Petrol, diesel, or hybrid? We test three Mitsubishis back to back
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It’s almost with envy that we peer into the past and marvel at how simple the car-buying process used to be. Forget having long lists of near indiscernible acronyms clogging up your options; it used to be a case of picking a gearbox, picking a colour and signing on the dotted line.
Forgoing all the tat, like selecting headrest contrast stitching hues or wheel patterns, the most pressing question these days is engine choice. We’re in a time of transition, where hybrid and fully electric powertrains are gaining prominence for their environmental and financial benefits as traditional petrol and diesel units appear to be falling out of favour.
But, is that swing in attitudes reflected by reality?
Across two weeks, Driven sampled three different Mitsubishi Outlanders — a petrol (silver), a diesel (white), and plug-in hybrid (red) back to back. Each became part of the furniture, journeying to and from work, with a few weekend and evening excursions for good measure.
The Outlander may not be the freshest SUV on the block, but it is one of New Zealand’s most popular. Away from the bravado of its fresher, more enthusiastic competitors, the Outlander has quietly become a bit of a sales hero for the Mitsubishi brand.
Much of this is thanks to its approachability and pricing. A conventional bodyshape gives it exceptional visibility and space and a family focus makes for an instantly comfortable, no-frills experience behind the wheel.
Our petrol model was a foundation-spec $33,990 2WD LS featuring a four-cylinder 2.4-litre engine making 126kW/224Nm. The diesel was a range-topping $56,990 4WD VRX, with a 2.3-litre 112kW/366Nm turbodiesel.
And then, of course, there was the $55,990 Outlander VRX Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle; or PHEV. This technology is still relatively ahead of the curve, making the plug-in Outlander a feather in Mitsubishi's cap.
As its elongated name suggests, the electrified 88kW/189Nm PHEV is no conventional hybrid. Instead, it's a plug-in hybrid, which means you can plug it into a wall socket at home or a public fast charger.
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“But, doesn't that negate the point of a hybrid?” I hear you say. “Isn't it meant to charge itself on the run?”
It may be true that other hybrids will simply charge as you go. But the benefit you get from a plug-in is that less of the energy created by the conventional engine inside (in this case, a 2-litre four-cylinder) is used to charge the batteries for the electric motor. In essence, this means plug-ins such as the PHEV will get better economy than garden-variety hybrids.
And, that economy is reflected in the claimed numbers. Mitsubishi says the PHEV will achieve a 7.2L/100km economy rate when driving on its petrol engine alone, but that number falls to a skint overall 1.7L/100km when the electric motors are percolating (at a claimed rate of 13.4kWh/100km). Compare that to the petrol’s 7.2L/100km and the diesel’s 6.2L/100km economy figures. Both impressive in isolation for this class, but much more vast than the fuel-sipping PHEV.
On top of Mitsubishi’s claims, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) supplies annual cost-to-run fuel figures (based on 14,000km of driving) of $2020 and $2210 respectively for the petrol and diesel. The hybrid, meanwhile, cruises in with an annual cost of just $280 — barely more than what a few evenings out with friends would set you back.
But, there’s only so much one can learn from numbers on spec sheets and data approximations. We wanted to test these figures in reality. To do that, we measured economy figures on my work run over two weeks; a 45-minute real-world drive each way split almost perfectly down the middle between suburban roads and motorways.
The test started with the 2.4-litre petrol Outlander, a vehicle that was surprisingly able to match its claimed 7.2L/100km number — despite the best efforts of Auckland’s lousy traffic.
As an experience, the petrol Outlander served up the sort of smooth familiarity that buyers crave. It was relatively quiet and predictable, with more than enough performance for the school run, the getaway or just the daily grind.
The 2.4 is a considerable improvement on Mitsubishi’s base-level 2-litre petrol, and well worth the additional $1000 outlay.
The diesel had a tougher time recreating Mitsubishi’s claimed 6.2L/100km, instead averaging a still-impressive 7.5L/100km.
Of course, diesel powertrains come with their own sets of pros and cons relative to petrol counterparts. The big positive is torque, with the tested Outlander diesel packing an extra 142Nm compared to the petrol.
This gives the engine a punchier response, particularly in low revs, making them a popular choice for lifestyle buyers wanting a tow vehicle. Indeed, the Outlander diesel has an extra 400kg of towing capacity thanks to its engine.
Historically, the counterpoint for this extra performance has been a louder, more agricultural experience behind the wheel.
Thankfully, diesel tech has gradually improved, with the Outlander diesel feeling reasonably muted to occupant ears (although, it’s much louder than the petrol from the outside).
And lastly, there was the PHEV.
Apart from some minor visual differences, one significant trade-off is space. Because of the extra room required for its additional batteries, the plug-in is only able to seat five instead of the seven that can be accommodated in the petrol or diesel.
Fully charged, it shows an indicated electric range of 54km on the dashboard — enough to theoretically perform my drive to and from work with a charge overnight. On a standard plug, it’ll charge from flat to full in around 6.5 hours, with a DC fastcharger getting it to 80 per cent in around 25 minutes.
In reality, we figure that we were getting around 30km of pure EV travel from each full charge. Less than the claimed numbers, sure, but enough to make a significant difference at the pump and to give us less than 4.5L/100km in overall returns.
It's worth noting that, once out of juice, the PHEV's 2-litre petrol engine is notably less polished than its contemporaries. The lack of a conventional transmission means that it can drone on quite significantly, especially if you're taking on an incline.
Nailing down an economy figure here is more challenging than the diesel or petrol, since there are more factors at play; such as regenerative braking. This is a traditional element in hybrid cars, whereby batteries get a kick of charge when the driver lets off the throttle or presses the brake pedal. Kinetic energy from the slowing vehicle gets diverted in stored in the batteries for use later.
Apart from being hear-a-pin-drop silent, the regenerative braking is perhaps the biggest difference to the PHEV’s driving experience.
The regenerative braking functionality means that every time one releases the throttle, the car defaults to slight braking. So, even if you enter a journey with no electric charge, you’ll accrue tidbits of it over time.
In layman’s terms; you’re always either being propelled forwards, or slowing to a stop — there’s no real in-between.
It can be a slightly disconcerting feeling at first, but after an hour of driving most will either be used to the sensation or will have right-foot muscle memory smoothing the process.
Beyond that, there's also the not insignificant matter of charging and its challenges to consider.
The number of rapid charging stations dotted around New Zealand is growing by the day. The count as of January this year is 175, with the NZTA steadily nearing their goal of having at least one rapid charger situated along every 75km stretch of State Highway. That sounds promising, but still wasn't enough to give me the confidence to not meticulously pre-plan a weekend lunch trip out of Auckland.
Armed with the Chargenet app in my pocket, locating a DC charging station was a breeze and we were able to charge the PHEV from around a third of charge to full for less than five bucks while having lunch — monitoring all the progress in real time through my phone.
What I hadn't accounted for was the vast, layered world of EV etiquette. While lunch dragged on, the (now charged) PHEV hogged the main parking bay while a school of gen one Nissan Leafs circled like hungry silent sharks.
Halfway though the third mouthful of Cheek & Chong's more than adequate sizzling shaking beef the penny dropped that I was involuntarily committing EV sin, and I was forced to abandon my all-too-patient lunch company to unplug and move the shiny red Outlander. Lesson learned.
We began this little test with the hope of emphasising differences, but instead it feels like we've ended up emphasising the similarities.
Although a fully electric car may be a superior environmental choice, the Outlander PHEV is a great way to transition to the next generation of technologies. Hybrid and diesel motoring have both closed the gap in refinement and accessibility to faithful petrol, with little separating Mitsubishi’s trio of Outlanders.
The technology may still be developing but — right now — there are no wrong answers.
But, that's not to say that there isn't a verdict here to be made.
The petrol is still the ultimate choice for buyers on a budget. The entry-level 2.4-litre Outlander succeeds in serving up a predictable and faithful ownership experience, at a price-point equal to a number of well known hatchbacks. The diesel meanwhile adds a dollop of grunt and versatility, making it the best fit for those hoping to use their SUV as a workhorse.
But, it's the silent, serene commuting of the PHEV that'll be best remembered here. It's a sound halfway house between yesterday and tomorrow, at a price that — in this case — undercuts the diesel. The charging process is only going to get easier, as these kinds of vehicles get more commonplace.
Just make sure not to hog the chargers. Nobody likes those people.