ROAD TEST: 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
ONE week, more than 500km and less than a quarter of a tank of fuel.
The electric revolution is knocking at our door and vehicles like the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV are proof of an improving real-world appeal.
While not perfect, the $55,490 Exceed version of the plug-in hybrid makes sense for daily commuting. The range is about 50km on battery power alone, it takes 6.5 hours to charge from a normal household power point or about 20 minutes to reach 80% if you use fast-charge facilities.
For those counting the pennies, it will cost just over $2 to cover 100km ... that's cheaper than any petrol or diesel powered equivalent.
Being the range-topper ensures there is no shortage of equipment.
As you'd expect from a car surpassing $50k, you get leather trim, power tailgate, sunroof, seven-inch touchscreen, digital audio with six speakers, full bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, as well as the smartphone mirroring apps Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Upgraded from the old model is the charge cable which is able to cope with standard 10-amp household plugs.
Capped price servicing is available for the first three maintenance checks which are annual or at 15,000km intervals, for a total of $1000. That's $250 more than the standard petrol 4x4, but cheaper than the diesel by $550.
It is also covered by the standard five-year warranty with roadside assist for four years.
Mitsubishis have an ability to look dated, but the PHEV has elements of class courtesy of piano black finishes ... although there is an analogue speedo, and a lot of buttons so you need to do some reconnaissance before setting off.
Residing in the medium-size SUV segment means interior space is excellent, with supportive seats front (heated) and back.
The boot has capacity to handle a couple of large suitcases with some space to spare, although the underfloor battery along with the embedded storage space reduces load capability. One strange inclusion is drink-holders in the boot. There is no seven-seat option for the PHEV variants.
Exceed models have a power tailgate and, while the rear seats fold flat, they only have the release handles atop the seats and not the handy levers in the boot.
Not only does the plug-in hybrid have five stars and seven airbags, it comes with the full gamut of the latest equipment which was previously confined to prestige vehicles.
Radar cruise control with three distance settings, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert which is brilliant for reversing out of car parks, 360-degree camera coverage, a forward collision braking system which can help avoid or lessen the impact of a crash (also detects pedestrians), as well as automatic high beam lights which dim when oncoming traffic is detected.
Silently moving away, the acceleration is smooth and responsive with a Jetsons-like soundtrack.
Battery power is always the preference. Run out of electric power or really exercise your right ankle and the four cylinder feels harsh and underwhelming in comparison.
There's an interesting shift pattern for the driver, pushing the lever across and up for reverse and down for drive. Two electric motors enable most drivers to operate in pure electric mode in most conditions, and the PHEV offers high levels of refinement courtesy of suspension changes and wide-ranging sound-deadening improvements compared to the previous model.
With the battery stored evenly under the floor, it feels well balanced and easy to drive despite being about 300kg more than the equivalent petrol-powered Outlander.
The car decides when, or if, to use the back-up four-cylinder engine. There is an EV button to enforce electric power (it will also start the car without the petrol engine as long as there is enough power), or you can select another mode to conserve the battery and another to divert engine power to recharge the batteries while driving.
Using the steering wheel paddles can also maximise regenerative capabilities to feed power back into the battery.
According to our household calculation, each full charge would cost about $2.80 for every 100km.
Plug it into a standard household power point and recharging can be time-consuming. Rarely did we achieve a full charge despite being plugged in for nearly 10 hours, only offering a range of about 40km on battery alone.
Hilly terrain saw the Outlander chew through its battery power quickly, and it disappeared at close to double the rate compared to easy suburban travels or stop-start traffic. Still, we maintained a constant combined petrol and battery range of 400km throughout the week.
Competition is coming but for now limited.
Tesla Model X 75D AWD $150,189 drive-away
Not a hybrid but an all-electric derivative with super quick performance and a range of 417km.
BMW X5 xDrive 40e $124,200
Similar concept as the Outlander, with a range of more than 30km it retains fun driving dynamics.
The Outlander PHEV isn't quite a game-changer, but it's certainly a fine play for a rapidly improving market.
Depending on where you refuel, it can drastically reduce running costs. If your employer offers free top-ups, you could conceivably get away without paying a cent if you live within 20km of work. Crunch the numbers and it's difficult to recoup the additional outlay required compared to a conventional petrol or diesel engine. But the technology is engaging and fun. Good driving dynamics, no compromises on interior space and a conventional yet classy design mean you can enjoy tomorrow's technology without losing today's functionality.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Exceed
ELECTRIC Twin motors + inverter 60kW/137Nm.
ENGINE 2.0-litre petrol 89kW/190Nm. Electric and petrol 120kW/332Nm combined.
TRANSMISSION One-speed fixed gear automatic, all-wheel drive
WARRANTY 5 year/100,000km
SAFETY Five-star, seven airbags