For those who think the switch from ‘dirty’ fossil fuels to ‘clean’ electric power is too severe. Flat battery; no go; range anxiety? Happily, there is a halfway house – hybrid power.
Petrol/electric hybrid vehicles have been around for years – think Toyota Prius and Honda Insight – the former still on the streets, leading the way, especially in the fleet world such as that of taxis.
In these vehicles an internal combustion engine is used to charge a battery, which feeds an electric motor, partially powering the car.
Still a source of pollution. What if the engine could be by-passed and the battery charged externally?
Enter the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, in which petrol and battery power are used in tandem to drive the vehicle at optimum reduced emissions until the battery is out of juice and internal combustion automatically takes over completely. Range relief!
The first sports utility vehicle to take advantage of the combined powertrain, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, which made its way Down Under a decade ago, has sold more than 300,000 units, making it the most popular plug-in in the world.
What’s it cost?
The latest generation comes in four grades: ES five-seater, aspire five-seat, Exceed 5+2 seater and Exceed Tourer 5+2-seater.
Prices start at $54,590 and top out at $68,490, plus on-road costs. On test was the Outlander PHEV Aspire five-seat at $60,990.
Compared with the outgoing model, the new Outlander is longer, wider, taller, heavier and boasts a longer wheelbase. Muscular flared fenders match its broad shoulders.
Sharp daytime running lights cap off an LED headlight cluster designed to provide greater visibility over long distances, while extended horizontal rear LED lights with T-shaped ends highlight the Outlander PHEV’s distinctive shoulders.
Machined 20-inch alloy wheels bolster the Aspire’s impressive stance.
All plug-in Outlanders feature a 9.0-inch touchscreen displaying menu and maps clearly and moving between modes is simple, while the Aspire grade has a 12.3-inch digital information set-up showing powertrain info and speed, plus other configurable info.
Outlander PHEV shares the five-star ANCAP safety grade won by its petrol-only sibling earlier this year.
Active safety includes autonomous emergency braking (forward and reverse), lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, traffic sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert and surround view camera.
Passive safety is covered by eight airbags, including in the front centre position. With a lack of engine noise, the car lets out a muffled bell-like sound to alert unwary pedestrians.
What’s it go like?
The cabin presents as relaxed and quiet, even when the petrol motor was in action, the only intrusion road noise on non-too-smooth bitumen or concrete.
The seats, however, were on the firm side.
Leg and shoulder space is generous, thanks to the absence of a third row of seating, which also contributes to plenty of room in the boot – 485 litres with seat backs up and up to 1478 litres with second row backs folded.
Loading was made easy by a power liftback and flat removable floor, under which was located various tools and charging leads, but no spare tyre — full size or otherwise. Thereby hangs a tale.
All grades are powered by an upgraded 2.4 litre four-cylinder engine, combined with a pair of electric motors on front and rear axles, delivering 185kW and 450Nm to all four wheels.
You meet a better class of cabbie at public charging stations; I’m talking about the Uber driver ‘of a certain age’ and his Tesla Model 3.
With a lazy half hour to spare during a busy schedule we chatted while the test Outlander PHEV was on fast charge.
Forty minutes later, the battery 80 per cent juiced (70-odd kilometres range on the clock), with $4.09 paid, we parted ways.
During a spread of driving tasks, the test car came up on average with energy consumption of just over 20.0kWh/100km, against the maker’s claim of 19.2 kWh.
The petrol engine chips in only if you load up the acceleration or the vehicle tops 135km/h. It also helps charge the battery, as does braking through kinetic energy conversion.
Mitsubishi claims, on dual fuel, the PHEV uses 1.5L/100km.
With the battery flat, the engine automatically shoulders the load, recording on test, fuel consumption of around 5.0L/100km.
The system’s performance can be tracked visually through an animated diagram on the instrument panel.
Home charging from a 240V outlet, the maker claims 9.5 hours from zero to 100 per cent — or 6.5 hours from a domestic wall box.
Alternatively, charging to 80 per cent can be done from the on-board generator in one-and-a-half hours.
Driving to conditions are catered for by up to seven modes. I stuck mostly to Normal during the test – available through a wheel on the centre console. Four power modes – Normal, EV, Save and Charge – can be accessed by means of an adjacent button.
Also close by is a button that calls into action regenerative braking strong enough to allow one-pedal driving, good enough to bring the car almost to a complete stop.
Six softer stages of braking can be operated using steering wheel-mounted shift paddles.
A head-up display on the windscreen covers speed and legal speed limits. Tow rating is 1600kg braked and 750kg unbraked.
Now for the unscheduled incident mentioned above, which could have ended in tears.
It didn’t, thanks to the Mitsubishi 24-Hour Roadside Assistance Service.
The Outlander picked up a flat tyre and was immediately pulled over.
Inspection of the nearside rear tyre showed a shiny new Phillips-head screw nestling in the tread.