The Outlander PHEV’s technological achievements can’t overcome its general mediocrity.
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV marks the future of the three-diamond brand. No longer defined by performance vehicles such as the Lancer Evolution or Eclipse sports coupe and convertible, the Japanese automaker is seeking to carve out a niche for itself as a leader in next-generation powertrain technologies, and the Outlander PHEV commands this charge.
Not quite as cutting edge as the electric Chevrolet Bolt EV or the hydrogen-powered Hyundai Nexo, the Outlander PHEV earns its keep as the sole plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle available in the compact crossover segment. While competitors such as Nissan and Toyota offer CUVs with gasoline-electric hybrid powertrains, only Mitsubishi sells a model capable of traveling any appreciable distance on electricity alone.
Although the Outlander PHEV’s trick powertrain certainly helps it stand out from the crowd, its middling interior, ergonomic challenges, and lackluster dynamics ultimately overshadow the crossover’s technological achievements.
As the sole plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle in its class, the $34,595 Outlander PHEV’s inherent value primarily comes down to individual consumer needs. For instance, those willing to sacrifice the Mitsubishi’s EPA-rated 22 miles of electric-only driving range will want to consider the $27,385 Toyota RAV4 hybrid.
Still, buyers lured to the powertrain tech of the Outlander PHEV will surely appreciate the model’s long list of standard features, which includes items such as a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, leather seating surfaces, heated and power-operated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power tailgate, a proximity key with push-button start, and a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert.
Opting for the high-end $40,295 GT trim – the entry-level Outlander PHEV wears the SEL moniker – nets niceties such as LED headlights and foglights, a sunroof, a premium audio system, a 360-degree camera system, a heated steering wheel, two interior-mounted AC outlets, adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beam headlights, a lane-departure warning system, and an automatic front-braking system.
Thanks to a total of $695 in accessory equipment and a $1,045 destination charge, this Outlander PHEV GT rang in at $42,035.
Mitsubishi clearly drew inspiration from a shipping container when designing the Outlander PHEV, because the brand’s compact crossover is one of the boxiest vehicles in its segment. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the Outlander’s square exterior affords reasonable interior accommodations.
Still, the look certainly fails to imbue the crossover with any pizzaz. While the Outlander PHEV is a generally inoffensive looking thing, this tester’s seemingly Range Rover-inspired hood emblem and gaudy side graphics do the plug-in Mitsubishi’s styling no favors. Even worse, Mitsubishi has the gall to charge for these items! The hood emblem runs $85, while the kitsch graphics cost $285. I can’t help but feel Mitsubishi ought to credit consumers $285 for driving what amounts to a rolling billboard for the brand’s plug-in technology.
Stepping inside the Outlander PHEV is no more exciting, and the cabin’s odd mix of piano-black trim, silver plastic, and faux wood make for an interior that looks tacky and designed by committee. Although a handful of interior items are PHEV-specific (including the leather-covered steering wheel, strange drive-by-wire gearshift lever, and gauge cluster), most of the cabin carries over the low-quality and hollow feel of the standard Outlander’s.
At least the Outlander PHEV offers a reasonably spacious interior. Unlike the seven-passenger Outlander, the PHEV ditches the third-row seats to make room for various EV components. With 30.8 cubic feet of space with all seats in place, the cargo hold of the gasoline-electric Outlander is down 3.8 cubes to its seven-passenger counterpart (with its third-row stowed).
Still, the PHEV’s square cargo bay makes the most of the available room, and it easily swallows bulky items without protest. GT models also include AC outlets in the cargo area and back seat, which allows buyers to plug-in household items such as a television or coffee maker (or whatever it is your heart desires).
Passenger space is reasonably accommodating and the leather-lined power and heated front seats provide adequate comfort and support, while the 60/40-split three-across rear bench-seat offers plenty of stretch-out space.
Despite a long list of standard feature content, the Outlander PHEV’s middling ergonomics ultimately fail to make the most of the model’s range of comfort and convenience items. The most egregious ergonomic offender is the standard 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system that features low-quality graphics, slow response times to touch inputs, confusing menu structures, and crowded on-screen buttons. Thankfully, the setup is both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto friendly, which allows for some reprieve from the horrid Mitsubishi interface.
Equally irksome is the gauge cluster-mounted display screen that toggles through menus by way of a button located beneath the leftmost air vent – a place you wouldn’t expect this function to reside. Similarly, the button for the GT’s steering wheel heater lives in a low-mounted panel below the center stack, rather than on the steering-wheel spoke or thereabouts.
Additionally, illogically arranged steering wheel controls make it difficult to quickly adjust the gap of the GT’s adaptive cruise control system or switch between the audio sources, channels, or tracks. Surely owners will adjust to the order of the steering wheel’s buttons, but it’s amazing Mitsubishi manages to make a mess of something as simple as this.
On paper, the Outlander PHEV’s powertrain is a mighty impressive thing. With an 80-hp electric motor at each axle and a front-mounted 117-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that can also power the front wheels, the PHEV’s powertrain is able to perform in one of three different drive modes: EV Drive mode, which offers an EPA-rated 22 miles of all-electric driving; Series Hybrid mode, which uses the gasoline engine to supply power to the electric motors; and Parallel Hybrid mode, which relies on the two electric motors and the gasoline engine to motivate the crossover. In both EV Drive and Series Hybrid mode, the gas engine comes into play and powers the front wheels to provide additional accelerative assistance if needed.
In practice, however, the Outlander PHEV’s powertrain is a less-than eloquent thing. Although the electric motors’ plentiful torque allows the Mitsubishi to move off the line with authority, any serious acceleration, such as merging or passing at speed, is a slower affair that requires the four-cylinder fire up and assist in pulling the PHEV forward. Coarse and loud, the 2.0-liter engine is an irksome thing that drowns the cabin in noise and ruins an otherwise pleasant powertrain. Hopefully, the 2019 Outlander PHEV's updated powertrain will be better behaved.
Lateral dynamics are no more exciting, and the crossover’s softly sprung suspension results in a comfortable ride and copious amounts of body roll through turns. Push the PHEV a little harder, and its 18-inch Toyo A24 all-season tires will squeal like pigs on their way to slaughter.
Kudos to Mitsubishi for equipping its gasoline-electric crossover with a solid feeling brake pedal that transitions nicely between regenerative and friction brake applications. Chunky steering-column-mounted paddle shifters allow the driver to alter the strength of the PHEV’s regenerative braking. (Tapping the gear shift lever can also alter the amount of regen.) Six different settings are available, and the highest setting affords near-one-pedal driving, while the lowest setting all-but eliminates the accelerator pedal’s regen capabilities and instead requires the driver use the brake pedal to slow the crossover down.
All Outlander PHEV models come standard with a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert. The top-of-the-line GT trim, however, replaces the standard halogen headlights with a set of LED units with automatic high beams and also adds active safety kit such as adaptive cruise control, a lane-departure warning system, and an automatic front-braking system. A lane-keeping assist system is unavailable.
The Outlander PHEV GT’s active safety equipment, however, comes standard on every RAV4 Hybrid trim. While the Toyota lacks a standard blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert (it’s available on higher trims), the RAV4 makes up for this by way of its standard lane-keeping assist function.
Thanks to its ability to drive an EPA-estimated 22 miles on electricity alone, the Outlander PHEV is a mighty efficient thing when its 12.0-kWh lithium-ion battery pack is full of charge. With its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine in the mix, though, the Mitsubishi’s efficiency is nothing to write home about, as the EPA rates the crossover at 25 miles per gallon combined. The RAV4 Hybrid, meanwhile, manages 32 mpg combined. That said, the Toyota lacks the Mitsubishi’s ability to travel long distances on electricity alone.
A handful of powertrain settings allow the driver to make the most of the Outlander PHEV’s reasonable electric driving range. Eco mode aims to reduce fuel and electricity consumption, while Battery Save and Battery Charge modes aim to keep the battery pack at a reasonable charge state.
Battery Save mode is only available when the battery pack’s charge drops below 90 percent. Mitsubishi sees this mode as a tool that a driver can use to ensure they have plenty of EV range for a forthcoming drive through an area where the sound of a gas engine may be disruptive or through a city or town that (in the future) bans gasoline-burning vehicles.
Battery Charge mode uses the gasoline engine to bring the battery to an 80 percent charge in approximately 40 minutes, per Mitsubishi. As with Battery Save mode, the Japanese automaker views Battery Charge mode as a tool a PHEV driver can use to ensure there’s adequate charge in the battery pack for an upcoming drive through an area where the sound of a gas engine may be disruptive or through a city or town that bans gasoline-burning vehicles.