The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is the manufacturer’s golden child, which is why it underwent a major facelift in 2016 and, a year on, it has been updated again. We headed to the South West of England to see what the latest plug-in hybrid SUV is all about and how it will fare after the 2017 car tax changes.
Once known for its Subaru-rivalling Evo road monsters, Mitsubishi now finds its biggest seller to be a big SUV. Specifically the hybrid Outlander, which is essentially a small house on wheels that relies on an electric motor and petrol engine to make it substantially less damaging to the environment and your wallet.
It must be doing something right because the Outlander PHEV currently represents 50 per cent of sales in the electric and hybrid car market, but then it is the only plug-in hybrid SUV that can enjoy the full government grant. Until April 2017, that is, but we will get to that in a minute.
The popularity is hardly surprising, really, when you consider the Outlander PHEV boasts the lowest CO2 emissions of any all-wheel drive vehicle and it is cleaner (and substantially cheaper) than the X5 PHEV and Volvo T8. Tens of thousands cheaper.
Then there is the gigantic interior, solid build quality and generous warranty. But is the 2017 model worth buying and exactly what has Mitsubishi added in an effort to make it better?
2017 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: What has changed?
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV overhaul in 2016 overshadows the relatively minor 2017 update, but what is new makes sense. The range on electric-only has increased by one mile to 33 miles, while the EV priority mode is now available across the range.
It also gets an electronic parking brake and a brake auto hold button that acts as a handbrake without actually engaging it, making hill starts easier. The suspension and dampers have also been revised and it can be charged more quickly – 80 per cent in just 25 minutes as opposed to 30 minutes when using rapid charging.
As for fuel economy, Mitsibushi has managed to improve the situation by 6.4 per cent, taking the combined figure to a claimed 166mpg. CO2 emissions, meanwhile, have dropped by 1g/km, taking it to a mere 41g/km.
As for the aesthetics, the 2017 Outlander is still a gigantic vehicle with all the grace of an overweight, arthritic hippotamus, but a new shark fin antenna built into the roofline, new silver paintjob, silver roof rails and some chrome accents do bling it up a tad.
No one will turn and stare at an Outlander PHEV, make no mistake, but then most off-roaders are obnoxiously large and boxy. At least the Mitsubishi is honest about it being a utility vehicle and, if it helps, there seems to be a whiff of the old Mercedes M-Class about it.
2017 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: How does it drive?
Better than the old model, thanks to two seconds being knocked off the 0-62mph time. It now launches off the line with a sense of urgency and builds up speed nicely without the help of the petrol engine. Where the diesel is noisy, the PHEV is blissfully quiet.
Above 40mph it starts to become less enthusiastic and the progression up to motorway speeds is an unexciting, linear affair, but it is plenty fast for a vehicle capable of carrying a decade’s worth of shopping. We have driven substantially less peppy superminis.
The ease at which the two 60kW electric motors (one at the front and one at the back) pull the 2017 Outlander along actually make it feel somewhat agile, although its weight and size soon reveals itself in the corners if you push too hard. With that said, it is quite grippy and the all-wheel drive system provides traction aplenty, allowing you to undertake slightly more difficult terrain.
Paddles either side of the steering wheel provide the ability to control the level of brake regen, from borderline braking at level 5 to barely any at level 1, a feature also seen on the Hyundai Ioniq. It feels a bit like you are changing gear and, with a bit of practice, will save you using the brakes and maximise how much energy is fed back into the battery when you need to slow down or stop.
Full throttle sees the 2.0-litre petrol work with the electric motors, but the noisy and revvy character of the engine and the fact it seemingly does little to increase off-the-line performance encourages you to be gentle with the accelerator.
2017 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: What about the ride and practicality?
Thanks to revisions to the suspension, the Outlander PHEV is a tad more comfortable. The seats are plush, the suspension adept at soaking up all but the biggest potholes and so we found it comfortable, even with body roll in the corners and a hint of bounciness on smaller undulations.
You could knock the PHEV down for having a lacklustre interior that looks dated alongside a premium SUV from BMW and Mercedes, but the flip side is you never care about chucking in a muddy bike or a dog whose favourite hobby is swimming in muddy rivers. In a world of possessions that do their best to own you, it is nice to drive something that doesn’t.
All-round visibility is great, too, although hardly surprising given its fish tank-esque proportion, large windows and high-up seating position that lets you peer over the long bonnet.
Boot space is 463 litres and the rear seats can be folded completely flat for long items. It also gets 60:40 split-folding rear seats so it is easy to vastly expand the storage area or chuck in long items if need be. As for the charging cables, they live in a compartment under the boot.
2017 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: What about running costs?
The problem is that, while the government is encouraging motorists to ditch diesel and petrol cars, it is making them less attractive. Soon, an Outlander PHEV costing more than £40,000 will cost £440 a year to tax for the first five years and then £130 after that – a noticeable hike on what you would pay now.
That means the Outlander PHEV is closer to the diesel unless you can keep it below £40,000, which means avoiding the top-spec 5h trim level that costs from £43,899. There is every reason to try and buy this vehicle before April to reduce the running costs.
To make matters worse, charging point network owner Ecotricity recently introduced a price to use its chargers, a move Mitsibushi hopes it reconsiders because it is another kick in the nuts for hybrids and electric vehicles.
Mitsubishi offers a free home charge kit worth £279 to enhance the convenience, which can charge 80 per cent in 25 minutes. Most people will use this facility to maximise the fuel economy, as without electric the petrol engine is lugging around the extra weight of a battery. On the flip-side a hybrid can keep on trucking (for up to 550 miles in this instance) even if you forget to recharge it.
It is also worth noting the EV Priority mode, controlled by a button near the all-wheel drive system in the centre console, lets the Outlander PHEV rely solely on battery power. Although the real-world figure is less than the claimed 33 miles, it still means you can save using any fuel for short journeys.
Though a big-old SUV is becoming increasingly difficult to justify, the Outlander PHEV is at least somewhat eco-minded and gives the impression it will survive whatever you chuck at it. It helps you also get a five-year, 62,500-mile warranty.
2017 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: How much does it cost?
Three trim levels are available, ranging from the entry-level 3h to the 4h and the range-topping 5h. An Outlander PHEV 3h costs from £34,749, making it about as cheap as it gets for a big SUV, especially one with a hybrid powertrain.
Navigation and infotainment goodness can be had if you step up to the higher trim levels, but even the basic car comes with a DAB radio with Bluetooth connectivity, 18-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, cruise control with a speed limiter, automatic lights and wipers and electrically retractable door mirrors.
Expect to pay from £39,399 for the PHEV 4h and £43,899 for the PHEV 5h, in case you want Nappa leather, twin rear USB charging ports, rear spoiler and a premium Alpine audio system. We would say this is a car best served in its most basic form.
2017 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: Why would I buy one, then?
If you have access to a plug, require oodles of space and find yourself doing a lot of short journeys, the sheer size and low running costs of the 2017 Outlander PHEV will serve you well, particularly company car buyers and anyone who wants to make the school run cheaper and greener.
A rough and ready overtone does little to diminish what would be a solid workhorse for a somewhat eco-minded or penny-conscious family. The fact it can avoid the London congestion charge is another feather in its cap.
Sadly after April 2017 the Outlander PHEV becomes a less attractive proposition compared with the Outlander diesel, but at least the lower 3h and 4h specs manage to fly under the threshold and, in a car built for utility, many of the 5h’s luxuries can be deemed unnecessary.
For everyone else wanting the benefit of a big SUV and too lazy to charge a hybrid, a plain-old diese makes more sense, at which point you can enjoy the superior badge appeal and aesthetics offered by rival manufacturers.
The simple fact is that the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is the biggest, cheapest and greenest SUV of its size and those points will be a big enough draw for some. Go in expecting little and it will leave a surprisingly big impression.