Many have written Mitsubishi off as an also-ran in the American marketplace destined to the same fate that befell Suzuki and Daewoo. Well, not so fast.
|Engine: 2.0L four cylinder engine + two electric motors. Total output 200 HP and 245 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: Single drive transmission
Fuel economy: 32.5 miles of range, 148 MPGe in European drive cycle
Some of the company’s offerings are long in the tooth like the Lancer or a bit too niche for most consumers to care about like i-MiEV. But Mitsubishi is hard at work developing new, innovative products for the future.
As stated many times by the manufacturer, Mitsubishi’s future lies with hybrid and electric vehicles. In 2009, the company dipped its toe in the alternative energy pool, bringing to market the all-electric i-MiEV city car. Finding the water warm, last year Mitsubishi decided it was time to tuck up its legs and cannonball into the deep-end, releasing the more mainstream Outlander Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV).
Still alien on our shores, the Outlander PHEV has been on a slow worldwide rollout since first appearing in Japan in 2013. Based on the current third generation Outlander, Mitsubishi has already delivered over 33,000 of these hybrid crossovers around the globe. In fact, for 2014 the Outlander PHEV is the highest selling plug-in hybrid currently on sale in the U.K. bar none.
So where’s our version? Well, it’s coming. Expect the North American version to arrive in late 2015 or early 2016. Of course it will differ slightly from other versions sold around the world, but the core mechanics will stay the same.
Three Motors, One Engine
The drivetrain for the PHEV starts with a 2.0-liter gasoline engine derived from the Lancer compact sedan. To bolster refinement, balancing shafts have been added to the engine, which makes 120 hp and 145 lb-ft in this application. Joining it between the front wheels is an electric motor with 40 hp and 100 lb-ft of torque. In the rear there’s another electric motor that also generates 40 hp, but since it’s the sole powertrain for the back tires, torque has been boosted up to 144 lb-ft.
This all adds up to a total system output of 200 hp and 245 lb-ft. of torque. Compared to the current Outlander V6, that’s down 24 HP and up 30 lb-ft. Tipping the scales at 3,990 lbs., the PHEV also weighs a lot more thanks to all that plug-in hybrid technology. With an extra 400 lbs. to lug around, acceleration isn’t exactly swift with a claimed 0-62 MPH time around 11 seconds.
Multiple Hybrid Modes
The PHEV can run in three different drive modes: EV, Series or Parallel. In EV mode, the Outlander runs on pure electric power up to speeds of 75 MPH, utilizing the front and rear motors. In Series mode, the gas engine acts as an energy producing generator for the electric motors, similar to the Chevrolet Volt. When maximum power is called for, Parallel mode kicks in that uses the gas engine and electric motors to drive the vehicle. If a charge is completely depleted, the vehicle becomes front-wheel drive only since the gasoline engine is only coupled to the front wheels. But, a charge can be recaptured through regenerative braking, coasting, etc., that can store a little power in the batteries for use at the rear wheels when needed.
Stuffed beneath the passenger floor and impeding the application of a center differential or driveshaft is a 12 kWh battery pack. But that hasn’t stopped Mitsubishi from applying the company’s super handling all-wheel control (S-AWC) to the Outlander PHEV. Front to rear power splits are controlled by the amount of juice sent to rear motor, depending on road conditions. Better still, all-wheel drive can be locked in manually by the driver and like all S-AWC systems, power can also be sent side-to-side to individual wheels.
Impressive Tech, But How Does it Drive?
I was able to take a brief drive in a Dutch spec Outlander PHEV around city roads and on the highway. Power delivery is smooth and feels more robust than figures suggest. A fair amount of throttle application can be applied in pure electric mode before the gasoline engine will engage. Once it does, the transition from all electric to hybrid mode is smooth, although the gas engine is a bit noisy.
Getting up to speed on the highway with three adults onboard isn’t an issue and the Outlander will cruise comfortably at 74 MPH in pure electric mode without struggling. Being a European spec vehicle, the brakes were a bit grabbier than we are used to in North America, but otherwise worked fine. The paddle shifters from the V6 Outlander are still present, now serving a new purpose. Slap the left paddle and the vehicle’s regenerative braking force increases while clicking the right paddle decreases pressure. In all, regen braking force can be adjusted through six levels, ranging from zero (off) to five (whiplash).
Recharge on Demand
One of the coolest features in the Outlander PHEV has to be the vehicle’s ability to recharge its battery pack on demand. By selecting the recharge button on the center console, the gasoline engine will not only produce power for the drive motors, but also enough to begin recharging the battery pack. Mitsubishi claims battery can be recharged to 80 percent capacity in just 40 minutes, which is impressive considering a stage three rapid charger needs 30 minutes to accomplish the same feat.
While on the topic of charging, a standard 110V household outlet can charge the Outlander fully in 6.5 hours which is also impressive. It almost makes a stage two 220V charger’s four-hour refill time seem redundant.
For those who do a lot of highway commuting followed by drives through a city, Mitsubishi has given the Outlander PHEV a “save” feature that allows drivers to manually engage the gasoline engine when wanted to save the electric charge for later. I experimented using both the save feature and the recharge on demand and found neither adversely affected the Outlander’s performance. In fact, when cruising on the highway, I would be interested in finding out how much more gas the Outlander uses during a forty minutes charge period compared to just running the drive motors. Is the extra gas trade off worth the recaptured electric range? Only a proper test with the upcoming North American version can answer that question.
Quick Charge and Decent Range?
With charge times so low and the ability to recharge itself on the fly, I wouldn’t fault readers for thinking this is another plug-in hybrid with no range. Although 32.5 miles isn’t bladder bursting, it’s still respectable and should cover most people’s commutes one way. On the less intensive Euro drive cycle, the Outlander PHEV is rated at 148 MPG equivalent (MPGe). For reference, the Toyota Prius PHEV is rated at 134.5 MPG equivalent in Europe. For perspecitive, the Toyota is rated for 95 MPGe by U.S. standards.
In transforming the Outlander from regular crossover to PHEV, no interior space is sacrificed, as long as a five-passenger model is selected. Seven-seat models are not available in hybrid form as the rear electric motor takes the place of the third row passenger’s foot well. Aside from a few new gauges, menus screens and buttons, it’s business as usual inside the Outlander hybrid.
When the Outlander PHEV arrives in North America the drivetrain technology will carry over with minor differences in tuning to better suit our market. Since it will most likely be a 2016 or 2017 model, our Outlander PHEV will also feature the styling tweaks shown in the recently released 2015 Outlander.
Currently in the UK the PHEV is priced roughly the same as diesel models, which makes it quite a value in the plug-in market. Mitsubishi’s plan is to aggressively price the Outlander PHEV when it arrives here in just over a year’s time. With great technology, an inoffensive ride and competitive pricing, the Outlander PHEV may just be the break-out vehicle Mitsubishi so sorely needs.