2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 4h 2.4 Auto
The Silver Surfer has gone all eco-friendly and started a family, and I’ve borrowed his car for the week. Its silver wheels, chrome detailing and silver paint are broken up only by tinted windows and a prominent gloss black moustache at the front. It’s certainly a handsome car, but wouldn’t suffer from a splash of colour somewhere.
I drove the previous model last year, and found it to be a refined and comfortable SUV. That, too, was silver. Tweaks to this refreshed model include a slightly larger 2.4-litre petrol engine, with a smidge more power and torque. Battery pack capacity is increased so it can drive further on electric power.
The engine is not quiet on start up. It is also fitted with a CVT gearbox, which in any guise is awful. Imagine pulling out to overtake and being met with the sound of a desktop paper shredder. There is no crescendo or change in intonation, just a single monotonous drone. It could be a Stihl leaf blower for all I know. That said, the 2019 Outlander does feel noticeably faster than the prior model.
Inside, five adults with overnight luggage and a dog fit comfortably. There are cubbyholes aplenty, a USB socket and Apple CarPlay. This requires that you use Apple Maps for navigation, which is slightly worse than using the shadow of the sun. The boot has a plastic liner, meaning bags and suitcases slide in effortlessly, and can be wiped down after use to remove any dirt that may have crept in. There’s leathery goodness throughout, and it’s generally quite a nice place to be.
"Even with ‘zero’ battery remaining, the car still seems to eek out power from thin air."
There are three main driving modes – normal, save and charge. Normal mode blends EV and petrol power, whilst charge mode holds the battery back and tops it up with regenerative braking. A 20-minute jaunt can replenish a third of the battery, or about ten miles, depending on the number of downward slopes you encounter. This of course means you are driving on petrol power only, and thus spending quite a lot of money on fuel. The Outlander is a big, heavy car with a petrol engine – this does not equate to frugality.
However, it is worth noting that the hybrid system is practically always in ‘charge’ mode, as regenerative braking constantly tops up the battery. Even with ‘zero’ battery remaining, the car still seems to eek out power from thin air. Pulling away from traffic lights can often be completed without a drop of petrol. EV sailing is also common; slowing for a red light often switches the engine off. I managed a significant amount of mileage on EV power thanks to regenerative braking, which can become rather addictive.
Despite all the positives of the Outlander, my week with it was condemning of plug-in electric vehicle ownership. I am not unfamiliar with the plug-in lifestyle; this is the fifth such vehicle I’ve tested. I love them when all goes well, but I can already hear EV advocates tearing this review to pieces.
I went the entire week without plugging in at a public charge point, and only managed to charge at home once. I had no RFID cards to hand, but luckily there are vendors that offer contactless charging; simply pay via your smartphone or debit card and go. I visited Marlborough one evening, and parked by the town’s (and surrounding area’s) only public charging point, operated by EV Charge Online. It didn’t work, and hadn’t worked for months according to Zap Map. This is not uncommon with charge points from other providers.
"I want to park up, plug-in, and get on with it."
I live on a terraced street, and competition for parking is fierce at best. Finding a spot directly outside of the house is rare. It is quite frustrating knowing that the car could be topped up from the mains, but is parked just out of reach. Draping extension leads over the road and pavement was my only option when a space became free.
That said, I’m sure those considering a plug-in vehicle would be kitted out with a wallet of RFID cards in advance, and will have scouted out the nearby charging network. It is ultimately a case of convenience, and ensuring that charging fits in with your routine. I use a multi-storey car park most days, which happens to have a charge point (I couldn't use it due to my RFID card shortage). If that spot went down for some reason, I'd have to take a detour specifically to wait and charge up my car somewhere else.
If you have a private drive, things are admittedly significantly easier: park up outside your house, plug-in and charge. This can be done overnight or during the day – it is incredibly gratifying coming back to a fully charged car. Depending on the journey in question, this could mean that the Outlander PHEV's petrol engine is rarely used, and therefore any frustrations of filling up are eliminated.
Owning a petrol or diesel car is universally convenient today due to the infrastructure in place, and the fact that most cars can travel anywhere between 300-500 miles on a single tank. I am not suggesting EVs, or indeed PHEVs, must offer a similar electric driving range in order to avoid so-called range anxiety. But as much as it pains me, without that petrol engine to fall back on, I’d have been knackered this week.
Plug-in electric vehicle ownership is simply not convenient enough, yet, to make me want to cough up. I want to park up, plug-in, and get on with it.