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Road Trip: Seven Beaches in Seven Hours

With the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.

By Matthew Guy

“Let’s go to the beach!” is a familiar refrain during these hot, muggy days of summer. No matter the province in which one lives, there are plenty of beaches or swimming holes to hit up when the mercury rises. Toronto’s city dwellers head to Wasaga Beach or Grand Bend on the shores of Lake Huron. Landlocked Albertans can dip their toes in the water of Sylvan Lake.

But the residents of Prince Edward Island arguably win the competition when it comes to beaches. Encircled by ochre-red sand, the country’s smallest province has no fewer than eleven hundred kilometres of coastline. With dozens of official and unofficial spots to enjoy the surf, PEI and beaches are practically synonyms.

Despite measuring only 280 kilometres tip-to-tip, the island is packed with family destinations. Perfect, then, for a day trip. Perfect, in fact, to hit up seven of those beaches in seven hours. As a bonus, we’d be doing it while using as little fuel as possible.

The 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is one of only a few mid-size crossovers available in the Canadian market with a plug-in hybrid powertrain. Hybrid crossovers without a plug are popping up faster than kudzu on a Kansas cabin. True electrified plug-in capability however, particularly in a spacious machine with all-wheel drive, is a bit thin on the ground.

Japan’s Diamond Star brand has that corner of the market covered with the Outlander you see here. Powered by a 117 hp 2.0-litre gas engine and a pair of 80hp electric motors, it can run on either electricity alone or as a gas/electric hybrid. One cannot simply add those numbers to reveal the car’s total power output since they peak at different times. The car never felt underpowered during our journey but the single-speed transmission was noisier than a traditional unit.

Mitsubishi labels its electric-only mode as ‘EV Drive’, making zero-tailpipe-emission for a trip that’s friendly to the polar bears. The Outlander can travel 35 kilometres on electricity alone and, here’s the kicker, it can do so while providing traction to all four wheels. This is a trick not currently being turned by any other plug-in hybrid in the Canadian market.

There are no polar bears present as we stroll onto the first of seven beaches we will visit today. Chelton Beach Provincial Park is but a few minutes from the spot where Confederation Bridge deposits PEI holidaymakers onto the island. Its supervised beach looks out onto the Northumberland Strait and we can hear little kids having a ball on the nearby playground equipment. As with most of the places we will visit today, it can be enjoyed without opening one’s wallet.

Other than running solely on electrons, the Outlander will automatically engage its gasoline-powered engine when conditions demand it. Working either in Series or Parallel, the Outlander will decide to funnel the power being made by the gas engine in one of two ways. It will either drive a generator, making electricity to support the battery (Series). Or, it will use the gas engine to drive the wheels like in a traditional car, with the electric motors chipping in if more power is needed. These three modes are seamless, requiring no input from the driver unless he or she wants to play with the buttons.

Our test vehicle is the GT model, priced at $49,998. This trim is a $7000 walk from the entry-level SE and brings a sunroof, premium leather on the seats, and a raft of safety nannies including a lane departure warning system. For this price, a Rockford Fosgate audio system on par with Chrysler’s Beats-branded equipment is included as well, controlled through an infotainment system with a steep learning curve.

Buying advice? Stick with the SE. At this trim, one still enjoys all manner of creature comforts at a much lower price without giving up any of the Outlander PHEV’s eco-minded tools or all-wheel drive system. If one must have a sunroof and heated steering wheel, an optional Touring Package is available on the SE.

Heading north, we set our sights on stop number two: Cabot Beach Provincial Park. The 36km drive can nearly be done on electricity alone in the Outlander, given a fully charged battery. Don’t think this is a fifteen-minute drive, however. As with most things in PEI, the driving is relaxed, rarely peeking above 60km/h as we wend our way through gorgeous rural towns and villages.

The aptly-named Kool Breeze Ice Cream Barn popped into view, encouraging us to haul into its parking lot for a cone. Next to the establishment was a food-truck-turned-take-out advertising all manner of deep-fried goodness. Plates of fish and chips (made with local potatoes hauled out of the ground not 24 hours prior, natch) appeared in jig time and were eaten with similar speed.

Cabot Beach is another gem. Paired with camping sites for tents and travel trailers, the beach itself is again free to use, bookended on one side by the mariner’s best friend: a lighthouse. As a minor aside, your Maritime-born author’s first job as a teenager was tending to a lighthouse on the rocky shores of Newfoundland, making me a walking stereotype. I’m okay with that.

Another commonly held stereotype is that the batteries in machines such as the Outlander PHEV take forever-and-a-day to fully charge up. Mitsubishi makes an attempt to quash this complaint by offering this car with the ability to accept juice from those big fast chargers, cutting the time to fill its battery to 80% down to about half an hour. Plug the car in at home into a standard wall outlet and the same trick will take about eight hours, or about the amount of time it’s parked overnight.

Taking our leave of Cabot Beach and its Florida-quality fine sand, we bop over to the well-known town of Cavendish and its beaches. Popular with tourists, there are plenty of events held here over the summer and the town’s boardwalk, lined with shops, draw visitors by the thousands. The vibe is definitely more commercial than the rural area from which we just alighted but who can argue with a chocolatey BeaverTail to top off our midday meal?

Despite being more than halfway through our journey in terms of distance, there are still a few kilometres of range showing on the Outlander’s battery readout. This is thanks to a regenerative system that scavenges energy during braking and dumps it back into the battery. Paddles behind the steering wheel control the level of regeneration employed when one presses the brake, from mild to fairly aggressive. The Outlander PHEV doesn’t allow for ‘one-pedal driving’ as found in the Chevy Bolt but it does a good job of recouping some energy that would normally be lost to the ether. We also still have the better part of a full tank of gas, erasing any thoughts of range anxiety.

The next two beaches we visit – North Rustico and Brackley Beaches – are part of the province’s national park system. Brackley in particular offers miles of pristine beach area to explore. The solitude and gentle waves lapping on the shore are equally mesmerizing and good for the soul. The province’s only drive-in theatre – yes, a real drive-in – is advertising the upcoming Mission Impossible movie and located not very far away.

We cap the day by dipping our toes in the waters of Ross Lane Beach before enjoying a snack on the sandy shores of Stanhope. At the latter, a trio of tour boats taking tourists out for an evening’s fishing can be seen puttering their way out to sea. Tranquil much? It’s a great cap to a wonderful day.

If you’re looking for a spacious crossover-style machine with power going to all four corners, the 2018 Outlander PHEV is one of the few games in town, particularly at this price point. It’s on sale now at Mitsubishi dealers across Canada.

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