Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: November 23, 2018
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV might sound new to us in Canada but it’s been selling like hotcakes in Europe. How hot is it exactly? Mitsubishi says the Outlander PHEV is the best selling plug-in electric SUV in the world, trumping the lauded Tesla Model X and BMW X5 xDrive40e. So how could you blame them for wanting a slice of the North American market?
With that in mind, the Outlander PHEV doesn’t deliver anything revolutionary in terms of electric capability and range, nor is its sheetmetal design anything chic or up to modern standards, but it does offer some neat features that might sway potential buyers in its direction.
Let’s start with what makes the Outlander tick. Providing a full-time AWD system, there is a 2.0-litre engine and electric motor powering the front axle, as well as an electric motor driving the rear. A 12kWh lithium-ion battery pack supplies the electricity for both, as well as a front-mounted generator that the engine uses to charge up the battery, and two single-speed transmissions drive the wheels on both axles. While Mitsubishi only lists individual component power outputs and not a net output, our butt dyno pegs it around the low-mid 200s for both.
What most of you want to know is how far the Outlander can go on a single charge. The official range is 35 km of electric-only driving, and along with the gas engine, Mitsubishi quotes an overall 499 km range but it’s a little more complicated than that. Our real world testing through strictly city driving in 0°C weather with the heated seats and cabin temperature set to 22°C net us only 25 km of electric-only driving, and that’s with the energy harnessed from regenerative braking taken into account.
To make the most out of that range, the Outlander offers three selectable driving modes: EV mode uses electricity alone; Series Hybrid Mode uses engine-produced electricity to charge the battery which powers the motors; Parallel Hybrid Mode uses both the engine and battery to power the wheels, most commonly at highway speeds.
What made it tricky to test is that the Outlander will automatically determine which driving mode to use depending on the current driving situations. Despite pushing the “EV button”, the Outlander will fire up the gas engine when it needs extra juice to heat up the cabin. The same goes when you want to save electricity for later and use the gas engine only - sometimes the Outlander will actually use the battery to drive the wheels. While it was an efficient system, it made testing electric-only range a little complex when the temperature wasn’t ideal, but 25 km was still the real-world average we achieved for EV-only range.
When running low on juice, the Outlander offers multiple ways of charging its battery. Via a standard household 120V outlet, it takes less than eight hours for a full charge. A Level 2 charger takes less than 4 hours. And what makes the Outlander unique like the Nissan LEAF is its CHAdeMO socket for DC charging at commercial charging facilities, and takes less than an hour for a full charge.
All this electric driving jargon may sound complicated but what you really need to know is that You can also monitor the modes via the driver gauges that will tell you what is charging what and driving the wheels.
What is the Outlander like to drive? In full EV mode it’s incredibly smooth, where even my passengers noted its silky power delivery, supple ride, and ability to glide over road imperfections. The suspension has been adopted tuned for comfort and as a result, it does lean a fair bit in corners but not enough to disturb the overall ride. Furthermore, the Outlander weaves its way between electric and combustion driving modes seamlessly and without passenger intrusion, though we did note the rather loud ruckus when the 2.0L kicks in, but it’s all but muted out when the audio system is at medium volume.
The Outlander isn’t slow but it isn’t terribly quick either. There’s more than enough power for overtaking maneuvers at highway speeds, and the instant torque kick from the electric motors makes it a breeze, but don’t expect mind boggling acceleration. On another note, the regenerative brake pedal is one of the most natural feeling pedals I’ve ever felt in an EV. Usually they’re like pushing a bouncy springboard entirely devoid of feel and linearity, making them difficult to modulate smoothly, but the Outlander’s is linear and easy to use without turning your passengers into whiplashed bobbleheads. The reason why could be that the regenerative braking isn’t very strong and that one-pedal driving is off the books. Despite the Outlander’s six available regen strengths that can be controlled via the column-mounted paddle shifters, even the strongest setting won’t pull it to a complete stop, fizzling down to more of a slow roll.
Compared to its rivals, the Outlander’s interior could use some work but this design has aged rather well despite being a few years old. It is a functional, clean, and uncluttered layout, though it may turn-off some consumers expecting the latest and greatest in cabin design and technology. Our top-end GT model came equipped with leather surfaces that take up a portion of the interior but plastic still dominates.
Perched within the center dashboard is a bright 7-inch LCD display. Though it doesn’t have the crispiest graphics or the prettiest display and it carries that aftermarket feel, it works exceptionally well without lag or a significant learning curve. One handy feature that coincides with the system’s ability to record the radio is that when changing stations, it will always revert to the beginning of the song so you don’t miss a beat.
Even with its electric makeover, the Outlander PHEV offers competitive cargo space, and isn’t hampered by the placement of batteries underneath the rear floor bed. Headroom and legroom for any one of the five available seats is spacious for my six-foot figure, and the seats are well bolstered and comfortable. Conveniently, there are two 120V AC outlets located in the rear seat and cargo area - no adapter required - that can be handy for outdoor events, camping, or even for hooking up a speaker system.
Unique to the PHEV is a grey plastic gear shifter perched on the center console. Unfortunately, it wobbles about when under grip and has that flimsy cheap feel to it when rocking it between gears. On the bright side, it’s easy to use and utilizes the left-up and left-down configuration, so you don’t have to look to choose which gear you’re using, reducing any driver confusion. The park button isn’t very ergonomically placed or easy to reach though, as it hides in the shadow of the acutely angled shifter. You have to sneak your finger behind the shifter to reach it like a game of Operation.
Another minor gripe was how the Outlander always reverted back to its default driving settings whenever the car was shut off. That meant systems like lane departure warning would always turn back on despite manually being shut off before. There’s also no GPS navigation available even on our fully loaded model, though one way to circumvent this odd omission is to hook up your smartphone via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and utilize its map app instead.
When all is said and done, there are not many plug-in hybrid SUVs out there listing below $50,000, and the Outlander’s $42,998 starting price tag (up to $49,998 for the top end GT) is mighty attractive compared to other electric goliaths like the Tesla Model X ($108,200), Volvo XC90 T8 ($74,950), and Mercedes GLC 350e ($60,200), all of which cost significantly more, and the latter two actually have less electric-only range. Making its price even more attractive is that its battery is covered under Mitsubishi’s standard 10-year, 160,000 km powertrain warranty. While Ontario government incentives are off the table (which used to be nearly $10,000), Quebec gets $4,000, while B.C. and Maritimes gets $2,500. Though as of writing, Mitsubishi is offering some in-house incentives to Ontarians to offset the difference.
The Outlander PHEV may not be the most attractive or modern plug-in SUV on the market, but it shines bright due to a lack of competition. The trick EV system works seamlessly, the regenerative brake pedal is smooth, and storage space isn’t greatly affected by the battery and motors. Though the range could use some work, 35 km (depending on the weather) is perfectly usable for city commuters looking to save some money at the pump, fitting the bill nicely as a fuel-saving five-seater SUV with a proven track record overseas.
Model: 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GT S-AWC
Paint Type: Labrador Black ($200)
Base Price: $49,998
Price as Tested: $50,198
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,695 / 1,800 / 1,710
Curb weight (kg): 1,895
Powertrain: 2.0-litre inline-four + two electric motors + 12kWh lithium ion battery
Horsepower: 117 hp (engine) + 80 hp (front e- motor) + 80 hp (rear e- motor)
Torque: 137 lb-ft (engine) + 101 lb-ft (front e-motor) + 144 lb-ft (rear e- motor)
Transmission: Single-speed transmission
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD with electric motors
Observed Electric-only Range (city driving): 25 km