September 28, 2023

Outlander plug-in hybrid closer to EV-like performance

Mitsubishi redesigns SUV with more distinct styling

The auto industry has always been in a perpetual state of innovation, which is a great thing for the consumer. While innovation can end up costing the buyer more money for a vehicle, it also makes vehicles safer to drive – and ultimately better for the market. The 2023 Mitsubishi Outlander is a vehicle that has made the most of innovation in plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) technology.

I remember test-driving the 2018 Outlander plug-in hybrid, at the time it was a pioneer in the value-minded class and the only PHEV that was not in the cost stratosphere of luxury brands. Today, there are PHEV in every class, but Mitsubishi can lay claim to being first in affordability.

The 2023 Outlander PHEV comes in several trim levels ES, SE, SEL and a 40th Anniversary Edition. While the base ES has an attractive starting price of $41,190, my SEL tester had enough add-ons to get that price boosted to $50,880. So, the question to ask is: Does the high-end Outlander PHEV compete with other similar competitors? The answer is – most of the time.

The first thing to accept is that PHEV models cost more than the standard gas-engine variants. Once you get an apples-to-apples comparison, the Outlander PHEV holds its water pretty well. The best part about this SUV is it shares its underpinnings with the Nissan Rogue, which is a great SUV offering. I think the Outlander looks bolder and tougher than the Rogue and that’s a great start.

A compact crossover, the new Outlander is longer and wider than its predecessor. Featuring a huge grille and big inset headlamps that push the nose out front, the Outlander has an attitude that cannot be overlooked. My SEL tester featured 20-inch two-tone alloy rims that added even more impact.

PHEV performance

The Outlander offers a few Drive Modes (Normal, EV, Save, Charge) to make the most of your driving experience and to save power whenever possible. Normal mode lets the car decide; EV defaults to electric power; Save reserves electric range for later use; and Charge continuously charges the battery pack.

The Outlander PHEV is the only vehicle in its value segment to offer DC fast charging, handling up to 50 kilowatts and charging the battery pack to 80% in 38 minutes. Mitsubishi estimates 38 miles of electric range with an efficiency rating of 64 MPGe combined and 26 mpg combined fuel economy on gasoline.

A 2.4-liter gasoline four-cylinder engine and electric motor drive the front wheels through a single-speed transaxle. A second electric motor drives the rear wheels for all-wheel drive, while a 20.0-kilowatt-hour battery pack supplies power. The front motor produces 113 hp and the rear motor makes 134 hp, while peak output with gasoline assistance is 248 hp and 332 pound-feet of torque.

Because it is designed as a pure PHEV, Outlander delivers its power more like an EV than a hybrid. Acceleration is quick and smooth, with the motors providing most of the thrust and the gasoline engine acting more like a generator.

Outlander PHEV uses regenerative braking to recover energy when decelerating, which allows drivers to avoid using the brake pedal most of the time. It takes a little time to get used to it, but the results are worth it. Regeneration won’t bring the Outlander PHEV to a complete stop, so the learning curve is short.

Inside the cabin

On the inside of the cabin, you will find plenty of legroom and headroom in the first and second rows. The third row felt like a complete afterthought, and I do not see it as functional in any way. Drivers will enjoy a high seating position over many vehicles on the road. Power adjustments ensured a perfect position, along with power mirrors to create a safe experience.

My tester featured brown/black two-tone leather upholstery and a very bold cabin style that matched the exterior attitude. Setting yourself apart from the crowded field is always a risk, but I think it pays off for Outlander. The dash has a more minimalist feel and given where this brand likes to play on price it’s acceptable to me to not have as many bells and whistles. Overall, the fit and finish were not as good as some others and the materials reflect the value pricing goals.

With the second-row seats up, Outlander cargo space is 33.5 cubic feet, it elevates to 78.5 cubic feet with the second row folded, which is competitive with other PHEV crossovers.

The Outlander PHEV offers a standard 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen. My tester featured the SEL Premium Package ($2,700), which adds a really convenient 10.8-inch head-up display and a nice upgrade 9-speaker Bose audio system. There’s also a driver/passenger massage feature and a big panoramic sunroof included in the package.

Mitsubishi will need to upgrade some of its tech offerings in the future. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are essentials in Outlander, but they require the old cable connection, which is too inconvenient. Also, the touchscreen’s use is not as intuitive as others with stacks of menus complicating use.

Mi-Pilot Assist is a driver-assistance system mating automated lane centering to adaptive cruise control, allowing acceleration, steering and braking automatically on highways. My tester featured a nice list of driver-assist features, including lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, traffic sign recognition, automatic high beams, forward collision warning, front and rear automatic emergency braking and a driver-attention monitor.

Mitsubishi stands behind its products like few do, offering a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain and a 5-year, 60,000-mile, new-vehicle limited warranty. The battery pack and other plug-in hybrid components also get a 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty. If you want to stand out in your PHEV, consider checking into the Outlander.

• John Stein is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. He has more than 25 years of experience driving, testing and writing about the automotive industry, its latest innovations and vehicles.