Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV road test by Steve Rogers

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It looks like the car industry is in for another bumpy ride.

If last year wasn’t hard enough with companies grappling with tougher emissions standards and falling sales 2019 is going to be even more turbulent with lots of big decisions to be made on the future of the industry. Ford and Jaguar Land Rover have already dropped a couple of early bombshells.

That said UK car sales last year were still a healthy 2.37 million with some companies boasting record sales. In all the gloom sales were up on the electric and hybrid front and that is music to the ears for Mitsubishi whose Outlander PHEV (that’s plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) is still the country’s top selling electric car – and it costs all but 40 grand!

It was a case of right place, right time when Outlander was launched in 2013. It raced to the number one slot and has been there ever since clocking up around 10,000 sales a year, nearly half Mitsubishi’s annual total in 2018.

The family sized 4×4 SUV majors on low running costs and big economy on which it delivers, up to a point, but more on that later.

While some companies struggled to deliver on the new WLTP emissions regs Mitsubishi was ahead of the game with an upgraded engine and other significant improvements to Outlander at the back end of last year.

A more powerful 2.4 litre petrol has replaced the 2-litre but still emits just 40g/km, while hybrid improvements include more capacity and output from the batteries, electric generator and rear motor.

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Does Outlander PHEV really deliver on economy? Official figures put its average at 159.5mpg and in certain circumstances it will do a lot more. Let’s take a 36 mile round trip to Chester, most of it on the A483 in the middle of the day.

With a full battery charge, 26 miles according to the dashboard computer, I averaged 962mpg getting there because 98 per cent of the journey was on electric power. Once the charge was drained it tumbled to around 50mpg, not bad for a 2-litre petrol. But, and it is a big but, at the end of a week’s driving the 45 litre tank would have been empty after around 390 miles.

So it all depends on driving needs, driving style and charging the battery after every trip, just under four hours using a wall mounted charging box.

Short, low speed journeys give the best return, and once the battery power is gone restrained driving to aid economy and plenty of use of the regenerative braking function to put some power back into the batteries.

That is done by flipping paddles either side of the steering wheel to increase or reduce braking, and is a good exercise in slowing the car without the using the footbrake. Pity the paddles are the wrong way round – minus gives more, plus gives less – but I soon got the hang of it.

The PHEV’s rock bottom emissions are a great income tax benefit to company car drivers and, of course, road tax is free for the first year. The owner of a powerful diesel SUV could be forking out £830 in road tax.

Mitsubishi has done its best to bring Outlander closer to the premium brands with better trim and more sound deadening. The latest upgrade had also given the car a stiffer body so that, along with tweaks to the suspension, has reduced body roll. The ride can be unruly on poor surfaces at low speeds but generally I was satisfied with the level of comfort.

The incentive for buying an alternatively fuelled car was dampened when the Government pulled the plug on grants but Mitsubishi has managed to keep the Outlander PHEV under £40,000 and that keeps running costs in check.

It wants for nothing, both on the things we like, and the level of safety features of which there are plenty. Some of the goodies are at odds with the PHEV’s goal of conserving battery power, yet heated seats, heated steering wheel, heated front windscreen all suck life out of the batteries but we all love to have them!

Outlander PHEV might have one more good year leading the electric power field but it is going to get tougher with 31 new plug-in hybrids set to be launched this year.

The company has shown a big commitment to electric power and it can’t have escaped its notice that Outlander is rather big and rather expensive and that a smaller electrically powered model is needed sometime soon. Watch this space.

Key points

Outlander PHEV auto 4WD

£39,500

2-litre; 134bhp

0-62mph 10.5secs; 106mph

159.5mpg combined

40g/km. 1st year road tax nil

Insurance group 28