Plugged in, charged up, ready to go

New Mitsubishi Outlander is world’s first hybrid electric SUV.

New Zealand has so taken the sports-utility SUV to its heart that over 28% of new vehicles sold here follow this family-friendly go-anywhere design.

Now Mitsubishi has put the cat among the pigeons, adding a radical new dimension to the petrol/diesel SUV market: a world-first PHEV plug-in hybrid electric vehicle version of its perennially popular Outlander.

This groundbreaking new model, due in Mitsubishi dealer showrooms in April, is the first ever to meld electric vehicle technologies with all-wheel-drive capabilities and SUV know-how.

The benefit to the owner, Mitsubishi says, is the unprecedented environmental performance and quietness of an EV, the stability and handling of a 4WD, and the sheer practicality of an SUV. Plus an undreamed-of economy rating of 1.9 litres per 100kms. Or, as one UK writer noted, 149 miles per gallon.

All this in an SUV that looks just like its petrol or diesel Outlander cousins, and does what they already do well - city driving, long distances, off-road adventures - but even better.

Mitsubishi Japan says that by 2020 every fifth new Mitsubishi will be a PHEV or EV design. It’s building 30,000 Outlander PHEVs this year, but doesn’t expect even that volume to keep up with global demand.

New Zealand is third in the world to experience the car, after Europe, where 20,000 are already on the road or ordered, and Japan.

Mitsubishi’s head of sales and marketing strategy, Daniel Cook, says: “This is absolutely a ‘no compromise’ car, with genuine AWD capabilities and credentials”.

Plug the car into a standard power socket overnight, says Cook, and you can commute to work up to 52 kms with no fuel use, spending less on electricity for the week than the cost of a couple of coffees. (The average NZ commute is 38 kilometres, he adds).

“This car turns conventional thinking on its head. Typically, a focus on power can tend to sacrifice economy, and vice versa. Not in this case. The twin electric motors’ 332 Newton metres of torque and V6-style power position the PHEV as the performance car of the Outlander range. Yet overall, you get this astonishing economy.

“And ‘range anxiety’ is a thing of the past: the 2-litre petrol engine is constantly ready to generate electricity to top up the battery, and add extra power when it’s needed. All with no intervention from the driver”.

Is this the future of motoring? Charge overnight, commute for a few dollars a week: load up for a long trip, discover how many familiar gas stations you can drive straight past...

How does it work?
The Outlander PHEV doesn’t have the single petrol or diesel power source we’re all accustomed to. It has three.

  •  Two 60kW electric motors, one driving the front axle and one the rear. Together they contribute more torque (332 Newton metres) than the V6 Outlander you might have driven in the recent past, and it all comes in with the first touch of the pedal.
  • A multi-purpose 2-litre petrol engine, giving 88kW of power at 4500rpm, and ready to turn wheels or generate electricity as required.

They work together to give you unprecedented economy: as an average measure, 1.9 litres per 100 km.

Three operating modes: all automatic
The car selects from three drive modes, depending on road and driving conditions, on load, and whether you want to charge the battery.

  • In EV mode, the car’s in full electric drive. The electric motors drive all wheels, using the drive battery. An overnight charge gives you a 52 km range.
  • In Series Hybrid mode, the electric motors still power the car, and the petrol engine works with the onboard generator to top up the drive battery: accelerate hard, or climb a hill, and the petrol engine helps by driving the generator.
  • In Parallel Hybrid mode, the MIVEC petrol engine (using 91 octane) takes over at higher speeds, when it’s at its most efficient: the electric motors help when extra power’s needed.

All this happens automatically. The driver does nothing.

How do I charge it up?
From any standard power point: one end of the charging cord goes into the power socket, the other into the car. Off-peak, a full 6.5 hour charge costs about $1.41, so a weekly electric-only commute’s around $7. Use the special smartphone app (VRX model only) to set the car to charge offpeak, or turn on the air con so it’s cooler when you get in, or switch on the lights so the car’s easy to spot at night.

Is it easy to drive?
It’s pretty much like an ordinary automatic. Press the one-touch start button, select D or R and you’re away. The big difference is this: the car will choose whichever drive mode best suits the driving conditions.

If you’re in EV mode, first thing you’ll notice is how quiet and smooth it is. The car uses its own motion to charge up the batteries, through regenerative braking. Once your foot leaves the accelerator, the electric motors behave like engine brakes and convert kinetic energy into electricity. Whenever you brake, more energy goes into the battery: you’ll see this on the instrument screen.

If you want to save battery energy, press a switch and the petrol engine will be used more often, charging the battery even when the car’s stopped: it takes about 40 minutes to reach 80% capacity when stationary.

How do I select four wheel drive?
4WD is permanent when driven in either the EV or series mode. With front and rear axles each having their own electric motor, you get exceptional four wheel drive traction. The complementary Super All Wheel Control system distributes power and brake force between the four wheels for total stability.

Is there special safety gear?
The PHEV has the maximum 5-star European E-NCAP safety rating. So of course does the battery pack: it’s shielded in a framed, rigid sheet metal casing and it’s resistant to debris and bumps from the road.

In the VRX model, two additional automatic systems help keep you safe in traffic. If a vehicle in front slows down suddenly and you don’t hit the brake pedal, the Forward Collision Mitigation system does it for you. Working in tandem is Adaptive Cruise Control, which uses radar to match your speed to the vehicle you’re following, helping you keep a safe distance.

Pedestrians are kept safer too. In EV mode the car’s very quiet, so at low speeds it alerts pedestrians with a gentle alarm.

Your instruments and a high definition 7-inch touch screen help you keep track of what the car is doing.

Meanwhile, the 7-inch touch screen shows you how the energy flow changes based on your driving mode and the conditions. You can monitor how energy is being consumed and see your ECO ‘score’, range and other drive data.

Outlander PHEV more than a match for Asian mountains and jungle
To demonstrate the Outlander PHEV’s pace and durability, a privately entered pre-production vehicle was driven in the 18th FIA-sanctioned Asia Cross Country Rally.

This six day event - the continent’s biggest, and an eastern take on Dakar-style extreme cross country rallying - covers 2,000 km of challenging South East Asian mountain roads, muddy jungle and river crossings between Pattaya in Thailand and Pakse in southern Laos.

The PHEV was totally standard except for rally-required upgrades such as shock absorbers and springs, roll cage and underfloor protection.

In an event mostly populated by heavy-duty diesel-powered utes, the only plug-in hybrid ran problem-free, finishing 17th overall.

At a glance

  • Powertrain: High-capacity underfloor lithium-ion drive battery powering front and rear electric motors, plus 2-litre petrol engine.
  • Output: Front electric motor 60kW/137Nm, rear electric motor 60kW/195Nm. Petrol engine 88kW at 4500rpm. Average fuel consumption 1.9 L/100km, exhaust emissions 44g/km CO2.
  • Safety: Five-star EuroNCAP safety rating.
  • Tow rating: 750kg