Did you know that there are currently nineteen different plug-in hybrid electric vehicles on sale in the U.S. right now? Me neither. In fact, if you asked me to name more than five I couldn’t. The Volt, Prius Prime, Pacifica, Hyundai Ioniq and the subject for this Quick Spin, the Mitsubishi Outlander.
Several of the premium European brands sell PHEVs. BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, and MINI have these as options but none sell in any great number. Other than maybe the BMW i3, of course.
Before we talk about the Outlander PHEV, let’s talk about PHEVs in general. Given the cost and the current technology of a “pure EV” vehicle, the PHEV seems to be a good compromise. Twenty to 60 miles of battery power for the daily commute and then a gas engine for when you need to go farther.
Initially, the brief describing PHEV buyers said they preferred vehicles that are frugal on fuel. The addition of the battery would then be a bonus for even better fuel economy. The issue with that logic is that the people who buy high MPG vehicles are cheap to begin with, and don’t really want to spend the extra money required to have a PHEV. They see little to no payback after running the numbers.
Along the way, the U.S. market, and increasingly the world market, are dumping all other vehicles and piling into crossovers and SUVs. So if “these are the vehicles American’s want” to steal a line from a particular politician, where are all the PHEVs in this category?
You see, manufactures love crossovers and SUVs because they can make real money on them. Consumers love them because they aren’t station wagons, minivans or sedans. The OEMs play games with some if not all crossovers in putting them into a “truck” segment for fuel economy reasons (CAFE) but are they missing an opportunity here?
The public is willing to pay more for a crossover or SUV, what if the OEM’s put their PHEV technology into these rather as opposed to cheap economy cars? Would there be a better take rate? Based on the two larger PHEVs I’ve driven I’d say there is a good chance.
A little over a year ago I drove the Pacifica PHEV. It did 30 to 35 miles on battery power alone and it did so pretty consistently. Driving the Pacifica on the battery power was actually quite nice. It had excellent torque and good pickup on acceleration from a dead stop. It was great through traffic and was quiet. In fact, it was a far superior driving experience to driving it on gas power.
OK, 450 words of the preamble to get to the point. A few weeks ago I had a brief go in the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. Yes, you can chime in here with the tired old bit, “Mitsubishi is still in business?? Why??” Note to Chairborne Commando platoon, Nissan/Renault bought them, they aren’t going anywhere. So why don’t I respond with another meme.
As a gasoline vehicle, the Mitsubishi Outlander is a more than a competent three-row crossover. It’s really what the U.S. market would consider a five-passenger crossover with a third row jammed in the back for very small children. The third row being usable for adults? Not so much. It has all the modern tech convenience of every other modern car, it drives fine, it handles like a crossover. It’s only distinguishing features as a gas vehicle is that it’s very cheap. You can get a nicely equipped one for under $30,000.
The item that makes it stand out though is the inclusion of the PHEV option. With its 12-Kw battery back the Outlander PHEV will do twenty-five to 30 miles in pure EV mode. With a DC fast charger, it can do an 80% recharge in 25 minutes. A full recharge on 220v is four hours and 110v is eight hours.
There are three drive modes to the Outlander PHEV. “Charge Mode” uses the generator to charge the main drive battery independent of being plugged in. “Save Mode” does what it says, it saves the EV power and has the vehicle operate as a standard Series or Parallel hybrid depending on conditions. “EV Priority Mode” will turn the gas engine on only when maximum power is needed.
In EV mode you can also select five different levels of regen. From zero where you “glide” when lifting off the throttle, to a heavy regen where you need to use very little brake.
One additional party trick the Outlander PHEV has is 1,500-watt outlet in the rear cargo area. Yes, you can take a TV to your tailgate party and plug it in. Or, if you have a power outage you can legitimately power up all your peripherals if needed.
Much like the Pacifica, when operating in EV mode it takes a vehicle that is “fine” into something that is legitimately interesting. The immediate power of the electric powertrain and the reduced noise completely changes the driving experience.
Driving in pure EV mode will tell you just how good a job the engineers did with regards to the vehicles NVH, and in the Outlander PHEV it was pretty solid. The cabin was quiet, there weren’t any weird wind noises caused by bad aero, and the tires didn’t have excessive noise in the cabin.
The Outlander PHEV is an all-wheel-drive vehicle that has no driveshaft or transfer case. It uses independent electric motors front and rear to provide the drive to the wheels and electronically control torque distribution.
If the OEMs want to move higher fuel economy vehicles to improve their CAFE, and produce more PZEV vehicles to meet the requirements of a growing number of states, as well as amortize the costs associated with creating battery-powered vehicles then they need to look at mainstreaming this PHEV tech into the vehicles that people are buying and willing to pay for. That is crossovers and SUVs. Why General Motors hasn’t done a crossover version of the Volt is a mystery to everyone outside the Renaissance Center. That is the vehicle that should have been called the Trailblazer, not the buffed up Equinox GM are putting out.
Believe it or not, Mitsubishi has a pretty good idea here with the Outlander PHEV, and it’s reasonably well executed. The problem they have is little to no brand awareness here in the States. And where there is awareness it’s largely dismissed.