Outlander PHEV II: Better plug, more play

The mid-life update of the plug-in hybrid Outlander adds more shine to an already usefully versatile family EV.


For: Improved electric operation, even quieter now, nice ride quality.

Against: Would do so much better if a seven-seater, awful leather.

ONE off-putting challenge associated with science project cars is that sometimes it seems you have to be something of a whitecoat yourself in order to grasp how to effect the very best from their operation.

That was true of the Outlander PHEV in its initial form. The fundamentals and rewards of the plug-in hybrid edition of Mitsubishi’s top-selling medium crossover wagon were clear enough and easily reaped.

Yet there were nonetheless ways and means of lifting the efficiency all the more that, I suspect, were beyond achieving unless you were enough of an Einstein to achieve full coherence of what those various sub-menus and assorted control sets did.

I have to admit that, whenever I drove one, a lot of those buttons were never pushed because I was never 100 percent sure if the outcome would be, ahem, positive or negative.

The PHEV’s mid-life update is a salvation. A facelift edition that delivers new styling, an improved EV-only range, an extension of the battery warranty from five to eight years plus configuration for fast recharging off high-energy direct current stations also makes for a simplified, more straightforward EV operation.

Basically, we’re now down to just a couple of buttons, one on either side of the gear selector, whose logic is so obvious even I have no trouble with them.

The ‘EV’ button is simply that. Hit it and this engages the car in its full electric mode and will remain in that state, with no chance of the car regressing (as the old one could) to it a hybrid mode, until the battery is depleted. In theory that’s 54kms’ range.

The other button is marked ‘CHRG’. For ‘charge’. It allows the petrol engine to recharge the battery while you’re driving along. Again, something the only one could do, but not as logically. There’s also a ‘SAVE’ function that conserves battery charge.

So that’s about as good as it gets for plug ‘n play simplicity. What’s better still is that it powers up in another sense, too, now having capability to recharge not just from a wall plug, as before, but also from a DC fast charger.

That’s a big breakthrough opportunity; the beauty of the Outlander has always been its extreme flexibility – with a petrol engine to drive it as well as act as a generator, it’s utterly unaffected by issues of range anxiety.

But it always seemed a pity that you basically were resigned to having to burn petrol once the zap ran low in the previous car, because recharging took too long: Up to five hours off domestic power. The adoption of DC Fast Charge2 capability as an ancillary opportunity, however, means it can replenish 80 percent of the battery’s state in around 20 minutes. That’s basically a coffee stop moment. Brilliant.

This means it is up to speed with a more recent wholly EV entry, the Hyundai Ioniq, and the recently updated BMW i3 – also now sold in fully battery pure state - and the Tesla Model S in being better sorted to benefit from various ‘electric highway’ projects, most notably the Charge Net initiative to create a Kaitaia to Bluff network. The car doesn’t lose its original trickle charging capability either, so it can still be replenished in your garage overnight, taking advantage of low-price off peak power.

The improvements don’t stop there. Mitsubishi has also significantly refined the interaction between the 87kW 2.0-litre engine and the electric drive side, so that the shift from electric to engine-assisted operation, previously announced by an angry flare of revs, is consistently now much smoother and quieter.

Addition of extra sound-proofing, including thicker rear glass, and new engine mounts to reduce vibration suggest that there’s a clear degree of ongoing dedication to this car. The regenerative braking is still firm, but less harsh, and it has a better brake pedal feel.

They’ve retuned the dampers, fitted a thicker anti-roll bar and improved the under-body bracing …. I mean, it doesn’t drive as tidily as some sporty SUVs, but you’d be cruel to call it appliance-like, either.

Really, it handles almost as well as the orthodox Outlander and the extra weight of the 40Ah lithium-ion battery pack – which restricts it to five- rather than seven-seater status and adds 50kg this time around, taking it to 1860kg  – definitely settles the ride. The CVT does keep it from stepping off too urgently, but performance out of a drivetrain good for a cumulative 149kW/190Nm is okay and you cannot knock the optimum achievable fuel consumption of 1.8 litres per 100km.

The PHEV also adopts the extra safety and tech enhancements that implemented into the latest orthodox editions at carryover pricing when they arrived late last year.

Blind spot warning, lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and a Multi Around Monitor come into play and variants are also Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible.

Some aspects of Outlander’s cabin design is starting to wear around the edges; I don’t much like the leather in the $67,990 VRX on test, either. But if you want cloth, that means taking a $7000 cheaper XLS which also divests some of the handy driver assist tech, the power tailgate and the seat heaters.

Even though other brands are starting to step up their game in the EV sector, there’s still nothing else like this Mitsubishi … that it’s been in the market the longest and runs risk of not being considered a ‘real’ electric by some purists are not big crosses to bear, not least when factors such as metal for your money and sheer functionality are taken into account.

Simply put, the car that plugs into both a wall socket and a petrol pump offers vastly more performance, room and operational opportunity than anything else around. Being utterly alike to any orthodox Outlander in general performance and family-friendliness also means it can be introduced to the self-same open (and off-) road opportunities. The 1500kg tow rating, if not outstanding, is at least handy: After all, no pure EV has any kind of tow rating.

I’m really still a touch suss about the car’s actual EV-only range. The box says 54 kays but I’d say that’s only achieveable with Flat Earth running. Throw in some actual terrain, a mix of real world speed from city and country driving, a bit of stop-go … and, well, my experience was more like 37kms at tops. Still enough to cover my daily commute, all the same.

All in all, then, this car remains the sweetest choice for those who want to mix genuine eco ambition with lifestyle and daily living realities.