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2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV ‘most important vehicle I’ve driven this year’


The plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variant of the Mitsubishi Outlander crossover is probably the most important vehicle I’ve driven this year.

That’s because it puts exciting vehicle electrification technology within reach of the motoring masses, and wraps it in a compelling package that’ll work for a wide range of Canadians, without breaking the bank.

Said technology is the PHEV driveline, one of several available to Outlander shoppers, alongside conventional four and six-cylinder engines. With the PHEV, it’s a two-litre four-cylinder gas engine, at the heart of a plug-in hybrid heart.

Conventional vehicles have a gasoline engine.

Hybrid vehicles (HEVs) have a gasoline engine paired to an electric motor/generator and self-recharging battery that can’t be plugged in. This hybrid combination uses self-generated electricity to reduce the gas engine’s workload, saving fuel and reducing emissions.

To the HEV, a PHEV adds an even larger battery that can store so much juice it needs to be recharged via external power (hence the plug). The surplus of externally-sourced electricity is then used by the vehicle to enable extended periods of all-electric motoring, usually several dozen kilometres worth.

With it’s fully-charged battery, Outlander PHEV can drive about 35 kilometres (at virtually any speed) before any gasoline is used. If you charge regularly at home, all trips of less than 35 kilometres become fuel free.

If you can charge at work during the day, and at home overnight, a 70-kilometre (round trip) daily commute would cease to require any gasoline.

With daily running around and commuting (which use the most gasoline) being handled electrically, many families would be visiting the gas station a few times a year, instead of a few times a month.

Recharging from empty on a household 120-volt outlet is an overnight job. On a public or household Level 2 charger, you’re full from empty in about four hours.

Notably, Outlander is also the only PHEV that can also suck back electrons from a Level 3 DC Fast Charger, which is the mother of public chargers, and a device built to fast-fill the enormous batteries in all-electric vehicles. Plug the Outlander into one of these, and an 80 per cent charge (from empty) takes a half hour.

Cottage weekend on the mind? Forget the recharging.

With a full battery and a full tank of gas, you’re clear for hundreds of kilometres and plugging in is never mandatory. In any PHEV, you’re ready to rock whether the last battery recharge was this morning, or last month.

As long as you’ve got gasoline, you’re good to go and you can do the electric driving thing at your convenience.

This is all wrapped up in a full-function, family-ready crossover that’s nicely sorted, appealingly equipped, and very easy to use.

If you know how to operate a gasoline-powered vehicle, and how to stick the power cord into the plug on Outlander’s rear passenger side, you’re all set. Nothing about making the switch to a PHEV crossover, in this application (or any other I’ve tried to date), will cause you any stress.

But why do I think Outlander PHEV is the most important vehicle I’ve driven all year?

Because aside from the hybrid stuff, it’s also a pretty good family crossover, too — meaning it doesn’t require the important PHEV-curious shopper to give anything up.

AWD for winter? Got it. Ground clearance? Done. Proper cargo hold that’s cottage, canine and Costco ready? Affirmative.

Heck, this thing might be the most Canada-ready PHEV yet. (It is it’s best-selling).

Presently, Outlander is the only affordable PHEV crossover available, not to mention the only affordable AWD-equipped hybrid going. A driver-selectable lock mode can be engaged for pre-emptive traction enhancement ahead of driving through deep snow or mud, but in all other situations, the system just does its job invisibly in the background, and requires absolutely none of your attention. Ground clearance isn’t massive, but does result in added likelihood of scrape-free passes over even moderate obstacles in an off-road setting, or giant slush-boulders strewn onto the highway.

I noted no cargo-related issues either. Opening the power tailgate reveals a canine-friendly jump-in height, and a cargo area that’s flat, wide, tall, and mostly square to the edges, meaning it makes better use of its space. Seatbacks fold full-flat, adding further flexibility. There’s even a household power outlet back there and I can confirm it will run a Nespresso coffee machine.

In my custody, the tester aptly handled a 600-kilometre round-trip drive to the cottage. Even full to bursting with four adult passengers, camping gear, and my Nespresso machine, comments relating to rear-seat legroom, noise levels, and ride quality, were frequent, and positive.

Test-driving shoppers who commonly find the ride in similar crossovers to be too stiff or sporty will appreciate the setup. In most of its work, the suspension turns in a ride that’s soft and gentle, undulating smoothly and repeatedly in response to uneven roads.

I noted minimal crashing into heavier bumps, and an excellent highway ride for relaxing and socializing on the open road. Noise levels from the tires, wind, and engine are nicely muted, on most surfaces. Mostly, it’s a quiet, comfortable place to be.

Note that certain specific rough-road surfaces of off-road trail surfaces (and especially washboards), do crank the noise and vibration up a few ticks.

Steering and brakes both exhibit some initial vagueness when used, though this mostly just makes it easier to drive the Outlander smoothly. Power output is adequate when called upon for full throttle passing or merging, but this powertrain does its best work when driven gently, preferably in the ghostly-quiet electric mode.

Sportier drivers needn’t apply, but those who mostly want to sit back, unwind, and relax, will find the Outlander PHEV a worthy long-haul travel companion. Just note that the fuel tank is smaller than some shoppers will like and a full day’s highway cruising will likely require a stop partway through to gas up.

If you like blasting music, you’ll probably like the Rockford Fosgate stereo, by the way. My Spotify, playing through Android Auto, sounded punchy and bright.

The cabin has a few strengths and a few weaknesses. On the plus side, it’s tastefully trimmed and styled, conveys an upscale look from a glance, and includes no shortage of instrumentation and interfaces that help make drivers part of the PHEV experience.

Controls that alter the operation of the system, and visually convey its current operational status, are easy to use, and easy to read.

I noted no issue with entry or exit, or space at any front seat. By and large, everything is where it should be, easy to find, and easy to use.

But there are some gripes: including limited rear-seat headroom for anyone beyond average height, and the way several controls and buttons around the driver are hidden from view by parts of the steering wheel or wiper stalks. I could have done with a few more USB charging ports, so I plugged two of my own in via the 120-volt power outlets.

Finally, my tester’s passenger seat adjustment motors became comically loud when used by a heavy passenger, and the central command system graphics look dated, and overdue for an update.

The specs

Model: 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Engine: 2.0L, four-cylinder + PHEV electrification

Drivetrain: Mitsubishi all-wheel control

What’s hot: Comfy and quiet highway drive, fuel-free driving, spacious and flexible cabin, plenty of safety equipment

What’s not: certain surfaces degrade ride quality, won’t satisfy sporty drivers, rear seat headroom limited for taller passengers, dated infotainment system

Starting price: $43,498


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