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Motors

Mitsubishi’s improved plugin is a bridge to the future

Wednesday, 19th December, 2018 4:56pm

So the biggest question for any of us buying a car right now is which fuel to go for.

That was, once, a binary decision between petrol or diesel. Now, though, it’s a more complex dilemma between petrol or diesel, or hybrid, or plugin hybrid, or fully electric.

Fully electric is clearly the ultimate future of how our cars will be powered and ‘fueled’ but for many of us, it’s not quite possible to go electric just yet.

Many of us lack off-street parking, for a start, which is crucial to being able to charge an electric car overnight. Many more of us need to regularly do the sorts of long-haul journeys at which electric cars are currently so bad (although that is changing rapidly). So for most of us it comes down to petrol, diesel, or hybrid.

Some car makers, Kia and Hyundai among them, think that even hybrids days are over already, and that there’s no point in selling a hybrid without a plug on it now. Oddly, perhaps, it was Mitsubishi that was the first to introduce a plugin hybrid for sale in the Irish market, and it’s that very same Outlander PHEV (plugin hybrid electric vehicle) that has just been updated for 2019.

The recipe is the same as before, but Mitsubishi has made several key improvements. Once again there’s a petrol engine up front, helped out by two electric motors — one for each axle to that the Outlander can still be a four-wheel drive car even when it’s operating in electric mode.

That electric mode is best experienced when you have fully charged the 13kWh battery stack. Doing so, claims Mitsubishi, will allow you to drive for up to 59km without needing to use the petrol engine at all.

That petrol engine used to be a 2.0 litre unit, but now it’s a 2.4, using the fuel-saving Atkinson combustion and ignition cycle. It’s backed up by those two electric motors — 95hp for the rear one, 89hp for the front one.

You can run the car in fully electric mode (assuming that the battery has enough charge), or you can run it as a conventional hybrid, using the power of the electric motors to boost the grunt of the petrol engine.

Theoretically, it should offer the best of both worlds. Electric power; silent, zero-emissions power for short city hops. Then petrol hybrid power for longer journeys. You can charge it up to make the most of its electric capabilities, but you won’t have to hunt around for scarce charging points when embarking on long haul drives.

Does it work, though?

Up to a point, yes. Whatever happens at the wheels and at the fuel pumps, you will at least get the benefit of the very low CO2 figure. At 46g/km, you’ll pay just €170 a year to tax this large, luxurious SUV.

Luxurious? Oh yes. While the Outlander’s cabin might be a bit plain, overall, in its design and layout, Mitsubishi has updated it with gorgeous new quilted leather seats, which look fabulous and which feel as fabulous as they look. They genuinely add a touch of luxury and really lift the cabin’s ambience.

You don’t care about the luxury, though, do you? You care about the fuel economy. Well, it’s complicated...

The Outlander PHEV is a large and heavy car, so if you spend your life running up and down the motorway, you’re not going to get great economy out of it. Around 35mpg is likely, although you might stretch that to 40mpg if you’re careful. Not a million miles away from a diesel alternative but not great when Mitsubishi claims you can get 140mpg.

To get that, or even get close to it, you need to treat the Outlander like a smartphone, and keep plugging it in. Every chance you get, stick it into a socket and juice up the batteries. If you do that, it’s an enormously pleasant car to drive.

At low speeds, running around town on just electric power feels wonderfully smooth and silent. There’s no shortage of poke, either. While Eco mode dulls down the accelerator’s response, switching over to Sport mode adds some real fire to proceedings and the Outlander leaps forward on a surge of instant electric motor response.

It gets a bit nosier, of course, when the petrol engine is joining in, but overall refinement is very good, and the Outlander is a hugely relaxing car to drive.

Not least because you never have to worry about finding an electric car charging point — you can always just top up the petrol tank and keep going. You can even use the petrol engine as a generator, charging the battery as you drive so that you can use the battery to whoosh around on zero emissions when you get back to town.

That’s the beauty of the Outlander, but also its limitation. It gives you the choice of being able to pick which mode of propulsion you want to use, but that means it also compromises how well those modes perform.

A conventional petrol or diesel version would be more economical on longer journeys, while a pure electric version would get further on one charge.

But that’s the point. Many of us want to make the jump to electric motoring but either aren’t ready to, or simply cannot, make the jump yet.

That’s where the Outlander comes in. It’s not quite futuristic enough to be the future. But it’s an impressive, and impressively easy way, of getting from here to there.

It gets you used to the techniques of electric motoring, while still providing the safety net of a conventional engine for when you need it.

When it comes to the question of how you fuel your next car, it’s not the answer for everyone. But it is an interesting answer.

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