Outlander plug-in hybrid shows why we need to home in on 'electric'
This week's review car put the practical challenges of having an 'electrified' vehicle in sharp relief for me. No, I'm not going to be negative about things, I promise. But there are legitimate issues and I think no review of an 'electrified' car (in this case a plug-in hybrid) would be relevant without raising them.
I had the updated Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV on test for quite a while over a variety of conditions (the mid-sized SUV has a 'new' engine, suspension, improved battery capacity and revised hybrid system).
The battery bank means it can travel 30km or so (they claim 45km, but not a hope) on 'pure electric' charge. That makes economic sense so long as you have a way of regularly replenishing the charge.
Due to circumstances, I didn't - and won't - have such a facility for the foreseeable future. Which negates the benefits of having the large battery on board to cover 30km on electric power. So what am I, and thousands like me, to do? It's great we're going to improve the public infrastructure, but a big challenge lies in charging from homes, apartments, etc that are not easy to access or service.
With 90pc of charging done domestically, it's a real-world problem that needs to be addressed now that more people are considering electric.
I would entreat those with easy means of charging a PHEV like the Outlander to do so. You will see the benefit, especially if you commute. It takes four hours to charge from a normal socket, but you can get 80pc in 25 minutes with a fast charger.
In an ideal world that could mean little usage of the engine during the week's commute, while petrol and motor power would cover longer journeys. In my real world, that didn't transpire. So petrol consumption was heavier as the engine was in use for longer.
Also remember my PHEV had just the five seats as opposed to seven you get on some Outlander diesels. There is a five-seater diesel from €32,850 (€170 tax); the seven-seater diesel starts from €40,350 (€280 tax). The PHEV itself cost from just under €40,000 (€170 tax).
Not alone are they claiming this is a major revamp, bringing a big increase in overall efficiency, they say there has been a 20pc reduction in price compared with the previous one. I'm all for that.
But I don't think you'd feel it has undergone such a substantial overhaul because to look at it, there are no real differences. However, the technical changes run deep, Mitsubishi insist.
That's as may be, but I thought the new suspension was soft, leading to some bodyroll.
And there was one area they really needed to change but didn't: the Voice Control system. It is the most infuriating I have come across. I gave up trying to call people via a device that seemed to be there to thwart rather than help. There is no reason in this day and age to have to listen to a list of options being read out every time you try to call someone. Or to be told the background noise is too high, or to misinterpret 70pc of names I gave it. I wouldn't buy the car for the Voice Control, I can tell you.
Otherwise, my version, with leather, was most comfortable and roomy; the interior is adroitly laid out and there are some serious cupholders/cubbyholes, especially in the doors - while the boot is decent despite battery incursion.
One of the great things about the car is that it is 'tuned' to use battery/motor power at every opportunity. The engine is regarded largely as a booster/backup for the electrical side of things.
So with reasonably moderate driving, the engine should never be overly burdened. You can also set aside a proportion of the battery reserve for use in urban driving - which cuts back on petrol use, too.
Additionally you can, by using steering-wheel paddles, decide how much regenerative braking energy you wish to capture. Because of the way the motors are set up, you also have all-wheel-drive - a big plus this time of year.
So where does all this leave us? With a real proposition, despite some reservations, if you have a way of charging on a regular basis. That is crucial. You also have a moral duty to charge it because taxpayers are subsidising your purchase to the tune of €7,500 (SEAI grant/VRT refund).
If you don't have a domestic/easy-access means of charging then I don't know what to say. It's a pull between moving to 'electrification' now or sticking with a five/seven-seater diesel until being technically able to plug in to the much-heralded new era.
Facts & figures
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV:
From €39,900. Car tested (Instyle) €43,900.
2.4-litre petrol engine.
Spec includes: Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, 6 speakers, leather, heated front seats, electric driver's seat, 4WD mode selector, 360° Bird's Eye view monitor; dual-zone auto climate control, 18ins alloys, adaptive cruise control, Forward Collision Mitigation, 2 USB ports, eight-year warranty.