What is it? Mid-life facelift of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV plug-in hybrid SUV.
Key features: Changes to styling, specification and refinement.
Our view: The improvements to the Outlander PHEV make it an attractive proposition.
Review type: First drive
Mitsubishi is today rather better known on the UK market than it was just two years ago, and one car is responsible for that.
The Outlander PHEV launched in April 2014 as a plug-in hybrid version of the Japanese brand’s 4×4 SUV, the newest incarnation of which had appeared in the previous year. And Mitsubishi hit on a highly effective marketing pitch for its new electric vehicle.
Taking full advantage of the Government’s £5,000 plug-in vehicle grant, the PHEV, with its official combined cycle fuel economy figure of 148mpg and CO2 emissions of only 44g/km, was priced the same as its diesel sister, and the results were spectacular.
In the 18 months since, Mitsubishi has sold 21,142 Outlanders, the vast majority PHEVs and representing 36 per cent of the brand’s entire UK volume. It’s overtaken the L200 pick-up as the most popular Mitsubishi and radically changed customer perception of a brand previously known for more utilitarian go-anywhere models such as the L200 and the Shogun.
In the process, Mitsubishi claims with conviction to have created the UK’s plug-in market. In 2013 a total of 988 such cars were registered, most of them Nissan Leafs. Within months of launch the Outlander PHEV overtook the Leaf and went on to claim a staggering 83 per cent of a 2014 market that had mushroomed to 12,111 vehicles. In the process the UK became the biggest market for the Outlander PHEV.
So one might wonder why the car is being updated so soon, but in fact the changes are mostly enhancements and part of an overall update package also being applied to the Outlander diesel.
The usual facelift elements of exterior styling changes, interior upgrades and more specification are included, while improvements are made to the car’s ride and handling and its noise – Mitsubishi having discovered that when you spend significant amounts of time travelling in silent electric mode, any wind noise becomes all the more noticeable.
Chief styling change is the adoption of the new ‘Dynamic Shield’ front-end look that will be applied to other forthcoming Mitsubishi models. The strong swooping panels and more prominent front and rear bumpers, increasing the car’s length by around 40mm, certainly add presence though produce an over-complex mass of lines and curves.
Other changes include new LED daytime running lights and alloy wheel designs, along with tweaks to the rear light clusters – it’s nothing over significant and maintains the easy-on-the-eye exterior visuals.
Most notable interior upgrades are a new multimedia system with fewer buttons and a faster start-up time, and several ‘fix-it’ changes, such as an electric tailgate that opens higher and with just one beep, not an annoying series of them.
A whole host of noise vibration and harshness improvements range across such measures as extra insulation and thicker glass and even extend to shaping the front air dam to reduce the air flow over the doors. It all seems to work and particularly on electric mode the car is virtually soundless.
Finally the changes extend to the chassis, which has been stiffened to keep the body more upright under cornering, and the power steering tweaked for smoother operation.
The subject of our test, the plug-in variant, has also seen some specific upgrades to a system that already knocks out the competition, the two-motor hybrid powertrain superior to rivals with single motors and maintaining the Outlander’s off-road credentials. This is further enhanced by the brand’s Super All Wheel Control (S-AWC) and Active Yaw Control. Between them they allow the car to independently brake and accelerate each wheel, making for smoother, safer driving on or off road, as was clear during our test route on highly varying surfaces around Bristol.
The Outlander PHEV already claimed what seemed like ridiculous eco figures, but the new model improves them further, shaving its CO2 emissions from 44 to 42g/km and stretching combined cycle fuel economy from 148 to 156mpg. While in the current environment such an apparently outlandish figure might arouse suspicion, on a launch test route that included everything from traffic-choked city roads to motorway the fuel economy figure remained well into three figures.
Improvements on the new model include a two-seconds faster acceleration to 25mph and the addition on top models of an Unintended Acceleration Mitigation System (UMS). This prevents accidental acceleration from rest, either forward or reverse, so will for example stop one accidentally moving off and hitting a stationary car in front.
All of which shows why the PHEV has done so well for Mitsubishi. For anyone paying company car tax, it’s a no-brainer. Benefit in kind charges will be five per cent, so running one of these cars instead of say a diesel Audi Q5 will save the owner more than £3,700 a year. And with an all-electric range of up to 32 miles, an owner doing the average UK commute and charging their car at each end of it would forget what the inside of a filling station looks like. Do a lot of motorway driving and fuel costs will be close to those of the diesel, but still with rather less tax…
The diesel costs from £24,799 and the PHEV starts at £29,249 once the Government’s plug-in hybrid grant is included. The hybrid’s entry price does match that of its equivalent diesel model, the GX3 auto, and overall prices are £1,000 more than the outgoing models.
Mitsubishi points out, however, that in addition to the upgrades, every new Outlander comes with increased specification. The entry-level diesel for example gains such niceties as an auto-dimming rearview mirror, dual-zone climate control and LED daytime running lights.
Entry-level hybrids also get the enhanced mirror and daytime running lights and the specification is boosted throughout the models up to the £35,999 GX4hs, debuting such standard equipment as a 360 degree round-view camera.
Meanwhile there is a new hybrid variant, the GX3h+, described as “an affordable version” of the PHEV with maximum electric range. Its specification includes the clever smartphone app that allows one to control various aspects of the car remotely, such as the pre-heater which warms up the insides on cold mornings, while the car is charging so as not to use up battery charge.
Whether one feels the need to go electric to help the planet or is simply looking to cut costs, it is hard to ignore the Outlander PHEV. The improvements to the new one simply make it all the more an attractive proposition.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV – key specifications
On Sale: October 2015
Range price:£29,249-£35,999 (after £5K Government grant)
Engine: 2-litre petrol engine and 2x electric motors
Torque (lb/ft):244 (combined).
Top speed (mph): 106.
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 156.
CO2 emissions (g/km):42.
Key rivals: Honda CR-V*, BMW X3*, Volvo XC90
Test Date: September 2015.
* = not a plug-in hybrid model