The Outlander PHEV’s drivetrain transitions smoothly from internal-combustion to all-electric propulsion, and vice versa.
With its 20-kWh lithium-ion battery fully charged, the Outlander PHEV will run an estimated 38 miles in all-electric mode, although our test drive started with 41 miles displayed in the instrument cluster.
The problem with plug-in hybrids: Mileage can only be maximized through short commutes and frequent charging. Every mile driven after the battery has been depleted makes a PHEV less cost efficient.
If you haven’t been paying attention, Mitsubishi has stepped up its automotive presence in the US. The current Mirage sedan and hatchback have been in the market for a decade and were refreshed last year, as was the Eclipse Cross compact crossover. The subcompact Outlander Sport crossover—on an older Mitsubishi platform—got a major update in 2020.
That brings us to last year’s launch of the larger, all-new Outlander crossover, the first Mitsubishi vehicle to benefit from the brand’s full integration within the Renault-Nissan Alliance. (Nissan holds a 34% stake in Mitsubishi.) Anyone who has driven a Nissan Rogue will see the similarities to the Outlander.
But the Rogue—though popular—isn’t available as a hybrid or a plug-in hybrid, and this is where Mitsubishi plans to grow its market share for the Outlander. There are a handful of competitive PHEVs from other brands, representing a tiny share of the massive midsize crossover segment.
So along comes the 2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV as a placeholder until the brand can launch a full battery-electric vehicle. Top management isn’t saying when that might happen, but the Outlander PHEV uses the same rear electric motor as the Nissan Ariya EV, and both vehicles use lithium-ion batteries supplied by AESC, Nissan’s battery joint venture.
As a plug-in hybrid, the Outlander is wholly competent, engaging to drive, good looking, reasonably user-friendly for the driver and front passenger, and comfortable and stylish inside—except for the comically inadequate third row, which should have been left off this version for the US.
The Outlander PHEV’s drivetrain transitions smoothly from internal-combustion to all-electric propulsion, and often uses both simultaneously, by driving the wheels directly or by powering a generator to feed the battery to turn the wheels.
With its 20-kWh lithium-ion battery fully charged, the Outlander PHEV will run an estimated 38 miles in all-electric mode, although our test drive started with 41 miles displayed in the instrument cluster. Juice from the battery feeds a 114-hp front motor and 134-hp rear motor.
While all-electric range is limited (although competitive with other PHEVs), the Outlander plug-in has an overall range of 420 miles. A 14.8-gallon fuel tank feeds the Mitsubishi-designed 2.4-liter naturally aspirated MIVEC four-cylinder engine rated at 132 hp.
Combined system output is a respectable 248 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque, which makes for a 0-to-60-mph sprint in under seven seconds, according to published reports. Oddly enough, the standard non-hybrid Outlander uses a different engine—a Nissan-designed 2.4-liter four-cylinder.
With the extra mass from two electric motors and the underfloor batteries, the Outlander PHEV (tipping the scales at 4751 pounds as tested) is 440 pounds heavier than the conventional Outlander.
Despite its heft, the Outlander PHEV rarely strains to turn the wheels, thanks to a one-speed direct-drive transaxle that uses a clutch (and no planetary gear) to function as if in a battery-electric vehicle.
This configuration is lighter, provides better range, and is less expensive than a CVT, which has sapped the driving enjoyment from many a hybrid over the years. The Outlander PHEV’s vibration-damping transaxle, on the other hand, does its job without the driver ever noting any undue power surges or unruliness.
There are lots of options for deciding whether to drive in electric or internal-combustion mode, but it all depends on how much juice is in the battery. If you plug in a depleted Outlander PHEV to a 240-volt Level 2 charger, the battery will be topped off in 6.5 hours. You can also plug into a standard 120-volt wall socket in the garage at home overnight, and the battery might be topped off in the morning. The fastest option is to use the CHAdeMO fast charging port, which can fill the battery (to 80%) in 38 minutes.
An “EV” button on the right side of the center console lets the driver cycle through various modes, such as Charge (to feed the battery regardless of whether the car is moving or stationary), Save (to maintain the current state of charge while driving), and EV (to use only the electric motors until the range runs out and the gasoline engine takes over). A button to the left of the EV switch will activate “Innovative Pedal,” which is like one-pedal driving but with a bit of creep until you actually step on the brake.
In our evaluations, an afternoon drive of 67 miles on highway and country roads south of Nashville yielded 50.3 mpg, and we had started the afternoon with the battery mostly charged. The morning drive was longer and, despite starting out with 41 miles of range in the battery, we got to the lunch stop reporting an unremarkable 30 mpg.
This is the problem with plug-in hybrids: Mileage can only be maximized for short commutes around town, and daily plugging in is essential. Every mile driven after the battery has been depleted makes a PHEV less cost efficient. A PHEV will work better for some drivers than others, depending on their daily mobility needs.
The Outlander PHEV has a wheelbase of 106.5 inches and an overall length of 185.4 inches, putting it squarely in the middle of its PHEV rivals. It’s larger than the Ford Escape ($38,500 base price) but smaller than the Kia Sorento—the largest entry, but with a more spacious third row.
Mitsubishi’s main target is Toyota’s RAV4 Prime, which arrived a year ago with a combined 302 hp and an EPA-estimated 42 miles of electric range. The EPA also rates the RAV4 Prime at 94 MPG-equivalent, significantly better than the 64 MPG-e rating for the Outlander PHEV.
Weighing some 400 pounds less than the plug-in Outlander, the RAV4 Prime is about a second faster from 0 to 60 mph and only comes available with five seats. The RAV4 Prime has a starting price of $41,635, while the Outlander PHEV starts at $40,345. Our fully loaded Outlander in SEL trim stickered for $50,880—that’s a lotta jack for a Mitsubishi.
The Kia Sorento is likewise pushing the pricing envelope, available only in SX Prestige trim and starting at $49,890.
There are other compelling PHEVs in this segment as well, including the $37,050 Hyundai Tucson (80 MPG-e and 33 miles of EV range), $40,000 Hyundai Santa Fe (76 MPG-e and 31 miles of EV range), and Kia’s new for ’23 Sportage PHEV ($42,990 with 84 MPG-e and 32 miles of EV range).
By a wide margin, the conventional gasoline-powered Outlander that launched last year is Mitsubishi’s most popular vehicle in the US, finding its way to about 39,000 driveways this year through November. The biggies in this segment sell in much higher volume, particularly the Chevrolet Equinox, Escape, Honda CR-V, Santa Fe and Tucson, Mazda CX-5, Subaru Outback, RAV4, and, of course, the Rogue.
Still, give the Outlander its due: Despite its low-visibility brand identity, the conventional Outlander is outselling the Buick Envision, Honda Passport, Jeep Cherokee, Nissan Murano, Toyota Venza, and Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport.
Mitsubishi is hoping for similar headway for its new Outlander PHEV, which began shipping from the automaker’s Okazaki, Japan, plant two weeks ago. Mitsubishi hopes each of its 330 US showrooms will have at least one car by year’s end.
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