EL SEGUNDO, California — Since coming to work here at Automobile, we of the #Noboringcars mantra, I’ve been getting an education on what constitutes a not-boring car. The easy answer is a vehicle that’s a blast to drive, but it can also apply to a one that is intriguing from a technological or even a styling perspective. So while, yes, the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid we had in for a drive sure looks the boring part, taken as a whole it’s not quite what it appears to be at first glance.
Among other things, the Outlander is among the first PHEVs on the market with a 480-volt fast-charge port—roughly equivalent to installing an escalator in your front stoop. That’s a pretty impressive piece of tech from any automaker. The Outlander PHEV is also the nicest thing going in Mitsubishi’s lineup and relatively competitive for its segment. It’s nicely sized, comfortable, well-thought-out, and, in top-of-the-line GT spec, respectably plush.
Mitsubishi has been selling the Outlander PHEV in Japan since early 2013, and it has been promising a North American arrival “next year” ever since. Five years later, it’s finally here. The delay may well be attributed to its success elsewhere: Despite the brand being one stop from Nowheresville in the U.S., the Outlander PHEV is the world’s best-selling plug-in hybrid SUV, according to Mitsubishi.
It’s also a decent value, particularly as far as plug-in hybrids go. The Outlander PHEV starts just over $36,000, which not much more than Ford’s plug-in Fusion Energi sedan and just short of half the price of the plug-in Volvo XC90. Kia’s Niro PHEV starts at $28k, but it’s more of a small hatchback than an SUV. Chrysler’s seven-seat Pacifica Hybrid plug-in lists for some $5,000 more than the Outlander.
Because it has a plug, the Outlander PHEV is eligible for a $5,836 Federal tax credit. That’s not a deduction; it’s a discount off the tax you owe, which brings the Outlander PHEV’s out-of-pocket price down to $30,279, about three grand more than a Toyota RAV4 hybrid of the non-plug-in variety. State incentives can make the Mitsubishi even cheaper.
In terms of its overall hybrid technology, the Outlander, like other Mitsubishi offerings, isn’t quite front-of-pack. Its battery-only range is 22 miles, more than the get-me-through-the-center-of-town Audi A3 E-Tron but less than half of the Honda Clarity PHEV or Chevrolet Volt. I blame the Outlander PHEV’s age and its success in Europe, where city-center restrictions on non-electric vehicles make shorter ranges more sensible.
On the flip side, the Outlander PHEV gives you a lot of control over how you use that charge. In default mode, the Outlander makes the choice for you, prioritizing electric power for low-speed driving and switching on the gas engine when power demands are high. EV mode forces the Outlander to run all-electric, provided the juice is available, while Battery Save mode causes it to run like a conventional hybrid, holding the battery charge for when you need it. There’s also an EV Charge mode, which uses the engine to juice up the battery to extend the car’s electric-only range, but doing so is far less efficient (and costly) than plugging it in. You’d be hard pressed to find another PHEV that offers more control over operation, and quite a few that offer less (I’m looking at you, Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid).
Like most PHEVs, the Outlander can use a 240-volt Level 2 EV charger, though charging times are a bit long-ish at 3.5 hours. The Outlander can be trickle-charged from a 120-volt outlet in eight hours, which is slow but suitable for overnight charging.
And then there’s the 480-volt fast-charging port, which uses the same CHAdeMO adapter as the Nissan Leaf. Mitsubishi claims an 80 percent charge in about 25 minutes. In my experience, CHAdeMO is fast to start and slow to top off, and that’s an advantage. Here in Los Angeles, where the Department of Water and Power has free CHAdeMOs at its substations, I plugged in the Outlander and popped off across the street to the grocery store. Fifteen minutes later I had 15 miles of charge (not to mention that night’s dinner). I’ll take that.
Once the battery runs low, the Outlander PHEV operates like a regular hybrid, favoring electric power for low-speed operation. The EPA gives the Outlander a 25 mpg combined rating, but I saw 28 mpg in my own mixed driving. I’ll take that, too.
For daily-driving duties, the Outlander is unfailingly pleasant in the way of most small- and mid-size SUVs. The driving dynamics, while notable for an absence of enjoyment, are also notable for an absence of annoyances. Visibility is good, the side-view mirrors are nice and big, and the cabin is easy to get into and out of. The back seat deserves kudos, not just for its space, but for the fact that Mitsubishi has engineered a proper folding mechanism, with headrests that flop down and a seat-bottom cushion that flips forward, proving you with a flat and continuous load floor. There’s plenty of cargo space with all seats in place, and Mitsubishi has mercifully declined to cram a third row into the Outlander PHEV (as they do in the regular gas-powered Outlander), so there’s no need for me to complain about that. There’s also a ridiculously long 5 year/60,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, which has nothing to do with interior space, but I had to mention it somewhere.
Complaints? The small (11.3 gallon) fuel tank means frequent fill-ups. Even with a fully-charged battery, Mitsubishi claims a range of just 310 miles, and that means a lot of stopping to tank up on long trips. The powertrain is a bit jerky at creep-forward speeds, and there’s no optional navigation system. Mitsubishi expects you to use Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which come standard—that’s all well and good until you have no signal or data.
Then there’s the “Park” button, which is hidden behind the transmission shifter where it’s awkward to reach. Senior editor Nelson Ireson, who also spent some time in the Outlander, was outraged by that: “It’s as if the ergonomics were designed by aliens, not particularly advanced ones, but with intelligence comparable to our own.” He also thought the gas engine sounded like 10,000 sewing machines being run through a meat grinder. Still, even Ireson grudgingly agreed that the Outlander had few serious bad habits: “Aside from the engine, ergonomics, steering, and styling, it’s fine,” he said. I’d go further and submit that the Outlander PHEV is quiet (at least when the engine’s not running) comfortable, and reasonably posh.
And it has a plug. A very big one.
If it sounds like we’re damning the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV with faint praise, well, that’s fine. It’s an SUV, not a Lamborghini, and while there are certainly more exciting crossovers to drive, there aren’t many in its price range or competitive set. The Outlander PHEV’s short-ish battery range means the average buyer will likely be using fuel on a day-to-day basis, while Honda Clarity PHEV, Chevrolet Volt, and Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid owners are much more likely to do all of their driving on battery only.
That said, even if the Outlander Hybrid can’t eliminate the need for gasoline, it can greatly reduce it. That’s a good thing—and, if you ask me, a not-boring thing as well.
2018 Mitsibushi Outlander PHEV S-AWC GT Specifications
|PRICE||$41,235/$41,930 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||2.0L DOHC 16-valve I-4/117 hp @ 4,500 rpm, 137 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm plus A/C synchronous permanent magnet motor/60kW, 101 lb-ft (front) and A/C synchronous permanent magnet motor/60kW, 144 lb-ft (rear)|
|TRANSMISSION||Power split (front), single-speed (rear)|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD crossover|
|EPA MILEAGE||25 mpg combined (gasoline), 74 mpge combined (gasoline + battery)|
|L x W x H||184.8 x 70.8 x 67.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.5 sec (est)|
|BATTERY||Lithium ion, 12.0 kWh|