Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: The quiet performer
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It’s the quiet performer in New Zealand’s EV marketplace — since 2014 Mitsubishi has been selling shedloads of Outlander PHEV SUVs, with little fanfare.
Until the end of last year, Mitsubishi New Zealand had sold 500 Outlander PHEVs, making it this country’s biggest-selling pure electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle.
That means 45 per cent of all EVs or plug-in vehicles sold new in New Zealand have been Outlander PHEVs.
Though the Outlander PHEV has had upgrades since its introduction here four years ago, including the ability to recharge on a fast-charging station and to run in pure electric mode, the PHEV hybrid retains the same powertrain, transmission and core as the model introduced.
In the intervening four years the competition has increased as more manufacturers have rushed to offer either hybrids or EVs of their own.
Meanwhile Mitsubishi, a motor company that has always been an engineering rather than marketing focused-vehicle manufacturer, has sold more than 100,000 of the practical PHEV plug-in Outlander SUVs across the world.
Driven recently had the chance of driving the Outlander PHEV in some of the most extreme winter conditions on the planet,
high in the mountains of Norway.
The drive was on roads caked with snow, which had been falling almost every day in the Geilo region of Norway since December. This was in temperatures ranging from -1C to -7C.
We drove it over main and secondary roads, although the amount of snow effectively meant you had no idea whether you were driving on tarseal or gravel surfaces.
We also had the chance to effectively throw the Outlander PHEV around an ice-covered lake, where professional rally drivers are trained to take on top-level international rallies.
Though I confess to ploughing a PHEV straight into a 3m snow drift, and having to be towed out of it by a sturdy Mitsubishi Pajero, the Outlander PHEV could handle the extreme conditions without a hint of instability or fear-inducing quivering on the frozen surfaces.
It handled sharp corners competently as the traction control and other safety features beneath the car ensured there was minimal slippage or sliding, and certainly nothing that would induce fear in drivers not used to so much snow on the roads.
There is also something special about driving such a quiet vehicle in magical and often remote snow-covered mountain roads.
At times there was only the noise of the spiked winter tyres crunching the snow beneath us as the Outlander PHEV negotiated the sweeping and often narrow roads, as the vehicle operated on just the twin electric motors at the front and rear of the vehicle, with power going to all four wheels.
Acoustic windscreen glass has been added to the specification on New Zealand models, making the vehicle cabin even quieter when driving on the road.
The Outlander PHEV’s default operating position is to run as an EV, with the petrol engine kicking in only under intense acceleration or at high speeds, when it is more efficient than the electric motors. This, too, helps ensure there is a pure-EV feel to driving it.
The SUV has an EV-only range of around 54 km,
and, like all EVs, this range depends on how the vehicle is driven.
The total range for the plug-in hybrid PHEV is between 500-600km, providing a range equal or better than many similar-sized petrol-only powered SUVs.
Among the improvements in the latest Outlander PHEV is an upgrade of the vehicle’s towing capacity to one and a half tons.
The Outlander PHEV is 250kg heavier than its slightly smaller new sibling, the Eclipse Cross SUV, and the additional weight helps it handle tricky road conditions — although it also results in a greater effort to extract it when it has been ploughed front-first into a snow drift on an icy racing track.
The mishap occurred after an almost faultless and fast lap on the icy circuit, when we were travelling at speeds of 80km/h while negotiating relatively tight corners with no drama.
Then a combination of overconfidence and momentary lack of concentration, led to the off-road excursion at the beginning of a corner.
That was in a controlled racing situation where we were the only vehicle on the track, and the soft snow meant although the Outlander was buried in 3m of snow, it was extracted without any body damage.
Another driving session on public snow-covered roads the following day went much more smoothly, with the Outlander handling even steep and curvy icy declines confidently and without drama.
The five-seater Outlander PHEV XLS 4WD sells in New Zealand for $60,990, which is a $13,500 premium on the 2.4 litre XLS 4WD model with equivalent specifications.
The Outlander PHEV plug-in hybrid is also the best-selling electric SUV in Norway, where the rugged and extreme climate encourage buyers to buy robust four-wheel drive vehicles.
The managing director of Mitsubishi Motors Norway, Rune Gjerstad, said his market was not ready for the technology when it was first introduced there in 2013.
But from selling just three Outlander PHEV models in 2013, the company sold 5136 in 2016, and 4067 last year.
Despite increased competition in recent years, and tax changes favouring electric-only vehicles, the PHEV plug-in hybrid remained the market leader.
The company does not emphasise the economy of the vehicle, but instead markets the vehicle as a high quality, well-built barrier breaker.
"Mitsubishi Motors Norway is selling it as a modern thoroughbred SUV, a modern chargeable hybrid,” he said.
In the Norwegian market the main competition was from Volvo and the Audi A3.