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2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Review: The Cold, Hard Reality of Winter

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The first time we encountered the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV at its B.C. launch event, it was late winter and the SUV was staking its claim (successfully, we should add), as one of the few plug-in hybrid crossovers available on the market. In the intervening months the field it is playing on has gotten quite a bit more crowded.

So in addition to the Volvo XC60 T8, Volvo XC90 T8 and Mercedes-Benz GLC350e, all of which require a hefty budget to take one of them home, you also have the Kia Niro PHEV and the MINI Countryman Cooper S E ALL4. We should also include the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid in this category of plug-in hybrid models that are classed as utility vehicles.

In terms of size, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is clearly a great compromise choice if you want all-wheel drive, its only direct rival being the plug-in version of MINI’S Countryman.

In other words, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the electrified Outlander nearly equaled the gas-engine edition for sales: Mitsubishi sold 5,768 units of the latter, while the PHEV attracted 5,270 buyers.

Photo: V.Aubé

I was on hand for the launch of the model at that event in British Columbia last winter, and I can’t say that I was particularly blown away by its battery-power range or even by the driving experience it offered. I signed up for a sequel on Quebec soil in full winter, which would give me a second encounter with the plug-in model and cold-weather conditions.

No electrified 2019 edition yet?
The specs sheet for my Quartz Brown-coloured Outlander PHEV indicates it’s a 2018 model-year vehicle, and not a 2019. A gander at Mitsubishi Canada’s website confirms that the PHEV available to consumers is still a 2018. The regular edition of the Outlander, however, is now available as a 2019, with a slightly redesigned front end. I guess we have to wait for the new PHEV…

The same trusty old powertrain
Esthetic change or no, the good news is that what’s under the hood of the plug-in hybrid Outlander stays the same. The powertrain still includes a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine that delivers an nominally acceptable 117 hp, combined with two 80-hp electric motors, one in front and in the back. The latter is what transforms the utility vehicle into an all-wheel-drive one.

Total output has not been given an official number by the automaker, although the common belief is it’s around 200 hp. Elsewhere in the world, however, the Outlander PHEV has been available for longer, and there it gets a 2.4L 4-cylinder. The European model’s engine being more powerful, and its output being 221 hp, we can therefore deduce that that 200 hp figure for our version is probably accurate.

Photo: V.Aubé

The fact is, though, that Mitsubishi is offering a product that has been around for a few years already in Europe. And though I’ll admit that the first mission of this family vehicle is not to provide pulse-raising acceleration, a little more oomph under the right foot wouldn’t hurt with this vehicle not seen as offering much in the way of driving pleasure.

At the wheel, neither good nor bad
As mentioned, the Mitsubishi Outlander has never seen as an adrenaline machine, and it’s no different with the PHEV. The steering is very light, even at highway speed, so slight corrections are needed at all times – not the kind of thing that will make a long road trip less tiring. Add to that the fact that the suspension is calibrated mainly for comfort, and you end up with more roll than you should have to accept. As it happens I’d driven the Eclipse Cross just a few days before – read my review here – and found the same issue in both cases, which is that the nose drops a fair bit with sustained braking.

Floor the accelerator pedal, and you also get the same result in both models:  the 4-cylinder engine gets a little loud and cranky due to the continuously variable transmission. In this respect a lot depends on your driving habits, of course. But know that when the situation requires it, the 4-cylinder kicks in to support the two electric motors, which explains the cacophony produced by the engine.

Photo: V.Aubé

As I had in my previous test, I encountered some wind noise, which does trouble the peace inside the cabin. That aside, the fact that you’ll often be driving in electric or hybrid mode means highway cruising is still a fairly quiet experience. A day spent traveling in the mountains reminded me in fact of how peaceful it can be to cruise at 100 km/h on a well-maintained highway in an EV - so peaceful that it put all three of my passengers to sleep!

How about electric mode in winter?
My first drive of the Outlander PHEV took place technically in wintertime, but the mild B.C. conditions made for a very different experience than what I got this time around in Quebec. The temperatures were a lot lower, and the absence of a garage to tuck the Outlander PHEV away in meant that it was inevitable I would take a hit in terms of the range I enjoyed. The best result I was able to get, after a full night of charging, was a range of 21 km (the official range is 35 km).

Now, even 35 km is not really that impressive on a full charge. 21 km almost takes it into the realm of “why bother?”, especially when you consider the extra $5,000 it costs to acquire a plug-in version of the Outlander.

Photo: V.Aubé

By playing around with all the available modes in response to specific situations, I was able to get to a fuel consumption figure of 7.0L/100 km or thereabouts – the same result, as it happens, that I got in B.C. To be fair, I could have lightened up on the right pedal and stuck to 100 km/h, but let’s be honest not too many folks drive like that consistently. So you can take it from me, my average total fuel consumption, obtained twice, is probably what you can realistically expect to get, at least in wintertime.

The last word
I still admit to feeling some skepticism regarding the relevance of the Outlander PHEV for Canadian motorists. Yes, it fills that utility need and yes it’s a plug-in, but does the gain in fuel economy really justify the added cost? And does it make up for the absence of much in the way of driving pleasure? For sure, the Outlander PHEV is still today the best compromise the market offers in terms of space, plug-in capability and fuel economy, but for the cost, it’s hard not to conclude there are other alternatives that will cost you only a bit more at the pump in the winter – and might be more fun to drive!

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