The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV on the charge.
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV on the charge. Iain Curry

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV proving petrol-less reality

THREE months in to our Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV long-term test and the plug-in hybrid electric SUV continues to impress and frustrate.

Its neatest trick is behaving like any "normal" petrol or diesel SUV for the bulk of the time. I hop in, turn it on, press the accelerator and off I waft to my destination, just like I would in my conventional petrol car.

Naturally I have to plug the PHEV in to the wall socket when I get home or reach work, but this has become such a normal aspect of my daily motoring life that it is practically automatic. You poor things have to pull in to the service station when your fuel light starts flickering, I just find myself a power point when my battery is drained.

I'm fortunate that my principal journey between home and the workplace is 35km each way: the PHEV manages this route on electric power only (with another 10km or so to spare), meaning if this were my only trip I'd need never grease the palms of Mr Caltex or Mr BP again.

Positively, I've become accustomed to seeing a rather pleasing readout on the dashboard telling of an average of 0.0L/100km.

The PHEV's had a few real world trips of late, however. First, an outing to the Sunshine Coast hinterland, involving a 150km round trip.

Its batteries wheezed their last just after 40km, meaning the 87kW 2.0-litre four-cylinder had to go it alone from that point on.

This happened just as we began a steep 10km climb to the town of Maleny. Lugging nearly two-tonnes of Outlander SUV up steep gradients stretched the petrol motor hard, and it made a hell of a racket in the cabin.

The single-speed auto box meant revs had to stay painfully high, and the whole experience felt a world away from the serene electric-only motorway cruising I'd become accustomed to.

The return journey gave me the chance to exploit the battery's regeneration system properly, namely sending charge to the power packs while downhill driving and braking. I use this system every day, but it has minimal effect due to very few hills on my commute.

Paddles behind the steering wheel adjust the level of regeneration available, so when set to maximum (called B5 mode), on lifting off the accelerator there's a marked amount of deceleration, much like engine braking in a normal car.

This mode is a tad forceful for everyday driving, but on long, steep downhills it's ideal. For my downhill journey from the hinterland, it was satisfying to watch the battery charge rising, with the readout telling me I'd bought myself an extra 4km of electric driving thanks to the regeneration. Lovely.

The much-quoted fear for prospective owners of electric cars (apart from the additional purchase price) is range anxiety. That is, the fear of running out of battery charge before reaching a destination.

As the PHEV is a hybrid with backup petrol motor this is hardly a concern, but it seemingly led to Mitsubishi not making the Outlander PHEV a fast-charge compatible car.

This has frustrated me, not least because it makes my local electric car fast-charge station an irrelevance.

The Kunara Organic Marketplace at Forest Glen is the sole electric car charge point on the Sunshine Coast, with the business offering free fast charges to its customers.

The shop's division manager, Ryan McLintock, said having electric chargers was a good point of difference for the business, and helped its sustainability ethos.

"It costs us roughly $5 for a fast charge, and takes between 30 minutes and an hour to fully charge an electric car's batteries," Mr McLintock said.

"It's well worth the cost to us, as users will hopefully do their shopping and maybe have a coffee while their car charges."

Since installing one Level 2 fast charge 32A power point and a Level 1 15A point in 2011, Mr McLintock said at present they weren't being used often.

A regular customer comes weekly and used the fast charge, while my PHEV was only the fourth or fifth unique visitor since the 2011 installation.

"There just aren't that many electric cars on the Coast to use it, but that will change," he said. "It will kick off, if not immediately, but anyone with an electric car is welcome to come down for a free charge."

That's exactly what I tried. You activate a ChargePoint card online (the cards are free from a place like Kunara), add money to it if your local electric charge point charges a fee, and swipe the card to free the charger.

I charged the PHEV using this fast charger for close to an hour, and while it seemed to juice up slightly quicker than normal, it still only managed to get the batteries up to 1/3 capacity, or about 12km of electric driving. Not brilliant.

Mitsubishi said a vehicle like its fully electric i-MiEV did have fast charge capability, but it wasn't a requirement for the Outlander PHEV due to its petrol engine.

Fair enough, but if the technology is there, why not use it? The PHEV is an impressive piece of technology, but how much greater its appeal would be if I could get those batteries back to maximum in just half an hour of fast charge.


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