Automotive Reviews

FIRST DRIVE: 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV a game changer

The Outlander PHEV has the potential to shake up the compact SUV segment

VANCOUVER – Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) has taken a while to reach our shores, but it’s finally starting to arrive at Canadian dealerships.

The Outlander PHEV made its global debut in 2013 and Mitsubishi says it has become the top-selling plug-in hybrid SUV on the planet. Now it’s expected to be a game-changer here, a halo product for the brand, says Don Ulmer, senior product planning manager for Mitsubishi in Canada.

“It’s the most significant launch in our company’s recent history,” Ulmer said as the Outlander PHEV was introduced to media here.

Why so special?

So what’s so special about this compact SUV? Outwardly, there’s nothing that’s ground-breaking. It’s a pleasant-looking vehicle and the interior is nicely appointed and comfortable. It has all-wheel drive capability and the flexibility that’s luring consumers to the SUV segment.

Dig deeper into the Outlander PHEV, however, and you’ll discover what sets it apart in a very crowded compact SUV marketplace.

That all-wheel-drive capability is totally electric – a feature that’s unique in the plug-in SUV market.  The drivetrain consists of two 60-kW electric motors – one mounted up front beside the 2.0-litre four-cylinder gasolineoline engine/generator; the other in the rear under the cargo area subfloor.

The electric motors each produce 80 horsepower and 101 lb-ft of torque from the front motor, 144 lb-ft from the rear, while the gasoline engine contributes 117 horses and 137 lb-ft of torque. (Mitsubishi has not yet announced the combined horsepower output or torque numbers.)

A single-speed, switchable reduction gearbox distributes the output to the front wheels while a single-speed, fixed-reduction gearbox handles power distribution to the rear wheels.

There is no driveshaft connecting the front and rear units, eliminating power loss, while the twin motor system enables the Outlander’s driver-selectable S-AWC (super all-wheel control) system to deliver optimum torque distribution between the front and rear wheels, as well as left and right torque vectoring through its active yaw control and anti-lock braking system to enhance the vehicle’s cornering capabilities.

Sophisticated powertrain integration

Electricity for the motors is supplied by an 80-cell, 12-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that’s positioned under the cabin subfloor between the front and rear axles. The positioning of this weight not only lowers the vehicle’s centre of gravity, enhancing handling, but also eliminates any intrusions into the cabin, maximizing passenger space.

The gasoline engine powers the onboard generator that replenishes the battery when necessary, eliminating the range-anxiety issue many consumers have regarding electric vehicles. The Outlander PHEV’s overall range is 499 kilometres.

The powertrain system has three modes and the Outlander switches automatically and seamlessly among them as conditions warrant. The vehicle always starts in pure EV mode, which is well-suited for urban driving.

Uniquely, it can operate with all-wheel drive while in EV mode, so slippery city streets are no problem for the Outlander. Its range in pure EV mode is 35 km, the greatest EV-only range of any PHEV utility vehicle currently available in Canada.

If the battery level dips to a low level, or if additional power is need for quicker acceleration, the Outlander switches into Series Hybrid Mode, with the gasoline engine kicking in to drive the generator, replenishing the battery and providing additional power to the electric motors.

In situations where peak power is required, such as high speeds or highway cruising, the Parallel Hybrid Mode is engaged, combining all the vehicle’s power resources. A built-in clutch in the front transaxle connects the gasoline engine to the front wheels while the twin electric motors contribute their output as well. Any excess energy produced by the gasoline engine/generator is fed back into the battery pack.

Quick recharging

Recharging the battery using the plug-in feature can be done in less than 30 minutes.

The Outlander PHEV comes with a standard 120-volt cable that can be plugged into a typical household receptacle. The cable control unit is switchable between eight or 12 amps, depending on the capacity of the household circuit. At eight amps, a full recharge takes about 13 hours; at 12 amps, the time is cut to eight hours.

If there’s access to a 240-volt/16-amp outlet, the battery can be fully recharged in 3.5 hours. However, the vehicle also has a receptacle for a Level 3 quick-charger. Using that system, an 80% recharge can be completed in just 25 minutes.

The battery can also be recharged on the go using the Outlander’s brake regeneration system. Using the paddle shifters, the driver can engage B5 mode, which creates a strong regeneration brake force that feels like you’ve downshifted into a manual transmission’s second gear. There’s also a B0 mode, where there’s minimal deceleration – a mode well suited for highway cruising. The default mode is B2, which feels like the engine braking force one would experience with the downshifting of an automatic transmission. 

Mitsubishi has also incorporated three modes that enhance battery efficiency. Pushing the EV button engages the EV Priority Mode, which uses the electric motors exclusively until the battery is discharged to one bar or the vehicle’s speed exceeds 120 km/h.

The driver can also select Battery Charge Mode, using the gasoline engine/generator to recharge the battery. In this mode, an 80% charge can be reached in about 40 minutes. There’s also a Battery Save Mode that maintains the battery’s state of charge, but at a less aggressive rate than the Battery Charge Mode.

On the road

So all these technologies sound impressive, but how do they translate into butt-in-the-seat use? Pretty well, actually. During a few hours driving mostly urban streets in Greater Vancouver, the Outlander PHEV did its thing so seamlessly. It was peppy, yet quiet in its EV mode, although the noise level picked up a bit when the gasoline engine kicked in. The ride and handling were decent. Overall, it was a pleasant driving experience.

My driving partner, Kelly Taylor, and I had agreed to simply drive the Outlander as we would our own vehicles, despite the fact the Mitsubishi PR folks had told us our energy consumption would be monitored in a fuel economy challenge during the drive. We didn’t play with the battery-saving modes, nor did we make any attempt to drive conservatively.

We did deplete the battery and found a public charging station. Unfortunately, it was only a Level 2 unit and after spending 15-20 minutes plugged in while we checked emails and route maps – there was no Starbucks or Timmys in the vicinity – we decided to pull the plug and move on. We put about a bar of juice back into the battery pack, costing about 35 cents, and continued our drive.

Luckily, there were some downhill stretches that enabled us to use the regeneration feature. Unlike some competitive EVs, however, the regenerating system did not impact the brake feel – one could still easily modulate the brakes, with good feedback through the pedal. A big plus! We managed to return to the starting point with very little help from the gasoline engine.

The real shocker, though, was the announcement of the fuel economy challenge winners – the Taylor-Dear tandem! Officially, we apparently posted a fuel consumption rate of just 2.2L/100 km. Now that’s an impressive rating – and we weren’t even trying to be fuel efficient. With this level of efficiency – and judicious use of the go pedal – Outlander PHEV owners can expect significant savings on their fuel bills.

No compromises required

It should be noted Mitsubishi has achieved this high level of efficiency and low emissions with a vehicle that makes no compromises.

It’s still fun to drive, the flexibility of the SUV is still intact with fold-down second-row seatbacks and there’s decent room inside for people and their stuff – 861 litres of cargo space behind the rear seats and 2,209 litres with the rear seatbacks folded.

It’s even capable of towing up to 680 kg (1,500 lb) – a capability that’s often sacrificed in many EVs. And there’s a 1,500-watt AC power inverter so you can take your espresso machine or coffee maker on the road with you.

Standard features include 18-inch wheels, S-AWC (all-wheel drive), power-adjustable driver’s seat, EV remote start, smartphone link display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, Bluetooth, Sirius XM radio (three months free), blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert, rain-sensing wipers and more.

The base model is the SE priced at $42,998. An SE Touring package is available ($45,998), adding a power sunroof, premium leather seating surfaces, power adjustable passenger seat, heated steering wheel and LED headlamps and LED fog lights.

The lineup tops out with the GT model at $49,998, which adds such safety technologies as forward collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning, as well as a power liftgate, a multi-view camera system, automatic high beam control, the 1,500-watt power inverter and a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate premium audio system.

These prices do not include provincial rebates for EVs, ranging from $2,500 in B.C and $4,000 in Quebec to $9,555 in Ontario. Quebec and Ontario also offer rebates for the purchase and installation of a charger.

The Outlander PHEV comes with Mitsubishi’s benchmark 10-year/160,000-kilometre powertrain warranty, a five-year/100,000-km comprehensive warranty and a 10-year battery warranty.

With the efficiency, technologies and features it offers, the Outlander PHEV has the potential to truly shake up the compact SUV segment.

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