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First Look: Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

My experience of hybrid cars has been limited to Toyota Prius taxis, a petrol-driven car with a battery and motor used in tandem to improve fuel economy. I expected the Outlander PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) to work similarly.

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So I was pleasantly surprised to find the Outlander used just its electric engine in hilly Wellington in a range of 40km (though Mitsubishi claims 52km). The only times the petrol engine kicked in during my week-long trial was when I’d exhausted the range between charges or made long highway journeys. In 500km of driving I used just 13L of petrol.

Half those kilometres were city driving, fuelled by plugging the Outlander in at home each night. Propulsion is from two electric motors, unless your right foot asks too much, which is when its 2.0L petrol engine kicks in. For the steepest hills it remained all-electric.

The electric range was enough to cover my daily commute of 16km and any extra errands I had. The “eco mode” reduces throttle response to make acceleration gentler — saving battery and extending the range. The petrol engine kicks in to charge the battery when it’s exhausted, which meant I never suffered range anxiety. But the noise of the petrol engine was a reminder of dollars being burned and eroded any sense of EV-smugness.

On a 200km highway journey, taking in two climbs over the Rimutakas and 20km of gravel, the Outlander averaged 6.2L/100km — much less than its purely petrol-powered counterpart would manage. I used “save mode” to keep the battery charged while highway cruising, reserving it for hill-climbing and city driving where it would save the most petrol. Descending the hill returned charge to the battery through regenerative braking — using the motor to slow down and convert kinetic energy into electrical energy. Other than lower fuel consumption and managing the battery, the Outlander drove just like a well-appointed petrol car.

One downside of a PHEV is complexity: they have an electric motor plus a petrol engine and gearbox, and a lot of sensors and electronic control to manage which works when. That raises the question of reliability. But my experience was the petrol engine in the Outlander has an easy life, mainly used for low-impact highway cruising and battery charging rather than the around-town start-stop driving, which is what kills engines and gearboxes. So maybe complexity doesn’t necessarily mean poor reliability.

A week with the Outlander PHEV turned around my initial skepticism. Maybe a PHEV is the comfort blanket of the EV world, but I can see why they make a lot of sense.

First Looks are trials of new and interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons.


By Paul Smith
Head of Testing

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