The choice of fuel for your new car is becoming ever more difficult. Diesel power, for so long beloved and encouraged by the Government, is in danger of becoming the pariah of the pavements, due to the increasing concerns over emissions, whilst ever more frantic press advertising would have you believe that electric or hybrid propulsion is now the only way to go. In the meantime, petrol engines have quietly been improving their green credentials in leaps & bounds. So which to choose?
Well, Autonews has previously sampled most of the options available, and has already concluded that electric cars are indeed promising, but unless and until all manufacturers achieve the levels of range offered by the impressive Tesla Model S, range anxiety is alive & kicking, and unlikely to make full electric cars truly suitable for all but a minority of drivers.
Similarly, hybrid cars have their benefits, but also plenty of drawbacks for many drivers, most notably that real-world economy is at best little better than a decent petrol drive train and potentially even worse. To make matters worse, most have very little range in zero-emissions mode under battery power.
But one vehicle type which we have until recently not had the opportunity to evaluate is a plug-in hybrid, which on the face of it matches the benefits of a reasonable level of zero-emissions mileage together with the ability to continue running when battery power has been depleted at claimed levels of fuel economy comparable to a conventional petrol motor.
So we were pleased to receive a Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid for test recently, to see if the theory was borne out in practice. Mitsubishi’s 148 mpg claim for this beast sounds incredible – could we achieve it in reality?
The Outlanders hybrid system is a little unusual in that the car starts & runs on battery power until the battery is nearly empty, recharging only from brake regeneration. If more power is needed than can be supplied by the battery alone, say for brisk acceleration or climbing a steep hill, the petrol engine kicks in and generates additional charge for the battery. If even more power is needed, the petrol engine then drives the front wheels directly as well as charging the battery. All this happens seamlessly and without intervention of the driver.
First impressions of the Outlander were of a mid-sized and tidily styled 4×4, unassuming without being frumpish. Fit & finish of doors and body panels was impressive, with generally tight panel gaps and doors which closed with a reasonably solid clunk.
As well as the normal fuel filler, hidden under a flap on the left hand rear wing, a similar flap on the right hand side covered not one but two charging ports. The smaller of these is for domestic charging, whilst the bigger, port was for rapid charging, using the CHAdeMo standard. The car comes with two charging cables, one with a domestic 3 pin square plug, the other being for a high-current domestic charger of the type which can be fitted in your garage by, for example, British Gas, for around £100. Both cables live in a compartment under the load space floor, as does a can of puncture sealant, no spare wheel being provided. The top-spec test car came with a powered tailgate, which proved to be a bit of an irritation, being slow in operation, and needing careful operation via either the key fob or external release button on the tailgate.
Inside the cabin, materials were generally of decent quality, with soft plastics in abundance. The front seats are heated and electric-powered, with a full range of adjustment. Seat facings on the test car were leather, although the hide was stiff rather than supple, which no doubt explained why some of the seat panels were a bit puckered.
The seats themselves were comfortable, with the elevated position giving a good view of the road ahead. Although a sunroof was fitted, headroom was excellent even with the seat raised to its highest position. The rear seats would accept three people with ease. One downside of the hybrid version of the Outlander is that no third row of seats is available, as the space they would take up is occupied by the battery pack and the electric motor which drives the rear wheels.
The steering wheel is fully adjustable for rake & reach, making a comfortable driving position easy to achieve.
Instrumentation is clearer than on most hybrid or electric cars, which take a perverse delight in providing a proliferation of displays showing state of charge and the like – to say nothing of the displays of trees and other flora, which grow according to your skills or otherwise in eco-driving, probably one of the most irritating and pointless wastes of computer coding known to mankind. The Outlander is not immune from this tree-growing obsession, but at least the tree in this case is fairly small and only present on one of the alternative screens for the “multi-information display” located in the centre section of the instrument panel display.
A more useful alternative screen shows the power distribution between petrol & electric, in a pleasingly simple way. Otherwise, the only indication that this is a hybrid is that the left hand dial is a power meter rather than a rev-counter. Again, however, this is a model of understatement compared to some other hybrids, so a quick glance is enough to tell whether the car is operating economically, or whether the battery is being charged.
The centre console contains the now almost obligatory display screen, which is of a decent size and is touch-sensitive. The screen controls the usual multimedia systems, including DAB & Bluetooth, as well as navigation, where fitted. Some of the modes were a bit too fussy, with too much information crammed on to the screen, particularly the radio and satnav. The spoken instructions from the satnav were however excellent, crystal clear & superbly well timed.
Various banks of buttons & controls proliferate around the dashboard, some of which could be hard to locate and hence operate. The button to toggle between various modes of the drivers centre display panel for example was obscured by the steering wheel spoke.
An Eco mode switch features prominently in the centre console, which apparently optimises the hybrid system, although its effects were not noticeable, unlike some vehicles where selection of eco mode endows the car with the acceleration of a slug!
Mention must be made of two buttons mounted innocuously in the handbrake area, marked “chrg” and “save”. The “chrg” or charge button does what it says on the tin, and starts the petrol engine which then provides continuous charging for the battery until full. The save button however preserves the charge in the battery, saving it for later use, for example to allow the Outlander to run in full electric mode for a period, perhaps to make a silent early-morning exit from your home…………..or someone else’s!
The other unexpected controls are a pair of paddles behind the steering wheel. Not, in this case, to provide super-snappy gear changes, but to select the amount of brake regeneration required, through 5 stages. The amount of regeneration can also be selected by a quick tug on the gear lever, sequential-shift style, so having two alternative ways of controlling the same system does seem like overkill.
So what is the hybrid Outlander like on the road?
The first surprise, after slotting the selector into drive and releasing the manual handbrake, was that the electronics dial in a slight amount of creep, just like a conventional auto box, but unlike just about every other electric vehicle – a nice touch. Setting off with a fully-charged battery, the battery range gauge indicated 21 miles, rather less than Mitsubishi’s claimed 32 miles on battery-only power, but a figure which proved to be pretty much spot-on during our test. In practical terms, this is enough to cover many peoples commuting journey or local weekend running, so if this sounds like you, and you have the self-discipline to pop the Outlander on charge every night, your fuel costs will be minimal. Obviously, the cost of electricity needs to be added, and this varies from free, if you are lucky enough to live within striking distance of one of the free charging stations (see AutoNews feature “living with a Leaf” for more details) to around £1.50 for a full charge from a domestic socket, which equates to around 6p / mile. With petrol costs at typically 14p per mile or diesel at around 12p per mile, this is still a worthwhile saving,
As with all hybrid or electric cars, the “something for nothing” element comes from being able to recapture, by regeneration, the energy normally lost in braking. The downside to this, in some cars, is that brake regeneration is over-aggressive, cutting in strongly immediately the accelerator is released (see AutoNews “Tesla Model S P85 – the shape of things to come”), making driving such a car quite tiring. Doubtless this is why the Outlander features no less than 5 regeneration settings. In truth, most of these are entirely superfluous, with the regeneration being only really noticeable in the highest two or three settings. Even then, it was not too aggressive, certainly compared with say the Tesla Model S in it’s higher setting, so it was easy to leave the Outlander in the highest setting – B5 – smug in the knowledge that as much green energy as possible was being recovered. Actually, forget that………….whilst good intentions would have kept the control in that setting, the irritating reality was that the setting defaulted back to a low setting every time the power was switched off. Black mark here, Mitsubishi – it would be very easy to tweak the electronics to ensure that the last setting was “remembered” at the next start-up.
Full electric travel was accompanied by the sort of eerie silence we have come to expect from electric vehicles, but the next surprise arrived when the petrol engine eventually kicked in to help out, for this was heralded not by the expected abrupt clatter from under the bonnet, but was in all honesty barely detectable. Mitsubishi have certainly managed to develop highly impressive engine mountings and sound insulation for this motor – it felt like pure luxury compared to the way that a Toyota Auris hybrid for example kicks into life and the CVT transmission promptly sends the engine into what sounds like a frantic full-revs screaming fit.
Once battery power is exhausted and the Outlander starts running mainly on petrol, economy unsurprisingly drops dramatically, down to 35-40mpg for mixed running, which is nevertheless very respectable indeed for a heavy pertrol-engined 1.8 tonne 4×4.
Hybrid elements aside, the Outlander showed itself to be safe & easy to drive, despite its bulk – at 4655mm long it is almost 300 mm longer than say a Nissan Qashqai. It is also 90mm higher, which certainly translates into a lofty driving position, improving visibility around you and compensating for the bulk of the car. You get used to that commanding driving position very quickly, and it is not until you climb back into a normal car that you appreciate it.
Such a high car could be expected to be compromised in the ride department, but the Outlander proved to be reasonably well controlled. Some roll was initially noted, but this was well controlled, and became entirely acceptable very quickly. Conversely, the long travel suspension only managed a middling job of soaking up the bumps of today’s broken road surfaces.
Steering was smooth, and a touch too light. Whilst it was pretty lifeless, this would be perfectly acceptable to the majority of drivers – after all, it is a 4×4 and not a sports car!
Similarly, the brakes were light but pulled up the car reassuringly, albeit accompanied by occasional clunks as the car came to a halt, presumably from the pads moving slightly in the callipers.
Whilst the GX4hs-spec Outlander comes as standard with loads of toys, some of them are of limited appeal. We have already mentioned the lethargic powered tailgate, and also found that the lane departure warning system triggered frequently on country roads, although at least this could be switched off. Also on the undesirables list was the reverse camera, the view from which was affected by rain on the lens, moreover the superimposed guidance lines were fixed and did not adjust interactively to show the path being steered. Reversing sensors to give an audible warning would have been helpful.
In conclusion, the Outlander PHEV makes a pretty good job of providing the low running costs of a full electric vehicle without the dreaded range anxiety. Whilst it may not have the range of a full electric car, the zero-emissions range is far better than most hybrids, which seem to be able to manage only single-figure ranges. Yes, there are a few niggles in the car itself, as opposed to the hybrid drive system, but lets not forget that as Mitsubishi advertising proclaims – this is the worlds first 4×4 plug-in hybrid. It may not achieve Mitsubishi’s outlandish (Outlanderish?) 148mpg claim but fuel economy is nevertheless pretty respectable for such a big vehicle.
Should you buy one? Well, as a company car the Outlander PHEV makes a lot of sense, thanks to the minimal BIK rating. Equally, if your motoring includes spending time in the London Congestion Charge Zone, then freedom from that charge makes owning a hybrid or electric car a bit of a no-brainer. Even if neither of these apply to you, the Outlander PHEV makes sense for any driver who wants to be green, provided that they are prepared to charge the car frequently. For them, and indeed for anyone, the real attraction is the price, for Mitsubishi have cleverly pitched the Outlander PHEV at only around a grand more than the equivalent diesel model.
Plug-in hybrids are certainly the way to go, and Mitsubishi are to be congratulated on producing an excellent and cost-effective offering into this mew and growing market sector.
useful zero-emissions range
extremely quiet, change from electric to petrol drive barely detectable
reasonable fuel consumption for such a heavy car
freedom from Congestion Charge
minimal BIK for company drivers
off-road and towing capability – unique in electric or hybrid cars
smooth brake regeneration even on highest settings
no range anxiety
too many brake regeneration options
preferred settings for regeneration not retained when switched off
some controls obscured so hard to operate when driving
slow & fiddly powered tailgate
no spare wheel
reversing camera affected by rain & dirt, also not interactive
Interested? Find out more on the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV website here