2014 MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Plug-in Electric Medium SUV
Price: $47,490 (Outlander PHEV), $52,490 (Outlander PHEV Aspire)
Engine/trans: 87kW/186Nm 2.0 litre petrol four + two electric motors (137Nm front, 195Nm rear) | Fixed-ratio transaxle
Fuel Economy claimed: 1.9 l/100km | Tested: 1.7 l/100km (with caveats)
Here we have a practical family SUV that doesn’t cost the Earth and boasts a useful - if not terribly generous - electric-only range.
Being able to charge it from a wall-outlet means visits to the petrol station should be few and far between, provided your trips are mostly short ones.
And thanks to its 2.0 litre petrol engine, the PHEV can keep running long after its battery is depleted.
This gives the PHEV the range-extension needed for longer trips. You could easily drive it between capital cities, using the petrol engine to keep things charged.
So it's like the Holden Volt, only much cheaper and roomier, and it's an SUV.
But before sceptical family buyers can be convinced of the Outlander PHEV’s worth, Mitsubishi’s fuel economy claims need to be assessed.
Is it as frugal as the 1.9 l/100km ADR-tested figure when driven in the real world? Do the economics of charging from a wall outlet mean you’ll save enough money over the long term to cover the extra premium of the PHEV?
As part of the Outlander PHEV’s local launch, we drove it over an 80-km closed course in a fuel economy competition against our fellow journalists. We also happened to win, and you won’t believe our final fuel consumption figure.
The route encompassed 80km of roads in and around Canberra, with plenty of highway stretches, long inclines, traffic lights and roundabouts to frustrate our efforts to achieve maximum economy.
The key to winning would be in covering the greatest distance under electric power alone. With a claimed maximum EV range of 52km, the further we could go under electric power meant the less petrol we’d burn.
Part of our electron-saving strategy involved powering down the climate control system, though we cracked the windows slightly to give us some respite from the heat.
We also made the wise decision of picking a white PHEV - light colours absorb less heat from the sun.
Not quite satisfied with this level of nerdiness, we donned our pocket protectors and studied the PHEV’s dyno chart, determining that the torque curve in EV mode was meatiest around 60km/h.
That meant hills - especially steeper ones - would be best taken at 60km/h. At this speed the PHEV’s dual electric motors would be under the least strain, and draw less power from the battery than if we tried to sustain a higher or lower speed.
Flat ground could be taken at speeds up to 80km/h. Above this speed aerodynamic drag starts to rear its ugly head, and we’d only go faster if traffic conditions demanded it.
On downhill sections we’d make use of the Outlander PHEV’s variable regenerative braking. By tapping the paddles behind the steering wheel, the strength of the regenerative braking system could be stepped through six different settings.
At its most aggressive setting, the regen system would easily hold the PHEV at 80km/h down a moderate downhill slope. With minimum regen, the car would conserve momentum and coast a great distance without any power draw.
The benefits of the variable regenerative braking system are twofold - we’d be able to regulate our speed without using the energy-wasting brakes, while simultaneously topping up the batteries.
So what was our goal? To beat 1.7 l/100km, a figure achieved by rally champ (and now eco-run ace) Ed Ordynski over the same route.
With our preserve-the-battery-at-all-costs strategy, progress was anything but quick. Accelerating from a standstill was done as gently and smoothly as possible, and one eye was always locked on traffic conditions up ahead.
If we approached a set of red traffic lights, the regenerative braking would be dialled up a few notches as we coasted gently to a halt.
If we could see the lights were about to change, we’d use minimal regen and hope cars would already be moving by the time we got there.
These battery-saving tactics worked well.
We managed to stretch the PHEV’s EV-only range from the claimed 52km to around 54.5km, and this was despite taking a wrong turn which saw us burn electrons to get up a steep hill.
Our strategy didn’t change when the battery ran dry and the engine kicked in.
Gentle throttle inputs meant the engine would fire up later and less frequently, and careful use of the regenerative braking system actually saw us re-enter EV mode - if only for a handful of kilometres at a time.
The route back into Canberra was a frustration though. Late afternoon traffic plus a long string of traffic lights frustrated our efforts to preserve momentum, but, thankfully, nothing like the log-jam you’d experience in Sydney or Melbourne.
It was agonising watching the numbers rack up on the fuel consumption display, but before long we were back in the hotel driveway. Exercise over.
What was the outcome? An ultra-thrifty 1.7 l/100km, with a distance-to-empty of 578km. Yes, we’d managed to equal Mr Ordynski’s result, yes, we’d beaten every other competing journalist and yes, we smashed the ADR fuel consumption figure by 0.2 l/100km.
And all that was accomplished despite taking a wrong turn.
But as satisfying as winning the competition was, we’ve gotta say that hypermiling a car like the PHEV is anything but fun. It’s slow, tedious, and your fellow road users won’t love you for it.
As an exercise in what’s possible with the PHEV, though, the eco run was a valuable insight into this car’s fuel-saving capability.
Sipping 1.7 l/100km over an 80km course in a mid-size SUV is not something we would have imagined possible just a few years ago, yet here we are.
And it’s possible to use even less fuel. Keep your daily trip to under 50km, and chances are you’ll never need to fill up your PHEV at all.
Mitsubishi says the cost of recharging the Outlander PHEV’s battery from empty ranges between $3.00 and $3.60, but that’s using peak-period electricity. Recharge overnight using off-peak power and you can expect to pay roughly half that amount.
That’s roughly three cents per kilometre. Compared with the base PHEV’s non-electric analogue, the Outlander LS petrol (which drinks 7.5 l/100km, equalling roughly 12 cents per kilometre at today’s fuel prices), the PHEV has a definite fuel economy advantage.
Concerned about the CO2 impact of recharging your PHEV on coal-fired power? Simple, just opt for a green energy plan. You’ll still be ahead of the petrol-powered competition when it comes to cost-per-kilometre.
Of course, there’s a gulf in pricing between the base PHEV and the Outlander LS Petrol - $11,000. That’s quite a premium for the PHEV’s fancy petrol-electric powertrain.
If you only ever recharged using off-peak power and never used any petrol, and loosely factoring-in vagaries of electricity and petrol pricing, you’d need to drive your PHEV for something like 130,000km before the savings overcame the extra cost of the PHEV.
There’s also the increased cost of servicing the PHEV.
Under Mitsubishi’s capped-price scheme the first service costs $360, the same as a petrol Outlander 4x4. However, subsequent services jump to $470, adding a few hundred dollars extra to the cost of ownership.
But consider this: where will petrol prices be this time next year? Will they be the same? Maybe. Will they be higher? Probably. Will they be lower? Erm, no.
The higher the price of petrol gets, the more sense cars like the PHEV make.
The writing is on the wall: fuel is getting increasingly more expensive, and electric motoring is no longer just for eco-nerds.
If you’re concerned about the impact that petrol costs are having on your wallet, it’s time to take a serious look at a serious alternative: the Outlander PHEV.
- 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV - $47,490
- 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Aspire - $52,490