Piers Ward02 April 2014

First drive: Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Can the five-seat, 148mpg hybrid SUV live up to its astonishing economy figures? TG finds out

What is it?

It's a mud-plugging Mitsubishi SUV, but also a potential green posterboy. This Outlander is a soft and cuddly plug-in hybrid, with a claimed fuel economy figure of 148mpg and CO2 emissions of just 44g/km.

How much?

Yup, you read that right. Those are some mighty impressive figures for a family-friendly, seats-five-easily SUV, even if they don't entirely reflect reality. Even in the real world, you should still average an easy 40mpg, thanks to the combination of electric motors and 2.0-litre petrol engine. And your average will be even higher if you're mainly making short, all-electric trips.

So how does the tech work?

The Outlander PHEV is a plug-in series parallel hybrid, a phrase that might require breaking down. So here goes.

Plug-in: the Mitsu can be hooked up into the mains electricity supply, charging it for a (somewhat theoretical) ‘electric-only' range of 32.5 miles.

Series parallel: the petrol engine and electric motors work together, with either source providing motive power directly to the wheels, or be de-clutched and used to charge the batteries back up. The car decides which task has priority at any given point depending on how it's been driven. Think Toyota Prius, but with more emphasis on running on electric, and you'll be about there.

What all this means is that you can set off from home in the morning in full electric mode, and drive about 30 miles on EV only. Then, when the batteries are depleted, the petrol will kick in and get you the rest of the way, at the same time as charging the batteries back up. EV range anxiety solved.

But does it work?

To a certain extent, yes. For short journeys, starting with a full charge, you can achieve some extraordinary ‘economy' figures. Despite driving normally, with air con on, we never dipped below 60mpg.

And because it has two electric motors, one on either axle, it's still a four-wheel drive SUV easily capable of towing little Ginny and the nag to the local gymkhana.

But as a car to know and love, the Outlander isn't so great. The batteries have added 200kg to the kerbweight, so it doesn't ride as well as the diesel version.

And the 2.0-litre petrol is disappointing. It doesn't add the expected boost in power when it kicks in, and it's a wheezy lump that rasps asthmatically as soon as you push it. Compared to the smooth electric mode, the Outlander's combustion engine feels very old-school.

So should I buy one?

It depends. If you don't do huge miles, and like doing your bit for the planet but don't want to compromise on range or practicality, the hybrid Outlander makes sense.

Especially when you factor in the cost. Including government subsidy, the hybrid will cost you exactly the same as the diesel Outlander: £28,249. In other words, there's no price penalty for being green.

And company car drivers should definitely take a look. Because of the low tax bands, company car users will save a fortune over three years - as much as £11,500 compared to some rivals.

The Outlander hybrid theory, then, is great. The execution? Not quite. Yet.

6/10

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