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Giving you the power

Curious about owning an electric vehicle? ALICE AGNEW put the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV through its paces in Tasmanian conditions. Here we share the results.

Electric vehicle sales have accelerated at a phenomenal rate around the world during the past few years, but to date Australians haven’t been so quick on the uptake. I wonder whether the introduction of incentives or offsets by the Federal Government would enhance the prospect for buyers, or if it’s that we simply don’t understand enough about these vehicles?

In December 2016, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV was ranked as the world’s all-time second best-selling plug-in hybrid, and in April this year it arrived in Australia with a comprehensive update.
When the opportunity of a long-term loan of Mitsubishi’s top-specced PHEV Exceed became available, I saw a chance to delve a little deeper and find out what ‘owning and living’ with a plug-in electric hybrid was all about.

I set myself some parameters, albeit reasonably flexible – to drive in EV Priority mode (electric only) wherever possible, charge it only when necessary and discover if there were savings available when travelling my day-to day distances.

As an inner-city dweller, my daily commute is a short 10km round trip, which extends by a few kilometres a week to meet sporting commitments and pick up groceries. So the question looming for me was how far would the PHEV get me before I had to recharge?

First things first, though, I needed to figure out how to charge. Even though the latest update included a DC fast-charging socket, this wasn’t an option as Tassie is yet to get compatible charging stations. This meant that the options for charging were a 10 or 15amp powerpoint. However, I was restricted to the 10amp at around 6.5 hours for a full charge. I quickly learnt that my home set-up wasn’t conducive as I don’t have off-street parking. Luckily, I had access to charging at work during the day.

I was plugging in 3-4 times a week on average, but given my limited access to charging at weekends, sometimes Fridays would see a top-up charge. Interestingly, the on-board computer estimated a maximum of up to 50km pure-electric range, but the best I could get from a full charge was 27km. It’s likely our chilly winter conditions were affecting battery performance, as did the constant use of climate control and heated seats (a particular favourite of mine).
From the outside, the PHEV could easily be mistaken for its non-electric Outlander counterpart. Inside the cabin, practicality and comfort have not been compromised by battery storage space. In fact, there is more than enough room for adult legs and gear, with the option to fold seats to make for a larger boot space, if required.

The Exceed has leather seats, sunroof and a premium-feel interior in chrome and piano black finishes. The more I drove the more I understood that, as the driver, I was the biggest contributor to the variation in electric range and fuel consumption and that, in the end, what it really came down to was care factor. Mitsubishi has engineered a multitude of driver-assist features aimed at improving efficiency for those wanting to drive consciously and restrict the amount of engagement from the petrol engine, but what it also requires is a concerted effort from the driver to reap the full benefits.

 

While extensive information displays featuring 3D visuals and graphs showed vehicle energy flow and fuel consumption, the display of data wasn’t user-friendly. For a novice like myself, I found measuring energy usage to be complicated and less than ideal. It was also non-responsive to touch a few times.

Activating adaptive cruise control on the longer trips regulated power demands and saw a slightly better electric range, but unless I intentionally opted for an ‘eco mode’ of driving, it ran similar to a petrol engine after charge depleted. On the other hand, I found I could get to work and back without using the petrol engine and so this is what I did, charging during the day while I worked.

I covered a total of 2260km in three months, filling up with fuel five times with an efficiency of between 6.04L and 7.84L/100km. This is a far cry from the claimed efficiently of 1.7L/100km, which makes me wonder how this figure was achieved and question the actual real-world validity of the official Australian Design Rule test.

On the plus side, the interior environment felt well-considered and had the ability to be customised with features such as ergonomic heating/cooling vents and smartphone recognition for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The leather steering wheel was a particular standout with good hand-feel that made getting back into my own car, with its hard plastic, a resentfully disappointing experience.

That aside, the sweet spot for the PHEV really proved to be during those shorter trips in and around town. With EV mode engaged, driving is predominately in silence apart from a faint whirr on take-off, and it’s admittedly quite a unique experience. Transitioning between electric and engine is in the most part seamless and it’s only when faced with hillier sections that the engine can be heard kicking in. Don’t expect too much on acceleration, though, as pick-up is lethargic and required I muster up extra patience on a number of occasions.

With the top variant priced at $54,490, this is notably $9500 more than its petrol equivalent, but also considerably cheaper than some of the other electric models in the market. The Outlander PHEV really is a lifestyle choice requiring driver investment to really get the benefits.

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