Aside from the all-electric Toyota RAV4 EV, there\’s a distinct lack of plug-in crossovers and SUVs on the market right now.
Mitsubishi was hoping to change that with its Outlander Plug-In Hybrid, but battery issues and legislative delays mean it could be early 2016 before the car hits American roads.
Thankfully for us, it\’s already available elsewhere–and we\’ve grabbed half an hour with the car at an event in the UK to bring you our first impressions.
The Outlander Plug-In Hybrid (or PHEV) makes use of a 2.0-liter gasoline four-cylinder engine and twin electric motor setup, drawing on Mitsubishi\’s electric vehicle knowledge from the i-MiEV city car.
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Each motor is based on those found in the i-MiEV, but tweaked for a higher output–60 kW (80 horsepower), with 101 lb-ft of torque for the front-mounted electric motor and 143 lb-ft at the rear.
At the front, the motor works through a clutch that switches between electric and engine power, through a reduction-gear transaxle. At the rear, with no mechanical connection, power goes through a reduction gear alone.
With no pesky driveshaft to work around, the Outlander\’s 12 kWh lithium-ion battery pack sits right at the center of the car, below the passenger compartment. The fuel tank is behind this, there\’s an inverter at each end, and a generator sits in the engine bay allowing the engine to power the battery pack when required.
Sounds complicated, but the net result is–according to European figures–an all-electric range of 32.5 miles, an all-electric top speed of 75 mph, and a total gasoline and electric range of over 500 miles.
In 30 minutes we weren\’t able to put all of those numbers to the test, but the car can certainly cruise at highway speeds on electric power alone when required. The twin electric motors also offer brisk acceleration, though if you require \”full speed ahead\” the gasoline engine does come into play.
When it does so, you get a typical CVT-style flare of revs, though it\’s a long way from being intrusive–as engines go it\’s a quiet, well-insulated one.
There is, like all plug-in cars, a pure EV mode, which works as you\’d expect. There are also charge and hold mode switches, the first using the engine to boost battery charge (and therefore keeping the engine on, regardless of speed) and the hold mode to limit EV mode use for lower-speed requirements, such as city driving.
Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid quick drive (European model)
A \’B\’ mode on the stubby drive selection shifter (enabled by knocking the self-returning stick backwards) enables five levels of regenerative braking.
These are changed using paddles mounted on the back of the steering wheel. Level 1 is very light, and level 5\’\’s effect on deceleration approaches one-pedal driving, at least at lower speeds. It\’s responsive and easy to acclimatize to, as you\’d hope from a modern electric vehicle.
The electric drivetrain\’s goings-on are relayed to you by a set of simple dashboard instruments–including the obligatory charge/power swing-o-meter gauge–and several menus on the central infotainment screen.
The rest of the Outlander PHEV is perfectly pleasant, as with any other Outlander.
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Extra battery weight and unconventional drive sources seem to have done little to tarnish its ride and handling capabilities–the regular Outlander couldn\’t be considered exciting, but it\’s thoroughly competent at moving you down the road.
The interior fits into a similar category–the controls are logically arranged, the seats are comfortable and the dashboard neat and clear.
Downsides are remarkably few. The short drive selector stick feels a little cheap in its operation, clunking from mode to mode with a toy-like action.
The styling may also be a little bland for some, though the characteristic blue paintwork looks good, as do the clear, LED-laden tail-light lenses. The mud in the pictures wasn\’t our doing, by the way–a previous journalist had indulged in a spot of light off roading before we tried the car.
But the Outlander\’s biggest issue is that it isn\’t here yet–those long delays mean that by the time it hits U.S. shores, it may no longer have the market to itself.
And in two years time, the Outlander\’s novelty may also have worn off. What feels like a genuinely good product today (and the Outlander PHEV really is a good car), may not do another few years down the line.
Hopefully, Mitsubishi gets its supply and legislative problems sorted sooner rather than later–it really could prove popular, if it ever goes on sale…
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