For five years, this has been one of Mitsubishi’s top-selling models in Europe with over 100,000 sold. In fact, this is the top-selling plug-in hybrid SUV in the world, topping Tesla and everyone else, according to Mitsubishi. And now, the Outlander plug-in hybrid is for sale in America.
Think Chevy Volt here and you’ll better grasp what has happened to the conventional Outlander ($24,940 base, $42,280 for our GT trimmed PHEV model). There is a 2.0-liter 117-hp four-cylinder engine under the hood, yet like in the Volt, this range-extender engine powers two 60kW (80-hp each) electric motors (one up front, one for the rear axle) that in turn power this compact class crossover via a one-speed direct drive “transmission.” Peak horsepower is a combined 197, yet the smooth, ample torque of electric drive gives the Outlander forward thrust that feels greater than actual performance numbers.
Between the two electric motors is a 12-kW lithium ion battery producing up to 22 miles of pure electric travel, while the Mitsubishi has the ability to charge its battery while driving. There are also two distinct sockets in the rear fender for household charging, or faster Level-3 240V charging. Add regenerative braking action, selected by re-gen levels on the steering column mounted “paddle shifters” and you can actually drive the Mitsu with one pedal — charging, braking, and accelerating all with the right throttle pedal.
By being able to charge its own battery while moving, in effect depleting gasoline while the battery mileage gauge grows, the Outlander PHEV works in the rarefied world of very few hybrids so endowed. How is it that Mitsubishi, a bit player in this market in every sense of the word, has the engineering to pull this off?
Long known for its engineering prowess, especially with four-wheel drive technologies for rally racing and sports cars, Mitsubishi has often enjoyed larger sales in overseas markets, while questionable decisions in the United States have led to shrinking market share for two decades. That has recently changed, with sales climbing the past two years on the basis of value-priced crossovers at the right time in this market. These fortunes should continue as Nissan/Renault has assumed a stake in Mitsubishi and its technology and design sharing should enhance what has been a conflicted automaker in North America.
New Mitsubishi America boss Fred Diaz, formerly with Ram Truck and Nissan, readily admits that Mitsubishi has some image issues and needs to create better brand awareness if the automaker is to return to its former glory in this market. Remember cars like the Eclipse coupe and the Montero? It will take some destination vehicles like those to reach buyers now familiar with other brands, plus a small to midsize pickup wouldn’t hurt dealer sales opportunities either.
Pushing 560 pounds of additional electric motors and other gear into the all-wheel control (AWD) Outlander results in some handling and drive consequences. Body roll is notable, ride compliance is compromised somewhat and steering feel is mostly quite benign; at 4,333 pounds the PHEV is the heaviest compact crossover. Exterior dimensions closely match the Chevy Equinox.
Rear seat space is top shelf, travel serenity is above average, and the one-speed electric drive reduction gear provides seamless highway travel as there are just no gears to shift into or out of — just set the dynamic cruise and go. The computers do the thinking for grades, engaging one or both electric motors or the gas engine as necessary.
Hammer the go-pedal for a two-lane pass, and the torque-rich electric motors quickly squirt you past any obstacle to forward progress. The power is pleasant to explore. The fuel economy, however, requires extensive, daily plugging in to reach prescribed EPA levels of 74 MPGe. The combined EPA rating — gasoline and electric — is 25 mpg. We breached that efficiency by consistently achieving 31 mpg without plugging in and strategically using the self-charging button.
Loaded up with features, it is easy to see how the sticker blew past the $35,590 base price for the PHEV model. Heated leather seating, sunroof, heated steering wheel, adaptive cruise, lane departure system, blind-spot detection, braking assist, 710-watt Rockford-Fosgate audio, power liftgate and much more create a welcoming, feature laden interior. Missing, however, is navigation from the 7-inch touchscreen, plus adjustable lumbar support, and surround-view camera images. Apple/Android, LED lighting and a luscious Ruby Black Pearl are included with GT trim.
Gripes include another quirky shift lever that has an inconvenient to access “Park” button ahead of an electric shifter, a lot of beeping from various electronic safety assists and a touchscreen that could benefit from larger touch spaces. Currently, there are tax incentives up to $5,800 for the Outlander PHEV.
Look for Nissan to add Leaf-like advances to the Outlander, while Nissan gains innovative AWD systems as each automaker creates economy of scale.