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Mitsubishi Outlander 2021 urban review: PHEV


Mitsubishi may no longer be known as an innovator or a maker of exciting, award-winning vehicles anymore, but one version of an otherwise dull if worthy model has been properly pioneering.

Of course, you'll already know it's the Outlander PHEV – a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle with over 50km of pure-EV range and a 2.0-litre petrol engine for when you need to go further.

Starting from under $50,000, it made mass-market sense in a way nobody else could match… certainly not in Australia, anyway. The Japanese medium-sized SUV provided many people with their first tantalising taste of EV motoring, and without the range-anxiety or, ahem, outlandish looks of some alternatives. An outlander that isn't.

Now there's a sporty GSR version, leveraging a hallowed badge from Mitsubishi's past hits, as part of a raft of other improvements to the Outlander PHEV this year, before the all-new fourth-generation replacement arrives for 2022.

Has the best been saved for last? Let's find out.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

When the first electrified Outlander launched here in 2014, there was no PHEV competition bar the overpriced and underwhelming BMW ActiveHybrid 3 and Mercedes-Benz C300 BlueTec Hybrid, as well as the now-forgotten Holden Volt, courtesy of Chevrolet of the USA.

Certainly nothing mainstream and attainable to be had for SUV-hungry families seeking the PHEV experience.

Astoundingly, it's 2020 and the status quo remains largely the same, despite plenty of new-model activity.

Nowadays, Hyundai offers the innovative Ioniq small car in hybrid, PHEV and EV flavours but it's hardly family-sized; larger PHEVs in sedan, hatch, coupe and/or SUV shapes from Mini, Mercedes, BMW, Volvo, Ferrari and Porsche remain out of reach for most folk; Ford's Escape PHEV has been delayed a year because of fire-related issues halting production – the same thing befell the Mitsubishi when it was new too, to be fair – and there is no sign of the Toyota RAV4 Prime PHEV.

The GSR comes with 18-inch alloys. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) The GSR comes with 18-inch alloys. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)

So, yes, the Outlander PHEV ES from $47,990 before on-road costs (so within reach of regular hybrids like the bestselling Toyota RAV4 Hybrid) is great value by dint of it being the sole affordable PHEV option for families. Still. Seven years on. Go Mitsubishi.

In its twilight year before the all-new Outlander IV debuts early next year, the Diamond brand has introduced a raft of changes and improvements for the 2021 PHEV, with the sporty GSR from $52,490 leading the charge, so to speak.

 The latter builds on the 2020 modifications announced a year ago – namely a larger petrol internal combustion engine (ICE, now 2.4 litres), greater generator output (now 80kW), a 1.8kWh bigger battery (now 13.8kWh) for longer range, an improved AWD system promising better handling and roadholding in adverse conditions, more safety features and an updated multimedia display – with a Bilstein premium suspension package.

Pardon the tech talk, but the latter includes inverted monotube front struts and rear shock absorbers, increased spring rates and ball-bearing front strut upper insulator assemblies, for claimed benefits to steering response, high-speed stability and ride comfort. Basically, higher-quality components that allude to a more-sophisticated driving experience.

It comes with auto high-beam headlights. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) It comes with auto high-beam headlights. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)

You'll spot the GSR by its blacked-out bumper trim, grille, air intakes, tailgate garnish, mirror caps and 18-inch alloys, as well as the dark roof lining, steering wheel, gear shift and door cards. The front seats are more-heavily bolstered (powered for the driver's side), and feature micro-suede material. The tailgate is electric and there's an audio upgrade.

On the safety front there are seven airbags (front driver and passenger, side and side curtain), adaptive cruise control, Lane Departure Warning, auto high-beam headlights, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), Blind Spot Warning, Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, front and rear parking sensors, a reverse camera, rain-sensing wipers, auto on/off headlights and hill-start assist.

The GSR also has dual-zone climate control, an 8.0-inch touchscreen display, Bluetooth telephony and audio with voice control, digital radio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, two USB power supplies and heated/auto-fold door mirrors.

For goodies such as a sunroof, surround-view monitor, leather upholstery, LED headlights with washers and sat-nav, you'll need to stretch to the $56,490 Exceed, but that doesn't score the GSR chassis goodness. All Outlanders gain Vehicle to Home (V2H) and Vehicle to Grid (V2G) capability when bi-directional chargers arrive next year, “Prestige” paint costs $550, while a 10-year conditional warranty now applies to all Mitsubishi vehicles. More on that later.

So, the PHEV GSR is in a league of its own for value. Just remember, though, that electrification has added $15,000 to the price of the petrol-powered Outlander equivalent, the Black Edition AWD.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

Mitsubishi has a knack of achieving effective facelifts, as the decade-old ASX's smart visual makeover proves. Australia's bestselling small SUV's been under the scalpel twice… and counting.

Conservative to the point of dreary, the third-generation Outlander first hit the streets in 2012, yet thanks to some deft rhinoplasty five years ago now, actually looks pretty good.

There is ample room up front, ahead of a dashboard that – though dated – is pleasant to behold. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) There is ample room up front, ahead of a dashboard that – though dated – is pleasant to behold. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)

Finished in Red Diamond with a Black mica roof especially, the GSR stands out like a Golden Girl in active wear, backed up by striking multi-spoke black alloys and heavy chrome fangs outlining the Mitsubishi's mouth. Hardly subtle, but distinctive nonetheless.

Here's something surprising: the ASX, Eclipse Cross and Outlander all share a 2670mm wheelbase, which doesn't do much for the proportions of the larger models like the Outlander, since it appears to suffer from too much overhang. 

Next year's complete redesign and overhaul cannot come soon enough.

How practical is the space inside?

For a near-decade-old design, the Outlander's interior remains one of its most appealing aspects, in an old-fashioned functional sort of way.

Though not especially wide given its length, getting inside and out is no chore, mainly because of the lofty seating positions, as the doors themselves, as well as the tailgate, don't open wide/high enough for larger/taller people.

There is ample room up front, ahead of a dashboard that – though dated – is pleasant to behold, stupendously easy to operate and nicely finished to boot. Ventilation is superb too. The piano-black surrounds, suede-style seat trim, stitched leather finishes on the wheel and doors and large touchscreen all add a bit of pizzazz.

Mitsubishi has created a big wagon-like space for luggage, as reflected by the 463-litre capacity. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) Mitsubishi has created a big wagon-like space for luggage, as reflected by the 463-litre capacity. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)

The front seats are also comfortable, even over longer journeys, with the driver's side featuring electric adjustment – including for lumbar support. They certainly perch their occupants up high, allowing for a commanding view out.

We're not convinced of the new multimedia system, though, which is too-heavily reliant on fiddly touchscreen prodding, rather than knobs and switches for, say, volume. The instrumentation dials are crystal clear but where is the digital speedometer? Some of the minor switchgear is scattered in out-of-the-way places. And there is only a single USB-A port, behind a flimsy flap that's certain to break away over time, down low in the centre console. All betray the Outlander's advancing years.

Out back, we find the usual good stuff – overhead grab handles for all outboard passengers, face-level air vents, centre armrest with cupholders, reasonably sized door bins for bottles and twin USB-A outlets, and the heavily tinted windows wind almost all the way down so shorter folk and animals can see outside better. But while the cushions are comfy (hard middle pew excepted), the semi-reclinable backrests feel too short, though they do their job support-wise.

Though not especially wide given its length, getting inside and out is no chore. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) Though not especially wide given its length, getting inside and out is no chore. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)

Mitsubishi has created a big wagon-like space for luggage, as reflected by the 463-litre capacity that extends to a useful 1602L with the 60/40-split backrests folded forward. The luggage area has a high floor, with charging cord and a tyre-repair kit below that – so you'll find no spare wheel under there, folks – but there are deep-ish side areas for storing odds and ends, a 12V outlet and two additional cupholders over the right-hand side wheel arch. They're for the seven-seater option not available in any Outlander PHEV.

Finally, while effective, the cargo blind looks like it might belong to a 1997 TF Magna wagon. Which is no bad thing, actually.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

For 2020, Mitsubishi turfed out the old 87kW/186Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine for a 94kW/199Nm 2.4-litre alternative, again with MIVEC variable-valve timing for a broader spread of torque, as well as to help switch between Otto and Atkinson combustion cycles to maximise efficiency.

Not big outputs, granted, but when paired to a 60kW/137Nm front and 70kW/195Nm rear motor, the net result is substantially stronger acceleration and response. Drive to all four wheels is via a single-speed continuously variable transmission (CVT).

There's plenty going on to take in, but the main thing worth remembering is that the Outlander PHEV offers three driving choices.

For 2020, Mitsubishi turfed out the old 87kW/186Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine for a 94kW/199Nm 2.4-litre alternative. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) For 2020, Mitsubishi turfed out the old 87kW/186Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine for a 94kW/199Nm 2.4-litre alternative. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)

The first is an EV Priority mode, which relies solely on the electric motors, powered by the lithium ion battery pack. Mitsubishi reckons up to 54km of range is possible in this setting.

Moving to the Series Hybrid mode, it still has the electric motors turning the wheels only, but the petrol engine charges the battery pack. Note: it can be automatically activated even in Priority mode when climbing steep hills, or if battery pack levels run low.

Finally, the Parallel Hybrid mode has the petrol engine driving the front wheels with assistance from the electric motor up front, while the rear electric motor powers the rear wheels. It's activated at higher speeds, but switches back to Series Hybrid mode under lighter loads to help save fuel.

Regardless of mode, the electric motor will always power the Outlander PHEV off the line, with the petrol engine kicking in seamlessly if required, making the Mitsubishi always feel like an EV initially.

How much fuel does it consume?

Officially, 1.9L/100km is the combined average fuel-consumption figure, and on standard 91 RON unleaded petrol to boot. This equates to just 43 grams per kilometre of carbon dioxide emissions.

On that basis, the GSR's 45L fuel tank allows for a theoretical 2370km of range between refills (and recharges). Good luck with that. In the real world, with a mix of city, suburban and highway commuting as well as higher-speed performance testing, we averaged 7.8L/100km, which is not bad for an 1880kg SUV. The trip computer, by the way, read 8.2L/100km, which is the first time in 22 years of road testing that the car's own software undersold the result.

On the EV front, while the official figure is 54km of pure electric range, we managed 36km with 100 per cent charge in EV Priority mode only, before the engine fired up in Series Hybrid mode. That was driven with two people on board, the air-conditioning and climate control set to 21ºC and a mixture of city/urban morning traffic and 80-100km/h motorway driving.

This is impressive stuff as there was no hypermiling involved to eke out maximum range. Or, in other words, an everyday 40km or more of normal mixed driving in EV-only mode is possible for the daily commute without ever having to put petrol in the Outlander.

Charging takes approximately seven hours using a household (type 1) outlet, three hours with a Wallbox (type 2) or 25 minutes at a public fast charger, according to Mitsubishi.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

The Outlander PHEV GSR is fitted with seven airbags (front driver and passenger, side and side curtain), electronic stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, adaptive cruise control, Lane Departure Warning, auto high-beam headlights, AEB, Blind Spot Warning, Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, front and rear parking sensors, a reverse camera, rain-sensing wipers, auto on/off headlights and hill-start assist.

There are also a pair of ISOFIX points in the rear seats, as well as three top tethers for straps.

However, while the Outlander range scores a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating, that was back in 2015, and was actually carried out by Euro NCAP back in 2012, using a European-market LHD diesel-powered Outlander Intense, weighing 380kg less than the MY21 PHEV GSR.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?


Here's one reason why you might want to buy an Outlander PHEV GSR.

Like all Mitsubishis since October 1, it has a conditional 10-year warranty, or 200,000km including capped-price servicing. That's the best in the business – as long all the scheduled servicing is through an authorised Mitsubishi dealer. Battery coverage is the industry-standard eight-years/160,000km.

Servicing intervals are at every 12 months/15,000km, starting from $299 and then $399, peaking at $799 in years six (72 months/90,000km), eight (96 months/120,000km) and 10 (120 months/200,000km). If you bought your PHEV GSR in 2020, the total cost of this scheme in 2030 will be $4890, though, of course, that figure is subject to change.

What's it like to drive around town?

Even after eight years on the global stage, the Outlander PHEV will still feel like the future for people who have only ever experienced conventional internal combustion engine cars or fairly basic hybrids like Toyota's series-parallel system.

For starters, with 100 per cent torque available from standstill, it steps off instantly, smartly and silently but for the whirr of the electric motors underneath, whooshing forward as if it were gliding along the surface. Throttle response is immediate and powerful right up to traffic speeds and beyond. It's quite addictive, actually.

Like we said, expect more than 40km of that in normal urban driving – maybe 15km more if feather-footed , much less if pushy – before the petrol engine automatically starts to either maintain the battery state or charge it, depending on what the driver desires. Two buttons flank the natty joystick lever – 'EV' on the right and a 'Save/ Charge' button on the left – to cycle through the balance of electrification/ICE assistance. It's that simple.

Probably the most fun to be had in an Outlander PHEV is hypermiling, which means driving as lightly and frugally as possible to make the most of the electricity available. That's what the 'B' is for next to the transmission lever's 'R-N-D' shifts, allowing the driver to toggle through several levels of braking force, that in turn transfers recuperated brake energy back into the battery pack to help replenish it, bicycle dynamo-style. Clever.

Like all Mitsubishis since October 1, it has a conditional 10-year warranty. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) Like all Mitsubishis since October 1, it has a conditional 10-year warranty. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)

Mitsubishi calls the transition from pure EV to series-parallel mode with the petrol-engine firing seamless, and it is smooth, but you hear it, especially when pressing down on the pedal with the revs rising. The CVT auto responds quickly, but isn't really tuned to be hurried along, holding on to a point along the gearing band to deliver power as efficiently as possible. 

Here's a surprise, though. Selecting 'Sport' mode alters that 'hold' point to make the most of the available muscle, and changes to pre-determined 'ratios' for greater urgency – and potency – from the powertrain. In fact, there's so much punch on offer, as per the GSR's sportier flavour, that it's easy to exceed the speed limit by some margin before realising just how fast the Outlander PHEV is going. It can be a pretty rapid family eco machine when you need it to be. Great for the open road.

Back in the urban sphere, the combination of immediate yet hushed throttle response and light steering imbue a sense of zippy manoeuvrability, aided by the generous glass area, lofty driving position, sizeable mirrors and big camera screen. It's easy to place and park.

It comes with auto high-beam headlights. (image: Byron Mathioudakis) It comes with auto high-beam headlights. (image: Byron Mathioudakis)

However, while the Bilstein dampers and other suspension upgrades do a totally reasonable job keeping the lardy Outlander PHEV feeling planted and well-controlled through tight fast corners (despite there being virtually no real feel from the steering), their inherent firmness translates into a busy and, at times, tetchy ride around town. While not harsh, you feel and hear the suspension over bumps and stuff, and the accompanying stiffness can become tiresome.

There's also a fair amount of wind noise around the mirrors, though road and tyre droning is fairly minimal.

Overall, then, the electrification element of the Outlander makes it a quick, quiet and clean city commuter, backed up by ICE oomph as required, but a bit more suspension suppleness would go a long way.

Mitsubishis like the 1984 Nimbus, 1985 Magna and 1992 Lancer GSR 4WD broke ground in some way, but none as emphatically as the Outlander PHEV. Just by being so normal, user-friendly and accessible has eased consumer entry into electrification more effectively than any other vehicle worldwide.

Now, eight years on, the PHEV GSR continues to do the same, while bringing in appreciable athletic capability and presence to an otherwise mundane-looking, but very family-orientated medium SUV.

Consequently, it is a good thing, and a conspicuous bargain for eco-minded motorists unwilling to compromise by going full EV. We're surprised at how dynamically competent the PHEV GSR is, and so hold out high hopes that its MY22 successor will represent even greater progress.

Smarter than a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, larger than a Mini Countryman PHEV and cheaper than a BMW X5 xDrive45e, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV remains a unique modern eco classic.

$52,490

Based on new car retail price

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Score

4/5
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