Paul Walker screeching to a halt in a bright-green Eclipse. Short-wheelbase Pajeros thundering across the dunes on their way to Dakar domination. Rally-driving champion Tommi Makinen laying another EVO-powered beatdown on chief rival Subaru. For years, Mitsubishi was all about performance and enthusiasm.
Then, all of a sudden, it wasn't. The Lancer EVO shuffled off into the ether with barely a whimper. The Eclipse nameplate, once a favourite of the Fast & Furious crowd, is now reborn as an economical crossover. And as for Mitsubishi's halo model, you're looking at it: a plug-in hybrid crossover. That's a bit sad, isn't it?
However, if you are looking for an economical, practical machine with an extremely long warranty, then here you are. The Outlander PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) may be based on the face-lifted version of an aging platform, but it's almost relentlessly sensible.
Goodbye Nomex racing suits, hello everyday khaki trousers.
Aside from the badges, some painted exterior trim pieces, and a unique shifter, the PHEV is essentially the same as the standard Outlander. On the plus side, that means relatively inoffensive styling and a practical layout. Only a two-row layout is available, and the PHEV actually has a little more cargo space than its pure-combustion siblings.
Up front, the Outlander PHEV is perfectly acceptable. It doesn't reach for upscale, but anyone considering this vehicle from a practical standpoint will note the conventional switchgear, clear graphics on the modestly-sized central touchscreen and dated but easy-to-use heating and air-conditioning controls. The PHEV isn't trying to be cutting-edge, instead aiming for low-effort.
Under the skin, however, this electrified Outlander is quite clever. There are three propulsion units: one 80-horsepower electric motor out back, another up front and a 2.0-litre internal combustion engine capable of charging the battery or feeding power to the front wheels.
Because it has electric power for both front and rear axles, the Outlander PHEV can operate as a fully electric all-wheel-drive vehicle. There is no connection between the front and rear axles, but Mitsubishi has adapted its proprietary all-wheel-drive system to work as in more conventional applications. S-AWC (super all-wheel control) can trace its roots to those rally championship days, and provides the PHEV with torque-vectoring and surprisingly agile grip.
Electric motors have much better torque response than a combustion engine, and around town, the Outlander PHEV scoots off the line with aplomb. The driver can choose to control how the PHEV apportions the power, or simply leave it to its own devices. In flat-road conditions, at less than 120 kilometres an hour, Mitsubishi says that the plug-in Outlander's 12 kWh lithium-ion battery pack will give it 35 kilometres of pure-EV range.
As tested, the Outlander wanted to run its engine for the first few minutes, even with the electric-only EV Priority mode selected and the battery indicating a full charge. Chalk this up to the temperature and that our test vehicle had been sitting as a display vehicle with an espresso maker hooked up to it.
The Outlander PHEV has three main driving modes: pure electric, hybrid parallel and hybrid series. In parallel, the 117-hp engine charges the battery, and jumps in to provide extra power directly to the wheels. You can hit buttons to keep the Outlander in electric mode, to charge the battery off the engine at highway speeds or to save what charge is in the battery.
Tackling a local ski hill, the Outlander acquitted itself well in the corners and climbed without difficulty. Ordinarily, the PHEV's on-board systems would have kicked into parallel mode to charge the battery under the load of the ascent, but we kept EV mode on to completely drain the battery, the better to test out another PHEV feature.
Instead of shifting gears, the paddle shifters on either side of the PHEV's steering wheel control how much battery braking you can ask for. There are six levels, from coasting (B0) to maximum generation (B5). The max can't manage the single-pedal driving of the Nissan Leaf, but it did pick up a healthy eight kilometres of driving range by the bottom of the hill.
Mitsubishi says a standard home outlet can charge the PHEV's battery in eight hours, while a Level-2 will take just 3 1/2 hours. A Level-3 DC quick-charge port will take 25 to 30 minutes to hit 80-per-cent charge.
The 43-litre gasoline tank gives 464 km of range, which brings us to our final point. You don't need to use any of the PHEV's driving modes to get the most out of it, you don't need to monitor your energy flow, or keep an eye on the charge. You don't need to pack the trunk carefully, and with a 10-year, 160,000-km warranty which includes the battery, you don't really need to think about the powertrain at all.
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is built for people who'd like to take advantage of the large provincial rebates ($2,500 in B.C., $4,000 in Quebec and a staggering $9,555 in Ontario), and spend less money on fuel, without compromising everyday practicality.
That's not sad at all. That's smart.
- Base price: $42,998
- Engines: Front and rear electric, 2.0-litre four-cylinder
- Transmission/Drive: Single-gear automatic/all-wheel
- Fuel economy (litres/100km): 3.1 litres equivalent highway/city combined; 9.3 with the four-cylinder engine
- Alternatives: Volvo XC60 T8; RAV4 Hybrid
Very few of these mid-sized crossovers could be considered handsome, and the Outlander is no exception. Still the new grille makes it look up-to-date, and the painted trim gives a nicer finish than the standard Outlander's plastic cladding.
Aging switchgear betrays the Outlander's age. Further, the rear seats are a little short in thigh support for taller passengers. It's acceptable, but not better than average.
Mitsubishi doesn't list a total power output for the PHEV's powertrain, but figure around 200hp total. Electric torque makes it feel faster than it is in city traffic, but at highway speeds power is relatively modest.
Driver assists like adaptive cruise control and automatic high-beams are part of the GT package, but the the entry-level SE model might be the best value. It comes with Apple Carplay and Android Auto as standard, and Mitsubishi has developed an app you can use to pre-heat your Outlander, or check in on charge levels.
The PHEV's rear seats fold completely flat, which is a nice touch, although the mechanism for flipping the seat bottoms forward is a little flimsy. Even so, with 861 litres behind the rear seats and 2209 litres with everything folded, this isn't any less practical than a conventional crossover. Towing capacity is 680kg.
Sensible and practical, with useful technology under the skin to save you money. Large rebates make it look like an even smarter choice.