Cars

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: A Step Towards Electric Vehicles

Mitsubishi has been somewhat behind the curve in the automotive industry recently, but they struck gold with the Outlander PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle). Introduced in 2017, the first-generation Outlander PHEV combined a fuel-efficient plug-in hybrid powertrain with the body of a small crossover SUV, appealing to a wide audience. Its success led to many other automakers following suit, resulting in increased competition for the redesigned 2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.

Unlike its competitors, who view their plug-in hybrids as upgraded versions of their hybrid SUVs, Mitsubishi aimed to make the Outlander PHEV a bridge to fully electric cars, prioritizing an electric vehicle-like driving experience. However, this EV-like experience comes at a higher price. With trim levels including ES, SE, SEL, and 40th Anniversary Edition, the base ES starts at $41,190, while our SEL test car, with a few add-ons, had a $50,880 sticker price – a surprising departure from Mitsubishi’s usual value-oriented approach. Nevertheless, the Outlander PHEV still offers several appealing features.

Design and Interior

The PHEV model of the Outlander looks identical to its gasoline counterpart, which underwent a redesign for the 2022 model year. Built on the same platform as the Nissan Rogue, the current-generation Outlander boasts strong and rugged styling, satisfying SUV shoppers without resorting to the faux off-road appearance of competitors like the Toyota RAV4. Our test car, with its prominent grille, stacked headlights, and optional 20-inch wheels, certainly had a commanding presence.

The Outlander’s generous proportions contribute to its strong appeal. While it falls under the compact crossover SUV category, this new generation is longer and wider than its predecessor. Behind the wheel, you’ll feel like you’re driving a full-fledged SUV, with a commanding position that allows you to look down on drivers in smaller cars. Despite this truck-like feel, well-placed mirrors ensure excellent visibility.

Cargo space in the Outlander PHEV is competitive with other plug-in hybrid crossovers, offering 33.5 cubic feet with the second-row seats in place and 78.5 cubic feet with the second-row folded. It’s worth noting that the Outlander PHEV is the only competitor in its class to feature third-row seating, although Mitsubishi admits that the third row is cramped and only suitable for occasional use. Unfolding this third row involves a complex process of tab pulls and sliding seats. If you’re seeking a genuine three-row plug-in hybrid, alternatives like the Kia Sorento PHEV and Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid are better options.

Inside the Outlander PHEV, you’ll find a distinctive design that sets it apart from the sea of crossovers in the market. The dashboard has a minimalist look, complemented by a substantial steering wheel with thick girder-like spokes that match the vehicle’s exterior aesthetics. Our test car boasted a brown-and-black two-tone leather upholstery, which added to the overall appeal. While well-equipped with features such as front seat massagers, a panoramic glass roof, and a built-in outlet that draws power from the battery pack for your devices, the material quality falls slightly short of the as-tested price.

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Tech, Infotainment, and Driver Assistance

The PHEV model of the Outlander comes equipped with a standard 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen. Higher trim levels offer a larger 9.0-inch touchscreen and wireless smartphone charging. Our SEL test car came with the SEL Premium Package, which adds a 10.8-inch head-up display and a premium nine-speaker Bose audio system.

Despite these additional features, the overall tech level does not quite match the price point of our test vehicle. While wireless Apple CarPlay is available, Android Auto still requires a cable connection. Moreover, considering the as-tested price, the touchscreen feels relatively small. The menu layout is cluttered and unattractive, although the barrel-style gauge renderings in the instrument cluster provide a refreshing touch.

Thanks to its collaboration with Nissan, Mitsubishi incorporates Nissan’s ProPilot Assist technology into the Outlander PHEV, rebranding it as Mi-Pilot Assist. This driver-assistance system combines automated lane centering with adaptive cruise control, allowing the car to accelerate, brake, and steer automatically on highways. However, the driver must keep their hands on the wheel. Unlike Nissan’s ProPilot Assist 2.0, found in models like the all-electric Ariya, which enables limited hands-free driving, the Outlander PHEV’s Mi-Pilot Assist offers similar capabilities to other mainstream brands. While it mostly stays within the lanes, it occasionally veers too close to the edge—a common occurrence with this type of technology.

The Outlander PHEV boasts an extensive range of driver-assist features, including lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, traffic sign recognition, automatic high beams, forward collision warning, front and rear automatic emergency braking, and a driver-attention monitor. Additionally, all trims except the base ES feature a standard 360-degree camera system that can be accessed with a single press of a button, making it more convenient than competing automakers’ menu-based systems.

Driving Experience

In contrast to the typical approach of enlarging the battery and motors of a standard hybrid, Mitsubishi specifically designed a powertrain for the Outlander PHEV that maximizes electric power usage. Under the hood, a 2.4-liter gasoline four-cylinder engine and an electric motor propel the front wheels through a single-speed transaxle. A second electric motor drives the rear wheels, providing all-wheel drive, while a 20.0-kilowatt-hour battery pack stores the electrical energy. This layout is similar to the previous-generation Outlander PHEV, but the battery pack is now larger (previously 13.8 kWh), and the electric motors are more powerful. The front motor now produces 113 horsepower, and the rear motor generates 134 horsepower, compared to the previous outputs of 80 and 70 horsepower, respectively.

With gasoline assistance, the Outlander PHEV delivers a peak output of 248 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque. This falls slightly behind the 261-horsepower Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage plug-in hybrids, as well as the 302-horsepower Toyota RAV4 Prime. However, the Outlander offers a different driving experience, behaving more like an electric vehicle than a hybrid. Most of the power comes from the electric motors, with the gasoline engine serving primarily as a generator, reminiscent of the Chevrolet Volt. This setup ensures smooth acceleration and allows for extended electric driving without the gasoline engine kicking in.

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Furthermore, Mitsubishi provides various drive modes for the Outlander PHEV. Normal mode allows the car to automatically decide, EV mode defaults to electric power (with the gasoline engine activating under hard acceleration), Save mode reserves electric range for later use, and Charge mode converts the engine into a generator to continuously charge the battery pack. Although Charge mode cannot replace the need for plugging in, it proves helpful for gaining a head start on charging. During one trip, we gained eight miles of electric range in just 20 minutes of driving in Charge mode.

The Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC) system in the Outlander PHEV offers multiple modes, selectable via a dial. Named after the legendary Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution’s handling prowess, S-AWC determines power distribution to the wheels. Three modes (Eco, Normal, Power) manage the balance between gasoline and electric power, while four modes (Tarmac, Gravel, Snow, Mud) optimize traction on different surfaces. For everyday driving, Eco mode suffices, while Power mode proves handy for overtaking. Although the handling-focused Tarmac mode enhances precision, it does not necessarily add excitement to the driving experience. The Outlander PHEV falls short of the Lancer Evolution’s performance levels in terms of handling.

Like other plug-in hybrids, the Outlander PHEV benefits from regenerative braking, which recovers energy while decelerating. Mitsubishi has implemented a relatively high level of regeneration, reducing the need for frequent brake pedal usage. However, the regeneration does not bring the vehicle to a complete stop intentionally. Mitsubishi believes that allowing the car to creep forward slightly aids parking maneuvers. Unfortunately, the implementation lacks refinement. Abrupt regenerative braking cutoffs just as we were preparing to stop made smooth braking maneuvers difficult.

The Outlander PHEV suffers from a noticeable issue unrelated to its electrification: poor ride quality. While the suspension handles bumps reasonably well, it allows excessive bouncing and lateral body motion, compromising ride comfort and negating many of the benefits of the S-AWC system. This is an aspect of the Outlander PHEV that requires reevaluation.

Range, Charging, and Safety

Mitsubishi estimates an electric range of 38 miles for the Outlander PHEV, with a combined efficiency rating of 64 MPGe. On gasoline, it achieves a combined fuel economy of 26 mpg. In our experience, we surpassed those estimates, achieving an indicated average of 31 mpg and using 2.2 miles per kilowatt-hour of electricity. The Outlander PHEV offers slightly more electric range than the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage plug-in hybrids, but falls short of the Toyota RAV4 Prime’s 42-mile electric range. The Ford Escape also offers 38 miles of range, but lacks all-wheel drive.

The Outlander PHEV is the only vehicle in its class to support DC fast charging, with a capability of handling up to 50 kilowatts. Mitsubishi claims that the battery pack can be charged to 80% in 38 minutes using DC fast charging. It’s worth noting that the Outlander utilizes the CHAdeMO connector, which may present challenges in finding compatible charging stations. Using a 240-volt Level 2 AC charger will take approximately 6.5 hours to fully charge the battery pack.

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At the time of writing, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not published crash-test ratings for the 2023 Outlander PHEV. However, the model received the highest rating (“Good”) for headlights and for front-crash prevention technology in both vehicle-to-vehicle and daytime vehicle-to-pedestrian scenarios. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not released any safety ratings for the 2023 Outlander PHEV.

Mitsubishi provides generous warranty coverage for the Outlander PHEV, including a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and a five-year, 60,000-mile new-vehicle limited warranty, matching the industry-leading terms from Hyundai and Kia. Additionally, the battery pack and other components of the plug-in hybrid system come with their own 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty.

How DT Would Configure This Car

To enjoy all the available tech features, you’ll need to opt for the SEL trim level, similar to our test vehicle. Upgrading from the base ES to the SE trim level is necessary to obtain a larger touchscreen, wireless smartphone charging, and Mi-Pilot Assist. The Premium Package is required for the SEL trim level to access the head-up display and Bose audio system. Unfortunately, the Outlander PHEV does not qualify for a federal tax credit, as it is assembled in Japan, further impacting the cost.

Even the base model of the Outlander PHEV does not compete favorably on price with other plug-in hybrid crossovers. Alternatives like the Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid, the newly introduced Kia Sportage PHEV, and the Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid come in at lower price points, with the Ford lacking all-wheel drive. The Toyota RAV4 Prime starts slightly higher at $42,925, but offers greater electric range and more power.

However, none of these plug-in hybrids offers a driving experience quite like the Outlander PHEV. With its focus on electric propulsion and the availability of DC fast charging, Mitsubishi’s model serves as an excellent transition to fully electric driving. It distinguishes itself from its rivals by providing drivers with a taste of what they can expect from an EV, while still offering the convenience of gasoline power.

Despite a few drawbacks such as poor ride quality, an underwhelming infotainment system, and cramped third-row seats, the Outlander PHEV holds its own as a solid crossover, meeting customers’ expectations for style and utility. The price may be a deterrent, but no other vehicle on the market combines traditional crossover attributes with an electric vehicle-like driving experience quite like the Outlander PHEV.

Editors’ Recommendations

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