you get 148mpg?
Erm, no. Take around 115mpg or so off that. A big proportion of my miles in the Outlander were spent on dual carriageways, however, where the motors have less of a chance to do their thing. Over time you’d learn to get the best from the PHEV, using the regenerative braking (with five levels, controlled by gearshifter-style paddles behind the wheel) on downhill stretches and working out when to save the battery’s power and when to deploy it – like a card player learning when to stick and when to twist. Still, take that 148mpg with industrial quantities of salt.
If you need a big, practical company car that won’t cost much to tax, it’s not difficult to see the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV’s appeal. Even if you rarely plug it in. It’s comfy and practical enough that you could live with the bleeps and the bongs, the robust but Poundland-cheap feeling cabin and bland styling. If you do lots of motorway miles, you might find yourself having to fill it up more frequently than you might like, though.
And if you’re spending their own cash? Take away the tax break advantages and you’re left with a car that’s roomy, practical and generally agreeable, but ultimately there are nicer SUVs out there – see Land Rover Discovery Sport, Ford Kuga, Honda CR-V et al for details.
Read the review of the regular, non-hybrid Mitsubishi Outlander diesel here.