Good isn’t good enough in a class that’s great.
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV gets credit for being one of the first plug-in hybrid crossovers to market. The electrified SUV debuted at the Paris Motor Show in 2012, years before its next-closest competitors would (even though, technically, it didn’t go on sale in Europe until 2014). But since then, Mitsubishi hasn't done much to keep the Outlander PHEV competitive in this growing field.
Here and now in 2020, companies like Toyota and Ford ready arguably better plug-in alternatives. And while the Outlander PHEV does have some redeeming qualities, particularly in the range and comfort department, if you also factor in traditional hybrid models from companies like Nissan and Honda (let’s face it, customers will cross-shop), this Mitsubishi doesn't do much to entice the modern electrified vehicle buyer.
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV's 74 MPGe is competitive among all plug-in hybrid crossovers, even if the crossover has no true direct competitors. Possible alternatives like the Subaru Crosstrek (90 MPGe) and upcoming Toyota RAV4 Prime (90 MPGe) are slightly better. On a full charge, the Outlander can drive up to 22 miles on battery power alone. Again, that makes the Outlander PHEV competitive for the segment, even though outlier options like the Kia Niro (28 miles), and upcoming options like the Ford Escape Plug-In (over 30 miles, according to Ford) and RAV4 Prime (39 miles) are still better. The combination of an efficient 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, a 12-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, and two electric motors is what keeps the Outlander PHEV efficient. Even with that impressive range, total output for the setup is a modest 190 horsepower.
There's nothing sporty about the Outlander PHEV (that's what the Outlander Sport is for). But this crossover is nice to drive nonetheless. Power delivery is smooth and plentiful; the combination of the four-cylinder engine and electric motors give the Outlander plenty of oomph. The single-speed transmission is even, the ride is soft, the steering feel is quick, and even braking is nice, as it’s able to seamlessly transition between regenerative and friction applications. The Outlander PHEV is perfectly pleasant both around town and on the highway.
The Outlander PHEV welcomes both the driver and passengers with an open, airy cabin. There's plenty of room to stretch out in either row. The two front seats of our GT S tester have 39.9 inches of headroom, besting the most-spacious Toyota RAV4 (39.5 inches) and nearly matching the available headroom in the new Escape (40.0 inches). And leather is standard both on the steering wheel and seats. Bottom line, both rows of seats are very comfortable.
Even as the nicer trim of the two available, some of the materials in the Outlander PHEV GT S are chintzy. The standard 7.0-inch screen doesn't respond well to touch inputs (at least it has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), the buttons on the center stack feel cheap, and even the oddly shaped shift knob resembles a children's toy, both in design and quality. We do like the softness and suppleness of the leather, but that's about where our accolades for the Mitsu’s interior materials end.
Mitsubishi's overly stylized front fascia is a sore spot, even if the look sort of works on the Eclipse Cross. Here the design language doesn't translate well. The front of the Outlander PHEV appears overly busy and wears too much chrome and black plastic. The side profile is unflattering and accentuates the odd roofline. And the rear styling, if anything, is inoffensive with its off-the-shelf taillights and smattering of chrome trim. The Outlander PHEV, especially from the back, fails to stand out from the crowd.
There are a lot of transmissions available that we find loud and unrefined. Unfortunately, that's true of the Outlander PHEV's single-speed transmission, as well. Mitsubishi's single, direct-drive ratio is smooth, but it gives off an annoying whine that fills the cabin, especially off the line and at higher speeds.