The pioneering Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is the golden goose that keeps on giving for the Japanese brand.
When it was originally launched in 2014 it was perfectly timed to benefit from the boom in SUVs, the switch to greener cars and the incentives offered for plug-in hybrids, including exemption from the London Congestion Charge.
With its regular petrol engine, plus two electric motors (one at the front, the other at the back) it’s a stepping stone between the internal combustion engine and 100% electric.
Europe’s best-selling plug-in hybrid for the past three years, earlier in 2018 it passed the 100,000 sales milestone.
Mitsubishi hasn’t just rested on its laurels. It’s already treated the Outlander PHEV to two updates – the latest is the most subtle of them in terms of looks, but a lot has changed out of sight.
Externally, there’s a slightly tweaked front grille and new lights, redesigned bumpers front and rear, new 18-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels and a large roof spoiler.
Under the bonnet there’s a bigger petrol engine (up from 2.0 to 2.4-litres). Apparently it’s able to switch seamlessly between Otto and Atkinson cycles, which means nothing to those of us without a diploma in vehicle mechanics, but basically it’s more efficient and more powerful.
The batteries and electric motors have also been boosted by around 10%, plus there are tweaks to the chassis, suspension, steering and braking – all aimed at keeping the Outlander PHEV top of the tree, though in truth it’s operating in a bit of a niche market. Finally, new Snow and Sport modes have been added.
Fuel economy figures for all cars have taken a hit since the recent switch to the more stringent real world (WLTP) figures, but the average fuel economy of 139mpg (down from 159mpg) is still pretty impressive, while CO2 emissions are still just 46g/km.
Perhaps the key statistic is the Outlander PHEV’s electric-only range of 28 miles, which Mitsubishi claims is more than enough to cope with the UK average commute of around 10 miles each way.
The power increase also means its top speed in EV mode is up from 78 to 84mph (which is, ahem, academic), while 0-62mph acceleration is half a second faster at 10.5 seconds.
Starting at £34,255 (including the Government’s £2,500 plug-in car grant), there are five trims levels – Juro, 4, 4hs, 5h and 5hs.
The Outlander PHEV is well equipped with heated front seats and windscreen, plus an electric pre-heater that can warm the car up via a smartphone app, and dual-zone climate control and cruise control as standard.
Step up to 4h (Mitsubishi reckons it will be the best-selling trim) and you get leather upholstery with eight-way electric adjustment on the driver’s seat, a powered tailgate, LED headlights, a 360-degree camera feature and both blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert.
If you want autonomous emergency braking (AEB), adaptive cruise control, automatic headlights high beam, front and rear parking sensors and a lane departure warning system, then you’ll have to go for the 4hs.
Finally, 5h and 5hs specifications adds niceties including premium leather, an upgraded Alpine audio system, heated rear seats, blue LED mood lighting and colour coded five-piece premium mats (including the boot).
The only disappoint is that the 7.0-inch colour touchscreen is still on the small side, the graphics aren’t cutting edge and there’s no built-in sat nav. Instead, you have to hook it up to your phone (it’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible).
The interior of the Outlander PHEV is much the same as before, feeling spacious with a commanding driving position, but still more durable than plush.
There’s no seven-seat option (unlike the diesel version), but the boot capacity is a useful 463 litres (1,602 litres with 60:40 split-folding rear seats dropped down), plus it can tow up to 1,500kg.
The 2019 Outlander PHEV isn’t dramatically different to the current model, but the improvements will keep it competitive.
The extra horses mean the engine doesn’t have to work so hard and the cabin seems more refined. In fact, it’s genuinely whisper quiet in EV mode.
As well as recharging overnight at home or at your workplace, you can charge up the PHEV’s batteries whilst driving via “regenerative braking” – a system whereby the electric motors charge up the batteries during braking.
You can adjust the amount of regenerative braking via paddles behind the steering wheel, and after a bit of practice, it’s possible to use the paddles as brakes when coming up to junctions or downhill, for instance. So the Outlander encourages a whole new way of eco-driving and appeals to those of us with an inner Scrooge and a touch of OCD.
Empty-to-full charging from a standard home socket takes five hours, dropping to approximately three and a half hours using dedicated home charger, while 0-80% charge from a public charging station takes as little as 25 minutes.
With some gentle driving over mixed road routes we managed 28 miles in electric mode only. A further drive over a longer distance left us with a figure of 109mpg, but clearly it’s less green over longer journeys because it relies more on its relatively big petrol engine.
Ride comfort has improved too, thanks to the suspension changes, but larger bumps are still noticeable, especially at the rear. The steering is light and visibility good, making it a good choice for the town and country.
We also did something unusual, which was to drive the PHEV on track in fully-electric mode. Not only does it shift, but it’s remarkably composed when cornering with limited body roll, there’s plenty of traction thanks to the four-wheel drive, while the larger front brake discs are a big improvement.
Verdict: The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is still a great introduction to plug-in hybrids and the perfect stepping stone to fully electric motoring. A comfortable, competitively-priced, practical big SUV with plenty of space, it’s easy to drive and could cost you next to nothing in petrol if your daily commute is anywhere near the national average. Add to that its decent five-year (62,500-mile) warranty and an off-road capability and the Outlander PHEV is still a compelling proposition.