On The Road

PHEV is A-OK: Outlander is well-equipped but has limitations

courtesy of Mitsubishi
Wildly popular in Europe, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has now come to the U.S. The 2019 version of the plug-in hybrid delivers only 22 miles of range on a single battery charge, however, which means most Bay Area commuters will have to rely heavily on the gas engine.

I wanted to like the 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) GT S-AWC. And, in a lot of ways, I do, and have for some time.

Two years ago, the gasoline-powered version of this machine got me over Donner Pass and back in a snowstorm. Even then, I acknowledged the Outlander’s age (despite a new one in 2014, this is very much a 2010-era machine), but the value equation – surefootedness, a reasonably powerful V-6 engine and feature content including a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system for less than $35,000 – won the day for the Outlander.

But now, the United States gets the Outlander PHEV. It has been a hit in Europe – the best-selling plug-in hybrid over there, in fact. There’s no doubt that has something to do with the shorter distances between cities, and that government officials in the most congested districts are increasingly banning internal combustion engines.

With the Outlander PHEV, you can charge the battery to deliver 22 miles of range, press the hold button that keeps that electric power in reserve and then drive it as a pure electric when required or desired.

Part of this is my fault: The driving I had planned for the eight days we had the Outlander PHEV was the polar opposite of its strength. My wife and I stretched the three-day Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend to six days and escaped the cold and rain of Northern California for fun in the sun in Palm Springs. We traveled to the understaffed but open (during the government shutdown) Joshua Tree National Park and came home via the mountain town of Idyllwild and hit Santa Monica for a lunch stop.

There was no time to charge the Outlander PHEV before leaving, though it does a remarkable job regenerating through braking, and there are few Quick Charging stations in the areas where we traveled. So, apart from building up 15 or so of the 22 miles of pure electric capability the vehicle has through regenerative braking on the back roads to I-5 as we left town, I drove it as a gasoline-powered vehicle. And it did pretty well, averaging 28.5 mpg during steady cruising on the interstate.

Space, fuel limitations

But the inclusion of the battery pack required space compromises, and one of the Outlander PHEV’s compromises is an 11.3-gallon fuel tank. I never let the needle drop below a quarter-tank, so what could have, in other vehicles, been a tank to Los Angeles, a tank to and around Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park and back to L.A., and a third tank back home ended up being nine fuel stops from beginning to end.

And the gasoline engine’s output of 114 horsepower is severely challenged by mountain roads like the Palms to Pines Highway linking Palm Springs and Idyllwild.

Finally, there are limitations as well to the fuel economy provided by the Outlander PHEV. If you can charge it daily and drive less than 22 miles between charges, you’re golden. But those 22 miles take a lot longer to get than, say, the Chevy Bolt, which can get 238 miles in a shade over an hour on a DC fast charger. A full recharge on one of those for the Mitsu takes approximately half an hour, during which the Bolt would regain roughly 110 miles range.

On a Level 2 charger (the more common kind in public spaces and home garages), the Outlander PHEV takes three and a half hours to gain back those 22 miles. And on home current – the good old-fashioned extension cord – you’re looking at eight hours.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency puts the miles per gallon gasoline equivalent (MPGe) rating for the 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV at 74. I keep a list of the MPGe ratings for EVs and PHEVs I’ve reviewed. The Toyota Prius Prime is at the top with 133. The Chevy Bolt and Hyundai Ioniq tie for second at 119. The Ford Fusion Platinum Energi, also a PHEV, ranked lowest at 97 – until now.

Upsides? The Outlander PHEV GT S-AWC comes well-equipped, including the 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system with Apple CarPlay and HD Radio. Mitsubishi has redesigned the front seats, taking them from among the least comfortable out there to among the most comfortable.

It has all the creature comforts we enjoyed so much in the 2017 gasoline-powered Outlander GT S-AWC, but the plug-in hybrid technology affects the price. Base is $41,495. Ours also had $295 added to the sticker for Pearl White paint and $135 for carpeted floormats and portfolio. With $995 destination and handling, that’s $42,920.

And at that price, I have to question whether, even if I drove fewer than 22 miles between charges, the Outlander PHEV makes sense. It is, at present, the only plug-in SUV out there. But that’s not going to last forever. On the day competition arrives, even in Europe where the Outlander PHEV does well, its limitations may be its undoing.

Mike Hagerty has been writing about cars since 1997 and is on the board of the San Francisco-based Western Automotive Journalists. He is the co-host/co-anchor of the KFBK Afternoon News (93.1 FM/1530 AM) in Sacramento. To read more of his reviews, visit tirekicker.blogspot.com.

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