What a difference four years, one vehicle generation, and a massive powertrain rethink can make.
Back in 2018, I opened my video review of the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander GT by calling the SUV “shockingly out of step with the most competitive segment in the world.” Rewatching the video, I wasn’t wrong (though the Mitsu fan club wanted my blood in the comments): the previous Outlander was coarse to drive, bizarrely designed, and rife with substandard interior materials.
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|2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
|2.4-liter I4 w/Twin Electric Motors
|248 Horsepower / 332 Pound-Feet
|Trim Base Price:
|$39,845 + $1,345 Destination
Fast forward to the spring of 2021, when we drove the all-new, fourth-generation of the Outlander, and a quantum leap had been achieved. Senior Editor Jeff Perez called the new SUV “near the top of its class.” A few months later, Managing Editor Brandon Turkus scored the 2022 model year car an excellent 8.3 out of 10, and said that it represented “a revelation” for the brand.
Today, Mitsubishi is selling Outlanders as fast as they can be built, and word is getting out that the vehicle – once prized for the fact that it could be had for steep discounts – offers a tremendously competitive package even at its full retail price. Next up is a new and very well-executed plug-in hybrid version of the Outlander, that promises huge efficiency and something of a gateway drug for SUV shoppers not quite ready to ditch ICE completely.
Gallery: 2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: First Drive
Mitsubishi invited a handful of journalists to get an early, brief first test drive of the Outlander PHEV; about 45 minutes on roads just around and through Ann Arbor, Michigan. This sample gave me a great feel for the impressive powertrain, but more exhaustive notes about ride and handling over varied surfaces will have to wait until I have a bit more time in the car. (We didn’t even get to try one of Ann Arbor’s two decent driving roads.)
The plug-in hybrid powertrain has been fully upgraded from the outgoing Outlander PHEV, though the concept remains the same. There are two electric motors, an 85-kilowatt unit up front and a 100-kW mounted on the rear axle, upgrades in output of 25 and 30 kW, respectively, from the last car. A 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine adds in 131 horsepower and is used to either drive the front wheels, charge the 20-kilowatt-hour battery pack, or both, depending on drive mode. Total system output is 248 hp and 332 pound-feet of torque, with an estimated 38 miles of electric-only range, and an impressive overall 68 miles per gallon equivalent figure.
Even without a differential connecting the front and rear axles, those two electric motors give the Outlander full-time all-wheel-drive, with great acceleration characteristics and added peace of mind for drivers in cold weather climates. The combination of motors, battery pack, and gas engine also give Outlander three distinct driving modes.
In EV mode the vehicle is propelled by the electric motors alone – no gas required. Series Hybrid mode makes use of the gas engine to charge the battery pack, while still only driving the wheels by way of the axle motors. Finally, Parallel Hybrid Mode unleashes the gas engine’s power on the front axle, while using the electric motors to assist as needed.
If you’re starting to feel a bit of decision fatigue reading all of that – and we haven’t even touched on the seven vehicle modes that affect the all-wheel-drive response, throttle, and steering effort – don’t worry. Engineers set out to make the driving experience mimic a full EV as much as possible, and in any of the powertrain configurations, they’ve largely succeeded. The sounds from the gas engine are certainly audible, but overall the vehicle is exceptionally quiet from the vantage point of the driver. And the acceleration on offer from all that torque makes the Mitsubishi feel sprightly, if not exactly ludicrous.
The Outlander PHEV also features a weirdly named but great-to-use version of a one-pedal driving mode dubbed Innovative Pedal. Activated by way of a button on the center console, the system jumps up the strength of the regenerative braking, allowing the vehicle to come almost (but not completely) to a stop simply by lifting off the throttle.
The 38 miles of range afforded by that 20-kWh battery pack aren’t going to be enough to sway someone looking at a pure EV, but I do think that the overall efficiency of the vehicle relative to its price, will find a lot of takers. For $41,190 (that’s an MSRP of $39,845 and a destination fee of $1,345), you’re taking home an SUV that’s a bit larger than the similarly priced Toyota RAV4 Prime ($41,635 with destination). The Outlander is less efficient overall and offers 4 fewer miles available of EV range, but has the twinned advantages of a use-in-case-of-emergency third row, and (to my eyes) a far nicer cabin.
Of course the calculus for Outlander PHEV ownership got a bit harder recently, since the vehicle is no longer a candidate for federal tax credits. Even still, I think that for folks with shorter commutes the available range, combined with fast-charging capability that’ll take the battery from 0 to 80 percent state of charge in 38 minutes, there’s a ton of value here. Whether you’re plugging in overnight (a full charge takes about six and a half hours on a typical 240-volt, level 2 home charger), or just taking advantage of the hybrid system’s efficiency, the Outlander should have extremely reasonable running costs.
From one of my least-favorite test cars to one of the most surprisingly great, the last four years have seen a remarkable climb up the ranks for the Mitsubishi Outlander. With the PHEV hitting dealers next month, that trajectory seems likely to continue for the brand.
Outlander PHEV Competitor Reviews:
2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV