Saturday 16 December 2017

A drive that offers a real glimpse of the future

Outlander PHEV
Outlander PHEV
Outlander energy monitor
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

A wise man once told me not to tie myself up in knots trying to understand complicated matters (he was obviously more acutely aware of my intellectual shortcomings than I). He argued we waste a lot of time chasing the wrong stuff and don't concentrate on what is relevant.

"You don't need a PhD in electrics to turn on a light," he'd say. "Flick a switch. If it doesn't come on, try a new bulb. If it still doesn't work, get an electrician. In the meantime do something useful."

So how much do you really need to know about this Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV? It goes. It uses electricity and petrol. It works. But I had to delve. It wasn't a waste of time. When I stripped everything away I found, as is usually the case, a simplicity at its core.

We are going to get a lot more cars like this as the future splinters into myriad choices, sources, means and combinations of power, so I think it is important you know. What we have is a large, comfortable, five-seater family crossover/SUV. An electric motor on each axle (powered by a bank of batteries) drives the wheels, making it a permanent four- wheel-drive SUV. A 2-litre petrol engine backs them up.

PHEV stands for 'plug-in hybrid electric vehicle'. The plug-in bit means you can do just that. Charge it at home or at one of the many points around the country (3.5/4.5 hours, or 80pc in 30 mins). Doing so means you will get 35km/40km without the engine starting at all. The batteries provide the power.

I don't think that you will get the 52km Mitsubishi claim. I didn't, but I only tried to do it once. That isn't bad for €1.20 in electricity is it?

I drove a fair bit in that electric vehicle mode, and then got the engine to re-charge when I was out on the open roads. When the engine does kick in, it acts as a generator or charger. They call it Series Hybrid Mode (fierce jargon). I call it 'engine charge time'. It feeds and boosts the batteries which power the motors that drive the wheels. Simple.

It's a great concept. I was fascinated watching the monitor showing the interplay between battery, motors, engine and energy used in braking, for example.

The big difference with this, as opposed to conventional hybrids, is it always tries to get back to using electrical power only. It also has a claimed, combined, range of 824km. No range anxiety there.

Just one more phase before you get your PhD in PHEV. They call it Parallel Hybrid mode. I call it 'engine drives front wheels time'. It only happens when you want to accelerate really quickly or drive fast consistently. The electric motors still drive the wheels, but the engine directly powers the front ones. It can really move, believe me.

I also made many shorter journeys (20km to 50km) during which the engine only powered the batteries; never the wheels.

The Outlander was comfortable, quiet and quick off the mark. There was less boot space because the batteries span that area. And you can't have seven seats as you can in some diesel Outlander models.

I found myself using two buttons a lot: one to charge the battery specially, because I wanted to have electric-only power in around Dublin city centre. And the other – not to let the charge go below a certain level (for the same reason).

Did it work? With the exception of a couple of practical misgivings, it did. I found the shift for drive and reverse a right pain. Even after a week of much stopping and starting I frequently had to try two or three times to get going.

The steering also felt juddery for a few seconds when I turned the wheels to move off.

Would I buy this or a diesel? That's the crux. I haven't acquired the habit or desire of plugging things in overnight or driving more economically than I do.

I'm afraid my early zeal dissipated in the face of facile excuses: tired, phone call, World Cup, Corrie... I think that a lot of us are that way. But I don't need a PhD in PHEV to know I/we will have to start thinking more along these lines. This has the capacity to nudge change big-time, and it's well worth a test drive.

Outlander specs

* Electric motors, batteries, 2-litre petrol engine (44g/km, €170 road tax, 1.9 l/100km, 824km range).

* Standard equipment includes dual-zone air con, sat-nav, automatic air con, cruise control, Bluetooth with Voice Control 18ins alloys, front fogs with daytime running lights, battery (with a 5-year warranty) etc.

* From €41,950; includes €5,000 Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland grant and government VRT relief for plug-in hybrids. Delivery, related charges extra.

My side of the road

I'm just wondering how dangerous it is for a driver to get into a car with a steaming cup of coffee and drive off, stopping at lights and sipping it, spilling a few drops, wiping the spill and then driving off. Only asking. I think it's worse than texting at the wheel. People are completely distracted and – worse still – likely to scald themselves. What do you think?


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