Monday, 12 January 2015

REVIEW - Mistusbishi Outlander PHEV GX4h

I reviewed one of the new Mitsubishi Outlanders back in 2013 and was suitably impressed with it. It was definitely a much-needed improvement over the previous model. And there’s another model available for the more environmentally-conscious amongst us. Called the Outlander PHEV (Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) it features a petrol engine combined with electric motors. It’s proving popular too; with it being the country’s best-selling plug in hybrid car. So it only seemed right that I should test one and there was soon a big white Outlander on the driveway; plugged in and ready to go…

Looks – 8/10

There’s no vast difference in the looks of the Outlander compared to the diesel model I had previously. I like that. It can be off-putting to have the hybrid status shoved down your throat, and you have to look hard to spot the second filler cap for the plug, and the PHEV badge at the back. The wheels look normal, and the sleek lines are maintained. I would have preferred LED daytime running lights, as this would have given a more premium feel to the exterior, but I think it’s a credit to Mitsubishi’s design team that the shape of the Outlander hasn’t aged at all; it still looks as great now as it did when the facelift came out. And it’s rather imposing too, thanks to the large body and bonnet height.

Stepping inside the Outlander brings mixed feelings. On one hand there’s nothing bad as such; with plenty of leather, gloss black trim and innofensive plastics. The large multimedia screen sits nicely in the centre of the dash, and the PHEV dials lose the rev counter in place of what I like to call an ECOmeter – showing POWER, ECO and CHARGE. The PHEV sees a rather funky gear selector as well. The seats aren’t the most visually appealing, and some of the switch gear- for example the seat heaters- stand out as a bit poor. But the overall feel of the cabin is functionality. There’s no flair, or inspiring materials from the far end of the periodic table. And to be fair that’s what I expected from a Japanese car which is designed to be affordable, practical and as normal as possible.

Handling/Performance – 8/10

In terms of performance, there’s a 2.0-litre petrol engine up front, and two electric motors; one in each axle. The use of these- either on their own or in conjunction with the petrol engine- is seamless; you barely even notice the engine when it does assist the motors. The petrol motor is rated at 121PS, and each electric one at 82PS. However, there is no such concept as total output here; as there are factors such as maximum battery draw and the adaptive powertrain. What I can tell you is that 0-62mph takes 11.0 seconds and top speed is 106mph. This is as you would expect in this class of car, so no compromises here. Even in full Electric Vehicle (EV) mode you never notice the 1,827kg kerb weight as being an issue, and the single gear transmission works very well to create the seamless drive transition required in a vehicle like this.

The handling remains mostly unchanged from the regular Oulander as well. There is a bit of lean into the corners but generally it remains stable. You can tell there has been a slight tweak to the suspension to incorporate the extra weight of batteries and two electric motors. It feels a bit firmer than the standard car, but not as skittish or bouncy as other hybrids I’ve driven. On the motorway the Outlander remains comfortable. The steering is weighty but not the most responsive, but this isn’t a car you want to be chucking round a country road though. Most driving will be through towns and villages, so you won’t have any issues at all.

Economy – 10/10

I imagine it would come as a shock to you if the Outlander didn’t score perfect in this category, but thankfully it lived up to my expectations of its capabilities. The Outlander is revolutionary with twin electric motors; one in each axle. They draw power from lithium ion batteries and have a range of 30 miles or so on their own. This means that under official tests, the economy figures are extremely impressive. Combined fuel consumption is 148mpg and CO2 emissions are 44g/km. Put simply; for short trips you will use little to no petrol at all. There are several modes too, with one to save battery on longer drives, and one to actively charge it as you drive. The regenerative braking also helps put some juice back into the batteries as well; you can select the intensity of these via paddles behind the steering wheel. Set to the highest level it feels like serious engine braking, and promotes predictive driving and avoiding late braking.

Practicality – 9/10

This is a large, spacious car with plenty of cabin space for all occupants. That being said there may be fewer occupants; the PHEV loses the third row of seats and can only seat 5. The flip side of this is the boot is spacious, and the electric tailgate takes the effort out of operating it. You can even have permanent 4WD thanks to having a motor in each axle. The Outlander is a well-equipped vehicle, including keyless entry, satellite navigation, Xenon headlights, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, heated leather seats and a reversing camera. It all sounds good, but there is- I feel- a slight catch with the PHEV model. It is designed for excellent economy on a short journey. For longer drives you won’t benefit from the same levels of economy and would in truth probably be better off with a diesel.

Fun – 7/10

I had some good fun with the Outlander PHEV. It’s interesting to see the energy flow screen which shows exactly what the hybrid system is doing in real time. I enjoyed playing about with the settings on the regenerative braking system, and it was good to see the look on people’s faces as this large 4x4 swooshes past without an engine noise. There are downsides to having a car like this though. Going out to plug the car in with the rain falling isn’t pleasant. And the whole environmental thing gets to you after a bit. I felt naughty for putting the air conditioning on, and saw EV range disappear at the push of a button. But the most annoying thing for me is the iPod interface. It’s rather terrible, and takes literally ten minutes to read my iPod from starting the car, and that just isn’t good enough.

Concluding Remarks

So there you have it, starting the year with a rather economical car. The technology is fantastic, but it is wrapped up in a car that is less inspirational. It is a car aimed for short distances, as the economy suffers on longer runs. And it’s good news for company car drivers too, because the Outlander PHEV is rather well priced. The GX4h model (the one to go for) which I tested is £37,899. But the government will give you £5,000 towards that, bringing the price down to £32,899 which is rather competitive. Company car drivers could save significantly on their P11d, but long-distance travelling reps may be better off with an economical diesel. As always pop into your nearest dealer, or visit the Mitsubishi website for more information. And I’ll leave you with this; I went to take my pictures for this review, and realised the Outlander PHEV is currently greener than the trees, never mind saving them.

Total Score – 42/50

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