Mitsubishi Motors was well ahead of the pack when it introduced the industry‘s first plug-in hybrid crossover, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, in 2013.
It has since become the world’s best-selling plug-in hybrid crossover.
In the U.S., though, Mitsubishi was struggling to stay alive. Regulatory, quality and corporate issues kept it from bringing the Outlander PHEV to America until just this year.
Maybe it waited too long. The SUV hasn’t been substantially refreshed since 2015, and its wimpy, 117-horsepower, 2-liter gas engine needs updating.
Worse for the many who seek the latest in safety technology, parts of the 2018 Outlander PHEV’s driver-assistance package are Gen-One in a Gen-Two world.
You have to step up to the top GT trim level to get a a lane-departure warning system, and there’s no lane-keeping function.
Improvements, But Not Here
For 2019, models sold outside the U.S. get a more powerful 2.4-liter engine, more powerful electric motors and generator, larger battery, more all-electric range, new instrument panel, rear outlets for the climate system, sportier front seats, quilted leather upholstery, new interior trim panels and two new driving modes — snow and sport.
But the 2019 Outlander PHEV that will be available here around the end of the year will get only the more supportive front seats, new interior trim panels and rear climate system vents.
The 2018 Outlander PHEV is EPA-rated at up to 22 miles of all-electric range and 74 mpg-equivalent combining EV and regular gas-electric hybrid operation. When the battery is depleted and the gas engine labors by itself, though, fuel economy drops to 25 mpg.
In my time with the Outlander PHEV GT S-AWC, I racked up 485 miles of highway, mountain roads and off-highway trail driving and averaged just under 45 mpg. That would be good for a passenger car. It’s close to fantastic for a 2-ton, all-wheel drive crossover.
Mitsubishi equipped the plug-in Outlander with three charging options for its 12 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack: 120-volt, or Level 1 charging, that requires 8-13 hours; 240-volt, Level 2, 3.5-hours; and, for road trips, the segment’s only Level 3, DC fast-charge capability. That’s a 25-minute, 80 percent recharge at one of the fast charge stations being installed around the country.
On the Road
On flat terrain and gentle hills, the Outlander’s powertrain was more than adequate. It relies mainly on its electric motors and uses the gasoline engine primarily as a generator.
Climbing steep hills was a challenge, though. On one stretch the system kicked into power reduction mode to protect the battery from overheating. It capped speed at 60 mph.
Road noise, on highway and off, is minimal. The most jarring note is when the gas engine starts laboring, and that can be drowned out with the radio.
The Outlander PHEV’s suspension is a little mushy, with noticeable body roll during higher-speed cornering. But overall the ride was comfortable and for most, will be quite satisfying.
Off the Road
Mitsubishi’s rally-proven all-wheel drive system, or Super All Wheel Control (that’s the “S-AWC” in the official model name)” provided the sure-footedness needed to tackle a nearly 30-mile off-highway jaunt on a rock-strewn dirt road high in California’s Cleveland National Forest.
The Outlander handled the trail with aplomb. It rarely spun a wheel on the loose dirt and gravel surface and automatically and immediately compensated when it did.
Ground clearance isn’t great, at just 7.3 inches, but it was sufficient to let the Outlander clamber over embedded rocks and across assorted ruts without incident.
Pricing and Trim Levels
The Outlander PHEV is a fairly roomy compact SUV that comes in two trims, SEL and GT.
Pricing starts at $35,535 for the base SEL; the GT starts at $41,235. Available options — such as a $285 “PHEV” graphic for the side panels — can add a few thousand to the bottom line.
Both models qualify for a federal income tax credit of up to $5,836, and some state and local governments and utilities offer incentives as well.
For the money, you get a well-equipped, five-seat, all-wheel drive crossover with reasonable cargo capacity.
There‘s a 30.4-cubic-foot cargo bay and a total of 62.8 cubic feet of space with the rear seats folded away. Towing capacity, typically weak in electrically driven vehicles to preserve range, is 1,500 pounds. Standard roof rails can mount a variety of cargo carriers.
The base model comes with leather upholstery, 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate system, power remote lift gate, power-adjustable front seats, and safety systems, including traction and stability control and blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic and lane-change assist alerts. It has a 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain and PHEV components warranty.
The GT trim adds a nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system, a power sunroof, adaptive cruise control, a multi-view camera, forward collision mitigation and lane-departure warning.
Both trims have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility — a good thing as there is no on-board navigation system.
The plug-in Outlander’s powertrain consists of a 117-horsepower gasoline engine, which puts out 137 pound-feet of torque, and a pair of 80-horsepower electric motors fed by the 12-KWh battery pack. The engine is used in sustained highway driving and to generate electricity to drive the electric motors, one on each axle. Total system output is reported as 197 horsepower, but under acceleration feels like much less.
The Outlander PHEV system typically operates in front-wheel drive mode. The rear motor kicks in when additional power is needed or when the driver depresses the “4WD Lock” button to activate torque-vectoring four-wheel drive.
Drivers can let the on-board computer decide what’s best for fuel efficiency and driving conditions, or they can play computer themselves with a batch of driving mode buttons.
EV mode cuts the engine out of the driveline at most speeds until the battery is depleted. Charging mode uses the engine to drive the front wheels and produce extra power for the generator to charge the battery while you’re rolling along.
Battery-save mode keeps the battery charged for later use and relies more heavily on the gas engine. Eco mode reduces both gas and electricity use by cutting power output.
A pair of paddle shifters on the back of the steering wheel allow the driver to select from any of five levels of regenerative braking effort.
Long before the bigger, more established players such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz thought of it, Mitsubishi brought the world a plug-in hybrid crossover that offered room, utility, comfort and fuel efficiency at a competitive price (especially when those government incentives are figured-in).
But the company is being slow to offer U.S. buyers updates that European and Japanese shoppers will soon enjoy.
The Outlander PHEV is well worth a look if you are crossover shopping, and it may satisfy most drivers’ needs, but it would benefit from a more powerful PHEV system and an updated design.
Editor’s note: To facilitate this report, Trucks.com attended an event where Mitsubishi Motors North America hosted travel and lodging.