► Lightly refreshed PHEV driven
► New 2.4 engine… sort of
► World's best-selling plug-in hybrid
The Mitsubishi Outlander is very much on trend. It's an SUV, and also a plug-in hybrid – but it actually arrived slightly ahead of its time. Here we're driving the current model, which is almost identical to the previous car aside from the lightest of facelifts and a few technological tweaks aimed at keeping ahead of emissions regulations. Why mess with success? It's an established big seller in Britain, although the rest of the range hasn't been doing so well, prompting plans for Mitsubishi to leave Europe. For now, though, this Outlander is a current model, available through the familiar dealer network. The question is, in a market that's now brimming with hybrid SUVs, does the Outlander still stand out?
How can I spot a new Mitsubishi Outlander?
With difficulty. Mitsubishi’s goals for this version clearly didn’t include major styling changes. In fact, even sat next to a 2018-spec car, it takes a few moments to spot the newer LED headlights and the lightly tweaked front grille and bumpers. The new design for the wheels is the biggest giveaway.
Inside, there’s a tweaked instrument cluster, plus new air vents and a USB port for rear passengers.
The sunroof has been relegated to the options list in an attempt to fend off the extra car tax premium buyers have to pay when pricing creeps above £40,000.
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While we were impressed by the quilted leather upholstery on the seats of our test car, these are limited to the top-spec models costing north of £40k.
Still, the range starts at below £36k for the Verve, and the big-selling Dynamic version still comes in below £40k, and includes heated leather seats and a lot of safety and convenience equipment.
What’s the Mitsubishi Outlander hybrid like to drive?
It’s not that far removed from the previous generation, which we drove back-to-back with this latest verion, but in a couple of important respects improvements have been made. The first is in cabin refinement, because the current car is quieter, rides better and feels more solid than ever.
There’s been extra adhesive applied to the body-in-white (before painting) to strengthen the shell using an approach similar to that used in aircraft manufacture, and this has the effect of enhancing torsional rigidity, so the car flexes less through bumps and bends. The difference is slight, but worthwhile.
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The tyres have changed from Toyo to Yokohama, there’s a quicker steering rack and the suspension has been recalibrated.
Doesn't sound like much of a big deal? But in fact the handling and body control have improved. The quicker steering is the most notable change, making this Outlander easier to thread through narrow roads. Road-noise intrusion levels have turned down a notch too.
What has been sacrificed is the ride quality, which has become a bit busy on UK roads. It’s not uncomfortable by any stretch, but it feels far less settled than before. A fair trade-off for a bit more verve? Almost.
There’s a new Sport mode that offers a bit more punch, but this feels incongruous in light of the epic bodyroll that occurs when you hit a bend too quickly. An additional Snow mode prepares the capable chassis for slippery conditions.
You still get the paddles behind the steering wheel to adjust the brake regen’s effect, making one-pedal driving a possibility, and they’re still arguably backwards: the left one turns up the deceleration, whereas the opposite seems more intuitive.
Isn’t a new engine the biggest news here?
It would be, except it's rather a stretch to call this a new engine. Instead it’s an adaption of the old 2.0-litre petrol, with the latest Mivec (remember that badge from FTOs and Evos of yore?) variable valve timing added. The 2.4-litre engine can switch between Otto and Atkinson cycles, meaning it can make more power and torque when required (133bhp and 156lb ft up from 119bhp and 140lb ft in the 2.0) thanks to the extra CCs using the former cycle, but burn less fuel under lighter loads with the latter.
Which sounds great. And it is, except not literally. Put your foot down and you’re greeted with a monotone moan very similar to that of the old car, in that uniquely disappointing CVT fashion – lots of noise and not much acceleration. Only now, the noise is just a bit more distant than it used to be.
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Funnily enough this isn’t a CVT either. It’s a fixed-gear system that drives power to the wheels, with a hydraulic clutch to modulate the electric twist provided by the twin motors. It’s built by GKN – the firm responsible for the Focus RS’s lively rear axle assembly, among many other applications.
The transmission catches up eventually and meaningful movement occurs, but it’s still no thoroughbred. The 0-62mph time has dropped 0.5 seconds to 10.5.
This engine revision plus work on the battery – which gets 10% more power output and total capacity of 13.8kWh thanks to new cells and better management – has allowed Mitsubishi to recalculate maximum electric range, fuel economy and CO2 emissions for the more realistic WLTP testing, and the results are more impressive for that reason. We’re talking 30 miles on electric power, 141mpg and 46g/km. You’re also able to drive faster on electric power – now 84 rather than 78mph.
The trade-off is it takes an extra 30 minutes to charge the car using a 16A/3.6kW charge point – this now takes four hours.
Mitsubishi Outlander hybrid: verdict
The latest Outlander PHEV doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but then it didn’t need to. It’s more relevant now than ever before as the push for plug-ins intensifies. And looking beyond the powertrain, the Outlander remains a decent if unexciting all-round package.