It doesn’t matter where you stop, from the school gates to the office car park, a petrol station to the local pony club, someone will take you by the arm and ask, “What’s it like?”
This is one of Britain’s best-selling plug-in cars. And following the Volkswagen dieselgate emissions cheating scandal, everyone wants to know if it’s any good.
They probably already own a diesel-powered SUV, most likely a Land Rover, and are thinking about switching to a plug-in hybrid, perhaps concerned about what’s being spewed from their engine’s exhaust pipe.
People may not know the first thing about Mitsubishi, but they will be able to identify the Outlander PHEV. And that presents a dilemma. Because your sensible head wants to respond by saying, “It will save you a small fortune in company car tax and petrol bills.” But your mischievous head wants to shout from the rooftops about how driving the Outlander is less enjoyable than catching a bad dose of the plague.
However, you’d be surprised at the number of people who are serious about saving money, especially in the current climate. They won’t ask about emissions and how many baby polar bears might be saved if they drove an Outlander; all they want to know is how much money they could save.
With the Outlander PHEV, Mitsubishi got the jump on every other car maker. It was one of the first plug-in hybrid cars to go one sale and – perhaps more significantly – the only one wrapped in an SUV body.
The company was onto a winner. It didn’t matter that the Outlander, then, looked as bland as magnolia paint. Or that its interior had all the luxury of a tree house. Drivers simply wanted to have more money in their bank account at the end of every month.
Whether the Outlander is expensive or not depends on your circumstances and needs. Some would argue that a family car that costs from more than £32,000 is a lot of money. Plenty more will already be driving an SUV in this price range, and will be enticed by the potential savings around company car tax.
That last point is the big draw for this car. Because its CO2 emissions are so low, the tax man takes less money out of your bank account should you run such a vehicle as your company car.
So let’s reach for the calculator and crunch some numbers. An Outlander PHEV 4h auto with leather trim is £36,955. A comparable Land Rover Discovery Sport 2.0 TD4 SE 180hp auto would be £35,025.
Because the Outlander emits 41g/km, it attracts a benefit-in-kind rate of 13%. So far, so yawn-inducing. That means a 40% tax payer would cough up £2049 (in 2018/19) to run one as a company car. The diesel Discovery Sport would be £4410.
If that’s piqued your interest, consider this: Run the car for three years, as many company car drivers do, and the Outlander driver’s tax bill is £6462, the Discovery Sport owner is hit for £14,195. Ouch.
Naturally, not everyone is a company car driver. The advantages for private buyers are the potential for fuel economy of 166mpg with the Mitsubishi and a road tax bill of £260 for the first three years, versus 53mpg and £485 for the popular Land Rover. There’s also a five-year warranty with the Japanese SUV.
In simple terms, under the surface of the Outlander PHEV is an electric motor that’s powered by either a battery or a 2-litre petrol engine (which can act as a generator). For maximum overtaking thrust, the two can also work together.
Leave it be and computers take care of everything. In fact, you need never charge the battery, if you’re so minded. But that’s a bit like digging yourself a new vegetable patch and never planting any seeds.
You can adjust the driving modes – such as choosing an EV electric-only setting, when the battery has sufficient juice - engage four-wheel drive or even alter the amount of energy recovered when you lift off the accelerator pedal, by pulling at the paddles behind the steering wheel.
Wisely, for the latest model, Mitsubishi updated the system so that when more energy recovery is requested, the brake lights switch on each time you decelerate. Before, other motorists would curse the car ahead with defective brake lights…
There’s also the option to save the battery for later in your journey, such as when leaving main roads for a town environment.
Perhaps the question is not so much how it works but does it work? Is this car normal to drive and live with, or will it ask too much of someone considering a switch from diesel?
At the risk of stating the bloomin’ obvious, you need to have access to a electrical socket that’s outdoors or in a garage and within reach of the car’s cable. (The car’s socket is at the back on the driver’s side.)
Charging the battery from empty to full, using a normal household socket (13 Amp) takes 5 hours. Have a dedicated 16 Amp wallbox installed at home, or work, and that is reduced to three and a half hours – still a long time. A rapid charger, typically found at a motorway services, provides 80% charge in 25 minutes, says Mitsubishi.
The trick is to leave the car plugged in whenever it’s not being used. So after each school run – a 13 mile round trip – which would half-drain the battery, I’d plug the Outlander into a 13 Amp supply and leave it until next needed.
The problem comes when you need to make a longer journey because, let’s face it, what family wants to stop for 30 minutes every time the battery is exhausted? Mine would leave me to it and call a taxi. So you just run it on petrol power.
At this point, it’s just an Outlander petrol, rather than a PHEV. Fuel economy tumbles to somewhere below 40mpg, or less than a comparable diesel, and it falls further still if you use the engine as a generator to recharge the battery. So the way you use the car has a big impact on any potential fuel savings.
Here’s the rub. In all honesty, the Outlander isn’t a terribly good family car.
Not that many drivers will expect it to feel like a sports car behind the wheel, but at the time of testing it, I’d jumped straight from the latest BMW X1 xDrive25d, Lexus NX300h and Volvo XC40 T5 AWD, and to be blunt, the Outlander felt like a museum piece.
It is easy to drive and the performance – whether in pure electric mode or hybrid – is respectable. And the level of technology is comparable with other SUVs, including Apple CarPlay, even if some of the touchscreen menus and graphics are indecipherable.
But the seats and driving position aren’t terribly comfortable. The car is heavy and wobbles about the place like a toddler taking tentative steps, the interior is generic Japanese design, circa 2000, and all manners of creaks can be heard in the cabin.
There’s plenty of legroom in the back seats, but if you install just one child seat using the Isofix mounts on one outer seat, and have a passenger on the other rear outer seat, only a contortionist could squeeze into the middle seat. (My kids complained at length.) At least the seat backs can recline, and the 463-litre boot has a dedicated tray, beneath a false floor, for the PHEV’s associated charging cables.
The SUV part of this plug-in hybrid is its weak link. If you could take the Outlander’s plug-in hybrid system and put it into another SUV, you’d be onto something.
Happily, in a way, you’ll soon be able to do just that. By the end of the year, Volvo will offer a plug-in hybrid XC40, and previous experience of its PHEVs and the XC40 suggest it will be an impressive package.
As it is, if saving money is all you care about, and you want to drive an SUV, there are other choices on the market in the Outlander’s price range, and we’d recommend you test drive them. Mini offers the Countryman; while BMW has the 2 Series Active Tourer (admittedly, more of a people carrier than an SUV). Also, think about the plug-in estate cars from Mercedes and Volkswagen.
|Engine/power unit||2-litre four-cylinder petrol with front and rear 60kW electric motors|
|Transmission||Automatic multi-mode eTransmission|
|Top speed||75 mph in electric mode / 106mph in hybrid mode|
|Electric range||33 miles|