April was an exceptional month for Mitsubishi and the Outlander PHEV (plug in hybrid electric vehicle). Already the best selling plug-in SUV in the world, this past month it sold more copies than any other PHEV currently for sale in Canada.
That means it beat out the likes of Toyota’s Prius Prime, the new Honda Clarity PHEV
, the Chevrolet Volt
(that pioneered this segment), and the Pacifica PHEV
, which might be its closest competitor based on size and utility.
So why is this new PHEV so popular, and how is it getting more and more people to notice this burgeoning technology?
It’s an SUV—everybody wants a SUV
Look around and count the number of SUVs you see on the road. And if it’s not SUVs it’s pick-up trucks. Regardless, owning a “truck” is very appealing. You sit up high and have a commanding view of the road; you can continue going even when the pavement ends; you can carry lots of things and 4WD/AWD is hard to resist when factoring in our typical winter weather.
Low fuel prices in the last 5 years have also helped with this SUV boom. Look at Ford; they have virtually abandoned the sedan
for a full line-up of SUVs. The Mustang and upcoming Focus Active Crossover (halfway between a car and crossover) will be the only surviving cars left in their stables.
Sadly, it looks like this little vacation is coming to an end. With gas prices in my neighbourhood sitting at $1.40 per litre and forecasts of them reaching record high levels this summer, does this again mean the end of the SUV era?
Fortunately, we now have vehicles like this 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. My press car was the GT spec trim, which means it came with almost everything checked off on the option box list. One of two trims offered, the GT is listed at $49,998 while the base SE is priced $7000 lower, coincidentally the exact amount Ontario will give you when buying this eco-friendly vehicle.
Good one Mitsubishi.
It does help that the base SE comes very well equipped with the same easy-to-fold seats that provide a flat load floor or can turn into a bed should you require sleeping accommodations if you forget the key to the cottage.
The main sell on the GT is the addition of adaptive cruise, lane departure, collision mitigation with pedestrian detection and a booming Rockford Fosgate sound system complete with a 10” subwoofer that sounds the business. With crisp highs and deep thumping lows, it’s almost worth putting down that $7K for the sound system alone.
Look at that option list a bit closer and you’ll find that your 7K goes a long way as you get other niceties like brilliant LED headlamps and a power liftgate both of which are a must in my book.
If those are things you can live without, then for $36K (after government rebate) the base Outlander is still exceptionally good value.
It's alone in its class
Equipped with two 80 hp electric motors, one on each axle, a 12 kWh battery pack under the floor, and a 2-litre, 117 hp gas engine up front, there’s a lot more going on under the skin of this Outlander than in most “normal” vehicles.
Luckily for the driver, all this technology operates seamlessly. The only thing noticeable is how silent this vehicle is when pushing that start button. Pop it into drive and this 2-ton SUV glides off effortlessly on smooth electric torque, only the sound of rolling tires can be heard in the cabin. A fully charged battery pack can yield 35 km of zero-emission, pure electric driving.
By default the Outlander is programmed to operate in full EV mode using only the electric motors as its primary source of motivation. If the batteries are low the engine will fire up playing the role of an electrical generator, supplying extra electrons to the motors for additional power.
At highway speeds or when full power is required, the system will use the gas engine to power the front wheels with the electric motors supplying additional oomph for passing slower vehicles or going up steep inclines.
This is an intelligent system that will still net good gas mileage, even if you never plan to plug it in. But with more and more free—yes, free—charging stations popping up at malls, office complexes and parking lots, finding a place for a spot of electricity has never been easier
. Being able to drive home for free after a round of shopping feels so good, that smug look on your face is fully justified.
If you feel like you want a bit more control of the driveline there are a few different drive modes selectable at the push of a button.
Battery Charge mode uses the gas engine as a generator to charge the battery pack up to 80 percent as you putt around, great if you don’t always have access to a plug point and still want to be able to drive around in electric mode; battery save mode maintains the current charge in the battery packs by utilizing the gasoline engine as the primary motive force; and EV mode, simply enough, is full electric driving until the batteries run out. Good thing there’s that gasoline back-up.
Also aiding the efficiency are steering wheel mounted paddles for the regenerative braking function with five levels of adjustment. At low speeds level 5 slows the vehicle down considerably when lifting off the throttle, helping save the mechanical brakes while feeding the generated electricity back into the batteries.
Around town the whisper-quiet performance of this mid-size SUV drew many stares. I’m not quite sure what it is, but electric vehicles seem to get people talking.
Plugging in a SUV at a public charging station is like holding up a big neon sign emblazoned with the words “free pizza” in fluorescent pink. It attracts people to come and approach, quizzically, asking multiple questions about the range, price and the technology in general.
This (PHEV) technology isn’t new either, pioneered by the Volt back in 2012. It has been refined over the past few years and is better than ever. Since the early Volt days however this technology is becoming mainstream as more and more manufacturers are adopting it.
My observed economy over the course of a week was 6.2L/100 km, quite impressive for a large vehicle and even more so considering that this was achieved with mostly highway driving. Cruising at 120km/h is where a plug-in is at its least efficient, but being able to switch over to electric power on city streets easily made up for this.
It looks good
This is a handsome vehicle with clean simple lines that will likely age well. They’ve played it safe with the design, not getting too futuristic with it, and it works.
Same news on the inside with safe but slightly outdated styling, made up for with good ergonomics and build quality, save for the slightly odd looking gear selector that everybody seems to be reinventing.
The front is the Outlander's boldest aspect with a large blacked out grill and shiny chrome whiskers that work well with the rest of the design. Dipped in Rally Red, this Outlander makes a strong case for itself based purely on looks.
It has DC Quick Charging
Up till now DC Quick chargers have been reserved for full electric cars but the Outlander PHEV is the only plug-in that has a CHAdeMO charging port in addition to the standard J1772 (level 2) port. DC quick chargers are rapid and can charge the Outlander’s batteries up to 80 percent in just 30 minutes.
Coast to Coast on Electric Power in Canada? Almost
It has Electric AWD like the Porsche 918 and Tesla Model S
The Outlander comes with Mitsubishi’s Super All-Wheel Control but it doesn’t use a prop shaft to transfer power as in a conventional system, relying instead on the instant torque delivery of its electric motors positioned on the front and rear axle.
A 4WD Lock button simulates a mechanical locker for those situations when extra traction might be required.
Keeping in mind that this is still more of an on-roader, the Outlander will make easy work out of that cottage trail or steep snowy driveway. The more capability that can be crammed into a vehicle the more likely it is to appeal to a wider audience.
Two other cars that have an AWD system like this are the six figure Tesla Model S and the nearly seven figure Porsche 918 hypercar. If that's not instantly cool, I don't know what is.
Can't all be good, right?
It looks good, gets great mileage, has a drivetrain that would have been alien technology just a decade ago and it comes wrapped in a consumer-friendly body style. Seems like Mitusbishi did its homework on this one, but I think they forgot about the handling in the process.
The lifeless steering is dim-witted and slow to react to driver inputs. It is difficult to steer smoothly and there is far too much body roll making this 4100 lb truck feel even heavier than it is. And while speed might not be the the main ethos of (some) green vehicles, the Outlander, with all three engines, runs out of puff quickly and the claimed 0-100km/h time of 10.5 seconds means you don't play for pink slips.
Dial it back to about 4 and things get a bit better. I can forgive the power issues, but for me the handling faux pas is hard to ignore and mars an otherwise excellent vehicle.
But everyone has different priorities when shopping for a new car and the Outlander PHEV does so many things right it’s easy to see why more people are choosing this plug-in hybrid over all the others.
Review: 2018 Honda Clarity PHEV
Photos © Kunal D'souza
2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GT S-AWC
5-door Mid-size Sports Utility Vehicle
Front engine + twin electric motors (1 per axle), All-Wheel Drive
2.0 L MIVEC inline-4 (Power: 117hp @ 4500 rpm; Torque: 137 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm) Front AC synchronous electric motor (Power: 80 hp; Torque: 101 lb-ft) Rear AC synchronous electric motor (Power: 80 hp; Torque: 144 lb-ft)
Combined output not provided by manufacturer
: Single-speed reduction gear box (1 per axle)
: 860 litres (behind rear seat) 2209 litres (rear seats folded)
Gasoline only (Regular unleaded): 9.4/9.0/9.2 L/100 km (city/highway/combined) Electric: 3.0/3.4/3.2 L/100 km (city/highway/combined)
Outlander PHEV SE S-AWC: $42,998; Outlander PHEV GT S-AWC: $49,998
WEBSITE: Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV