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Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
The Top Gear car review:Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
What is it like on the road?
Let’s drill down into the powertrain, because that’s a) what’s new and b) where Mitsubishi’s spent its money. The oily bit is a new four-cylinder petrol engine capable of switching between conventional Otto (for power) and Atkinson (for efficiency) combustion cycles. Displacement is up from 2.0-litres to 2.4-litres, giving more power (133bhp vs 119bhp) and torque (156lb ft vs 140lb ft). Under heavy acceleration it drives the Outlander’s front-axle via something called a ‘Multimode eTransmission’ (definitely not a CVT. Feels like one anyway), but most of the time it’s either dormant, or acting as a generator to charge the 13.8kWh battery pack (up from 12kWh) that lives under the boot floor.
That battery powers two electric motors – one on each axle for variable all-wheel drive, even though there’s no mechanical link between them. The rear-axle’s motor is new and rated at 94bhp, an increase of 13bhp.
All this has trimmed half-a-second from the 0-62mph time, and increased the speed at which the Outlander can cruise on electric power alone to 84mph. Which is just about enough for the M11. The new, more stringent WLTP fuel-economy tests suggest a CO2 output of 46g/km, a combined average of a still-unachievable 141mpg, and a range of 28 miles in EV mode.
Speaking of modes, there are a few to get your head around, but none too complicated. An EV button stops the ICE from cutting in unless you really, really need it, a largely pointless Sport mode sharpens the throttle response and Eco does the opposite. The all-wheel drive system gets some too – Snow and Lock – and the powertrain a further three – Normal, Save and Charge. Save keeps the battery topped up for, say, if your journey ends in a town and you want to glide through it on e-power. Charge deploys the ICE to, you guessed it, charge the batteries if, say, you don’t have access to any kind of charge point (a standard three-pin plug will charge the battery in four hours – a half-hour longer than the old car). Then there are six levels of regenerative braking, which you choose between by moving the gear-selector from D to B, and flicking the paddles behind the steering wheel. It’s easier in practice than we’ve made it sound, we promise.
As for how it feels to drive - this new engine is more refined than the one it replaces. You get that rubber-bandy feel and flaring of revs, as you might in a CVT, but the 2.4’s quieter and less thrashy tone makes it marginally more bearable. Driven like a normal human you won’t hear it much anyway – there’s decent off-the-line punch in EV mode, making the Outlander easy to pilot without bringing the ICE into play too often.
Revised front- and rear-shock absorbers are supposed to make it ride more smoothly. They do – a bit – but it’s still not the smoothest-riding SUV. There’s a bit of jiggle, heave and roll, and while there’s still some kickback through the wheel, the stronger bodyshell (thanks to a new type of welding) means there’s less reverberation. The steering is marginally quicker, and Mitsubishi has worked hard to make the brakes feel natural – but the former is still slow and feel-less (good and confident on the motorway, though), and the latter spongy, with not enough bite at the very top of the pedal. Not that this is supposed to be a sports car. We’re so used to SUVs driving like cars nowadays – because everything shares a platform – that the Outlander feels, at times, like a bit of an anarchism. Because it still feels like a 4x4, not a car.
It is at least quiet on the motorway – road-noise is well supressed and there’s surprisingly little wind noise given its size and height.
Before we move on, something weird. The paddles behind the steering wheel, that control the regenerative braking – they’re the wrong way around. When this layout is used for shifting gears it’s normally the paddle on the left that changes down. In the Outlander, that paddle decreases the level of regeneration, making the car free-wheel for longer. Like you’ve changed into a higher gear. Feels odd.