Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Outlander - PHEV range
Excellent refinement, enhanced drivetrain seamlessness, great steering wheel, generous spec
Room for improvement
Official fuel-efficiency rating takes backward step, sunroof and black headlining in top Exceed trim reduce headroom and create gloomy atmosphere, flimsy manual seat controls on base ES
Mitsubishi refines petrol-electric Outlander PHEV for more relaxed drive–at a cost
9 Dec 2019
MITSUBISHI has given the petrol-electric plug-in hybrid Outlander PHEV a bigger petrol engine, upgradedone of its two electric motors and squeezed a few more kilowatt-hours out of its lithium-ion battery pack.
The company admits it seems counterintuitivein this age of downsizing to put a bigger combustion engine in its hybrid, but the new mill can switch from the more efficient Atkinson cycle at low revs and loads to the more conventional and punchier Otto cycle when more is demanded of it.
Still, the official combined-cycle fuel consumption rating has increased rather than decreased,but we suspect the reverse may be true in real-world conditions when the bigger engine is working less hard to achieve the same result as its smaller predecessor.
On our brief launch drive in Canberra this wasn’t obvious, but the new drivetrain feels impressively relaxed and seamless, while equipment upgrades help to keep the plug-in Outlander relevant.
First drive impressions
THE Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has been around a while, securing success in markets such as Europe where infrastructure and incentives are more advanced than here in Australia.
About 3.5 per cent of all Outlander sales in Australia are for the PHEV, and Mitsubishi, acknowledging that Tesla does not disclose sales figures, says the model is Australia’s most popular vehicle capable of running on battery alone.
Reflecting model-year 2020 changes to the regular Outlander, the PHEV gets a bigger new multimedia touchscreen system, autonomous emergency braking across the board and a smattering of updates to seat comfort and trim.
The biggest difference is under the Outlander’s unchanged skin, where therear electric motor has been upgraded from 60kW to 70kW, while the 87kW/186Nm 2.0-litre Otto-cycle petrol engine has been replaced with a 94kW/199Nm 2.4-litre unit that can switch from the efficient Atkinson cycle at low revs to traditional Otto above 3000rpm.
Battery capacity is up from 12kWh to 13.8kWh and the engine-driven generator can keep it topped up at the increased rate of 80kW.
Despite all this, the Outlander’s claimed electric-only driving range remains at 54km and the official fuel consumption figure is up from 1.7 litres per 100km to 1.9L/100km.
Not a good look. Perhaps the official testing regime is unkind to the more powerful drivetrain, which benefits from both the efficiency of the Atkinson cycle and the bigger 2.4-litre engine not having to work so hard to produce power.
More positively, real-world performance is boosted, with 0-100km/h now half a second quicker at 10.5 seconds.
Overtaking is completed more confidently, with 40-60km/h three tenths quicker at 2.5s and 80-100km/h now 3.7s, down from 4.3s.
On our brief drive around Canberra, including to the 843m summit of nearby Mount Ainslie, the drivetrain impressed with its refinement and mostly seamless transition from electric to petrol-assist and back again.
Compared with the coarse combustion engines offered in the regular Outlander line-up, the PHEV is a revelation.
Readily available electric torque makes even slow, steep ascents a breeze and round-town progress relaxing.While asking for more elicitssome high engine revs, the sound and vibration from these machinations are well suppressed.
At cruise, only consulting the instrument panel revealed the petrol engine had come into play as our Outlander’s battery range required rejuvenation.
As the performance figures mentioned above suggest, the Outlander PHEV lacks the point-and-shoot zip of a Hyundai Kona Electric or even a Nissan Leaf, so performance is adequate rather than inspiring.
Coming back down Mount Ainslie, adjusting the Outlander’s regenerative braking intensity using the paddle-shifters enabled us to maintain a consistent speed in the same intuitive way as changing gears to cause engine braking.
During this exercise, we also managed to add a healthy 8km of range to our battery, which is the real party trick of electrification.
Try doing that in a combustion-only car.
We sensed that Mitsubishi has added extra insulation to PHEV versions of the Outlander to iron out the commotion of motion during electric-only driving that would be otherwise be muffled by the sounds coming from a combustion engine.
This, and an extra level of maturity to ride comfort we suspect comes from the extra weight, helps justify the PHEV’s price premium over a petrol or diesel Outlander.
The rest is either feel-good factor or carefully calculated total cost of ownership benefits based on how you use the thing.
Steering is light and predictable, body control is pretty good – again that extra weight comes into play – and the precise control afforded by electric all-wheel-drive provides tangible extra surefootedness when pushed on bitumen or venturing off it.
Again, the PHEV exhibits several layers of extra dynamic sophistication over a regular Outlander that helps justify the extra cost, our only minor criticism being a slightly fidgety low-speed ride on some degraded urban streets.
As the test vehicle had passed through representatives of many publications on the launch, on-test fuel efficiency figures were difficult to judge, but both variants we drove were showing fuel consumption in the region of 5.5 litres per 100km.
Also, both PHEVs we drove left the departure point with 10km or less remaining on the battery.
We had few complaints about Mitsubishi’s previous multimedia unit but the upgradesare welcome.
The deeper, squarer format of the Outlander’s latest touchscreen has big, if plain, main menu icons that lead to text-heavy menus.
At least the submenu fonts are big enough to read on the move.
Integration of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration is pretty seamless, with the ‘phone’ shortcut key going straight to the corresponding smartphone screen.
On the up-spec Exceed ($55,990), native TomTom sat-nav is another worthwhileaddition, its advantages being the ability to keep navigating when outside mobile reception is absent, as well as the addition of current speed limit information and turn-by-turn directions in the instrument cluster.
But we didn’t find it as user-friendly as the various CarPlay-compatible phone apps.
The larger touchscreen has also resulted in a decent redesign of the dashboards central stack, with clear and tactile controls for the dual-zone climate control system.
We do, however, question whether relocating the seatbelt reminders overhead is ergonomically better.
We didn’t spend long enough in the redesigned seats to discover how much comfort had been improved, but the addition of lumbar support adjustment is a good decision.
However, the ES has flimsy, difficult-to-use adjustment levers that had us pining for the Exceed’s electric controls.
That said, neither variant tested had enough thigh support for taller front occupants andwe didn’t like the Exceed’s lack of headroom owing to its sunroof – which also deletes the useful sunglasses holder of the ES.
The black headlining compounded this with a gloomy, almost claustrophobic feel, especially in the back.
More USB sockets for rear passengers are good news, and we applaud the presence of rear air-con vents too, but we wish Mitsubishi would redesign the buttock-busting central seatbelt bucklethat makes three-abreast travel a literal pain in the arse.
Back up front, we delighted in the quality feel of the leather-wrapped steering wheel – an important touch pointthat many competitors get wrong – but lamented the lack of digital speed display.
In the Outlander’s defence, the analogue dials are clear and the adaptive cruise control that comes with the $1000 ADAS pack for ES variants and standard on the Exceed at least allows the driver to set speed precisely and does a good job of maintaining the selected velocity.
Overall, we can see why most people go for the ES with ADAS ($47,990) as it remains the best-value Outlander PHEV option, especially as it has copped the smallest ($500) price rise of the 2020 model year.
It remains a vehicle without real rival and shows some serious forward-thinking by Mitsubishi many years ago when it saw the coming SUV boom an installed its plug-in hybrid technology to a sure-fire volume-seller.
The latest update contains some meaningful upgrades that will help maintain and even increase the Outlander PHEV’s relevance.
We look forward to spending more time behind the wheel to establish whether the upgraded drivetrain has real-world benefits beyond a little added performance.
The Road to Recovery podcast series
All car reviews
Click to share