The Outlander PHEV has jumped the competition, and come March it’s set to be the first plug-in hybrid SUV on sale in the UK.
As a result of its hi-tech powertrain, this four-wheel-drive, five-seat SUV can run on electricity for 32 miles, and promises fuel economy of 148mpg and CO2 emissions of 44g/km.
Those figures mean some big savings for buyers, including a £5,000 refund from the Government by way of its plug-in car grant and exemption from road tax and the London Congestion Charge. They also ensure company car drivers will pay just five per cent Benefit in Kind – the cleanest Nissan Qashqai sits in a 14 per cent band.
But what’s the Outlander like to drive? In a word, silent. The PHEV is much quieter than the regular diesel Outlander, no matter which operating mode it’s in – petrol engine and electric motors working together, or as a pure EV.
That’s partially to do with enhanced sound deadening, but also because the hybrid powertrain favours running on electricity only. The petrol engine is used mostly as an electricity generator – much like that in the Vauxhall Ampera – and is audible when it starts up, but it’s never loud or rough.
At the Outlander PHEV’s heart is a large-capacity battery and a pair of electric motors – one on each axle to provide four-wheel drive – that generate a combined 161bhp, and when you add in the engine it’s a total of 204bhp.
When the battery charge drops below a certain level, the petrol engine kicks in to generate electricity. Mitsubishi calls this Series mode, which will work up to 70mph. After that, a clutch engages to connect the engine directly to the front wheels, providing drive while recharging the battery at the same time, hence the 43bhp boost in maximum power.
Top speed is limited to 106mph and even with both power sources driving the front wheels, the PHEV never feels all that brisk. The power is delivered in quite a smooth fashion, though. You can also use a mode that fires up the engine to charge the battery for later use, while shift paddles on the steering wheel increase the force of the regenerative braking, which charges the battery faster.
With a full battery and fuel tank, the Outlander PHEV can manage a claimed 560 miles without stopping. Charging takes about five hours from a domestic socket, or an 80 per cent charge can be achieved in 30 minutes from a fast charger. Of course, the fuel tank can be topped up for instant mobility, too.
In addition to providing an all-electric range that traditional hybrids can only dream of, the electric motors also theoretically give the Outlander PHEV better handling. Mitsubishi’s Super All Wheel Control (S-AWC) system has a torque vectoring effect, shuffling power to the wheels that need it the most.
The positioning of the battery between the wheels and a ride height drop of 30mm compared to the regular car also mean that the PHEV has a lower centre of gravity. While it changes direction well enough, its extra 200kg can be felt, and the ride is jarring on poor surfaces.
Changes to the Outlander PHEV include a unique front bumper and new alloys. But there are compromises: it’s not available with seven seats, the rear bench seat is raised 45mm, eating into headroom, and the raised boot floor cuts luggage space by 14 litres. In terms of hybrids, it’s a step forward, but saving fuel still comes with plenty of caveats.