A five-passenger plug-in hybrid crossover with the cargo space of the Mitsubishi Outlander is quite a feat – at least on paper. Things don’t always work flawlessly in the real world, and the Outlander PHEV walks a fine line between high expectations and the hard reality that it’s very difficult to engineer a highly efficient vehicle that is also large enough to be serviceable for a family. On one hand, the Outlander PHEV is comfortable, good-looking and full of great tech. On the other, the Outlander’s gasoline engine struggles to achieve the EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings, and people living in colder climates may find it hard to get the battery to charge fully when the temperatures drop. That said, buyers will discover a nimble and confident-handling vehicle with more enough room and convenience features to last through a long trip to grandma’s house.
The Outlander PHEV looks almost exactly like the conventional Outlander, and that’s not a bad thing. There’s a futuristic air about the crossover that works well to bolster the PHEV’s high-tech image.
The front end is smooth and rounded with a large open grille as the centerpiece, but chrome accents around the open space define the shape neatly. LED headlights and fog lights are tucked in around the grill and provide an impressive amount of forward illumination.
The Outlander’s profile evokes a Range Rover-esque level of sophistication and uptown refinement. In most of the vehicle’s forms, there are no wild angles or logos. I say “most forms”, because our test vehicle came adorned with large PHEV stickers and “CALIFORNIA HOV APPROVED” decals. This is likely just a side effect of the fact that we drive vehicles that are set up specifically for media use, as I’ve not seen one in this spec on any local dealer lots. Even with the extraneous add-ons, the Outlander is a handsome and cleanly-designed vehicle, hitting all the right notes to appeal to mainstream buyers.
I lit the battery-charging bomb’s fuse in the opening paragraph of this review, so I’ll tackle that topic before getting into anything else here. Mitsubishi advertises up to 28 miles of range on battery power only. That’s great for a vehicle of this size – if it were consistently usable. I brought up the cold weather issue because many of us are “blessed” with living where the air hurts our faces for months at a time. Not only does this weather hamper the ability to fully and quickly charge batteries like the ones in the Outlander PHEV, but the use of heat, heated seats and extended use of the headlights (it gets dark at around 4 pm here in the winter) drains the battery at an accelerated pace.
As the year wound down here in Maine, our temperatures hovered in the mid-20s. During my two-week test across the Christmas holidays, I was able to reach a range of 25 miles on the batteries alone. That’s nothing to sneeze at, and it would satisfy the commuting requirements of many people, but the variance in actual range is something to keep in mind when shopping for any hybrid or fully-electric vehicle.
Of course, there’s a lot more to the Outlander PHEV’s performance than the batteries. When in use, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas engine’s 117 horsepower sounds puny but provides more than enough power, and the handoff between electric and gas power is fairly seamless. The are times when continuously-variable transmission (CVT) feels “caught off guard” by the transition, though, causing the engine to wail unnecessarily. That said, the Outlander has no trouble reaching highway pace and doesn’t struggle when overtaking at speed.
We were tackled by a large winter storm while I had the Outlander, leaving six inches of heavy, wet snow in its wake. Even on all-season tires, the vehicle never felt “loose,” and the ability to lock in 4WD greatly increased traction and confidence in the quickly-falling snow.
The 7.0-inch touchscreen in the Outlander PHEV sounds small and falls short of others in the segment that often include at least an 8.0-inch screen, but in practice there’s nothing missing with the smaller size. The colors are bright, text is sharp, and I never found trouble with visibility, even with bright sunlight reflecting off the snow. All of the expected goodies like USB, Bluetooth phone and audio and SiriusXM radio are on board here. So are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which bring connected navigation and voice controls for several features on your smartphone.
Our Outlander with GT S-AWC trim also included a Rockford Fosgate sound system with subwoofer. It’s a powerful setup with more bass than most people will ever want, but my kids enjoyed feeling the Disney soundtracks we were listening to. The Outlander could do with a bit more sound insulation, as even the most finely tuned audio system would struggle with the amount of wind, road and engine noises that find their way into the cabin.
There’s no shortage of advanced safety features at the GT S-AWC trim level. A camera array centered behind the rearview mirror keeps constant watch on the road ahead, and the Outlander has a clever top-down camera view when the vehicle is in reverse. The system works well as a package, but there were some “misses” with the blind-spot monitors and a few issues with the front cameras being covered by snow. Neither of those things is cause for alarm, but a great reminder that the even most advanced safety features available today are meant to supplement a good driver’s attention – not replace it.
Having the Outlander over the long Christmas holiday meant that it was tasked with full family-car duty for my household of four. A couple of things stand out right away with regards to interior comfort: The first is that the driver’s seat has a high level of adjustability and can be configured in nearly any way, but the armrest placements on both the door and center console will leave shorter drivers without a natural place to rest their elbows. The second is that rear-seat head and legroom are generous, but the seats themselves are direly under-padded. That said, the front seats are large and well-padded, and at six-feet tall, I was well-served by the Outlander’s high driving position. My kids, ages two and six, had plenty of space to climb in (with help) and because there is a decent amount of leg room, I didn’t feel their big winter-booted feet kicking the seatbacks.
Mitsubishi has landed on a compelling blend of innovation and traditional crossover comfort with the Outlander PHEV, but the (completely reasonable) price point puts it squarely into competition heavy-hitters like the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot. That alone would be enough to squash many challengers, but there’s more than enough to the Outlander PHEV to warrant a test drive.