By Jonathan Crouch
The Outlander SUV was the world's best selling Plug-in hybrid in its period - and for good reason. Much of its success was down to the fact that it was first in this segment of the market, but Mitsubishi kept this car popular by continually improving it. That's certainly what the brand did in creating the much enhanced 2019 model year version of this car. It was a smarter, quieter and more appealing product. And is worth checking out as a used buy.
Launched back in 2014, Mitsubishi's Outlander PHEV was the car that popularised Plug-in Hybrid technology and by 2018 was still the best selling model of that kind, both in our market and across our Continent. Partly, that was because the Japanese brand had been continually evolving it and did so once again in 2018, deciding to address the need to certify this car to the new WLTP-cycle standard by introducing a fresh 2.4-litre petrol engine mated to improved electrical technology.
It needed to be good because this rejuvenated Outlander PHEV competed in a very different market to the one campaigned in by earlier versions of this SUV. For a start, there was by 2018 quite a bit more actual and imminent direct segment Plug-in competition, but of more concern to the brand was the scrapping in this period of the UK government's Plug-in Car Grant, which previously had subsidised this car's price to the tune of £2,500. It was just as well then, that this was the most technically advanced model that Mitsubishi had ever made.
By 2018, over 115,000 Outlander PHEV models had been sold across Europe since 2014 and there had been times when this car had accounted for more than 50% of its brand's total sales - and more than half of all Plug-in car sales across the board. Initially, that success was down to the way that Mitsubishi was first to market with this technology, but latterly, it had much to do with the effective way that brand was able to communicate the benefits of PHEV motoring. The company reckoned that an average owner with a 20-mile each-way daily commute who did about 18,000 miles a year, paid company car tax and was switching from a typical 40mpg diesel SUV could save themselves over £5,000 a year by switching into one of these.
There were though, limitations to Mitsubishi's cleverness here. The bulkiness of the mechanicals needed with Plug-in hybrid motoring prevented this petrol/electric variant offering the useful third row seating you'd get with an Outlander powered by a conventional petrol engine. For the same reason, the PHEV variant's fuel tank was smaller too, which is one of the reasons why this hybrid couldn't match the total operating range of the conventional model. Easier to address were a couple of the issues with earlier versions of this model: the rather vague handling and cabin quality that was previously slightly questionable, given the money being asked. Mitsubishi insisted that told that both issues had been dealt with by this revised model, which was just as well as that larger engine, also got a bigger 13.8kWh battery and greater electrical motor output. These were useful improvements, but sales were slow and the Outlander PHEV finally left the British market when the Mitsubishi brand pulled out at the end of 2021.
What You Get
This isn't an SUV you'd buy to make a driveway statement but in its own way, it's a smartly functional bit of automotive technology. As for the changes made as part of the 2018 model year update to this third generation Outlander design, well they were relatively minor. Mitsubishi did, after all, make far-reaching aesthetic improvements to this car in 2016. Nevertheless, the company wasn't able to resist further tinkering with what it called its 'Dynamic Shield' design direction, though you'd probably have to be either a previous owner or a brand enthusiast to notice the changes.
And behind the wheel? Well Mitsubishi upgraded the cabin of this car quite a bit as part of changes made to this car back in 2016, which didn't leave much scope for many further changes that could be made to this 2019 model year car without a complete cabin re-design. This improved model did get a restyled instrument cluster. And the front seats were re-contoured to give more lateral cornering support.
There's comfortable room for a couple of adults on the back seat. And in the cargo area of this five-seat-only PHEV version, there's 731-litres of space - only 50-litres less than you'd get in the ordinary petrol version with the luggage area chairs folded. If you need more space, then folding the second row backrest frees up 1.85m of floor length. Unfortunately, you can't extend that with the kind of fold-flat front passenger seat that some rivals offer. Still, the space provided here is likely to be sufficient for the needs of most owners. If you were to load to the headlining, you'd have up to 1,472-litres of space in this PHEV variant. That's pretty close to the 1,608-litre total you'd get from the conventional petrol model.
What to Look For
Many Outlander PHEV owners in our survey were very happy with their cars, but inevitably, there were a few issues. One customer had his car continually off the road for a problem eventually traced to an issue with the 'connectors' in the battery compartment. Other complaints related to rattling front head rests and an alarm prone to go off for no reason. More seriously, one owner found that after a safety recall, his car was failing to discharge the battery as its primary power source, meaning that the powertrain continually reverted to petrol power when there was still available battery charge.
It's extremely unlikely that this Outlander will have been seriously used on rougher surfaces (particularly if it has a higher-spec trim level), but just in case, check the underside of the car for dents and scrapes. It's more likely that you'll find scratches on the alloy wheels caused through ham-fisted parking. Check out the rear seat for scratches caused by unruly children. And of course, insist on a fully stamped-up service history.
(approx based on a 2019 Outlander PHEV 2.0 petrol ex VAT) An oil filter is in the £11 bracket. A pollen filter is in the £8-£25 bracket. A wiper blade will cost you from about £9-£30. Front brake pads sit in the £72-£74 bracket; rears will sit in the £55 bracket. Rear brake discs sit in the £113 bracket. An air filter is around £35.
On the Road
Quite a few changes improved this 2019 model year Outlander PHEV model. For a start, the petrol engine that drives its Plug-in hybrid drivetrain was increased in size from 2.0-litres to 2.4-litres. This powerplant puts out 135PS and, as before, is assisted by electric motors at the front and rear, so creating this PHEV variant's own particular 4WD set-up. With this revised model, the motor at the front still put out 82PS, but the one at the rear was 10% more powerful than before, developing out 95PS. The drive battery was bigger too. It got 15% more capacity and developed 10% more power, having been increased in size to 13.8 kWh. The extra cells do take slightly longer to charge though: think now in terms of needing 5 hours from a normal household socket. When fully replenished, a WLTP cycle-certified figure of 28 miles of all-electric progress is theoretically possible.
So, the technology was upgraded - but then there wasn't really much wrong with that to begin with. In improving this car, Mitsubishi was very aware that the driving experience on offer here also needed to be enhanced if this Outlander was to be more effective in generating conquest sales from more conventional rivals. Hence this improved model's re-calibrated suspension and a body shell that, thanks to a new structural adhesive welding process, was more rigid. Plus there were bigger brakes, grippier tyres and improved levels of cabin refinement. There was also a selectable 'Sport' mode which gives quicker throttle response, sharper feel through the quicker-reacting steering rack and more grip via the 'Super All-Wheel Control' system that includes a selectable 'SNOW' setting to improve low grip launches and cornering traction on slippery tarmac. It was all welcome but what really sold this car was its efficiency stats, which were WLTP cycle-rated at 139mpg on the combined cycle and 46g/km of CO2.
You can maximise the returns possible by making full use of the three so-called 'Intelligent Motion' driving mode settings that this Outlander PHEV offers. The first of these, 'EV Priority Mode', is one in which there's no engine input and the front and rear electric motors move the car using only stored electricity from the drive battery. In this setting, you can theoretically travel at up an all-electric 84mph top speed. Push on a little and your Outlander PHEV will switch into its second 'Series Hybrid Mode' where the engine generates extra power for the electric motors. Beyond that, there's a third 'Parallel Hybrid Mode', which adds the resources of the petrol engine driving the front wheels for maximum performance.
Back in 2018, lots of premium brands had PHEV technology, but they struggled to bring it to market for the kind of money that Mitsubishi was asking here. By this point, this Outlander PHEV no longer looked quite as affordable as it once did. But as a used buy, it makes sense against a premium-badged D-segment SUV rival, especially in this revised form, with its slightly smarter styling and improved cabin quality. The changes made to the hybrid engineering were welcome too, though they didn't really change the appeal of this car to any meaningful extent. You'd still be unlikely to choose one of these if you prioritised driving dynamics, badge equity or the ultimate in slush-moulded cabin luxury in an SUV of this kind.
All of which is fine because typical Outlander PHEV buyers don't. They realise that rivals able to better this Mitsubishi in those areas were, in the 2018-2021 period, usually limited by yesterday's technology. This car though, was engineered for a different era. If you've never thought much of electric mobility as an automotive solution, we think it might still have the power to convert you.