IT’S now five years since Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV – or ‘Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle’ – first appeared. The things that made the PHEV all the more noticeable were the claimed 150+ mpg and that, in many ways, it was the first hybrid to really capture the public’s attention. 

Did the original Outlander PHEV work? Well, it did and it didn’t. The claimed mpg could only be achieved if you lived somewhere flat like Lincolnshire or the Netherlands. Live in and around hilly terrain and the diesel Outlander won hands down. Equally, you needed access to charging points both at home and at your final destination, plus others along the way. Reason being, if you elected to try to regenerate battery power by engaging the transmission’s B setting, the 2-litre petrol engine suddenly took on fuel consumption figures none-too-dissimilar to a V8. But even the great Mitsubishi had to start somewhere!

Move on the aforementioned five years, along with two updates, and the Outlander PHEV has evolved. Revamped LED headlights, new 18” alloys, low-friction 225/55 Yokohamas, more robust shock absorbers that cope more easily with the added battery weight and small external tweaks have refreshed the looks, if only marginally. Still an SUV that ostensibly is an AWD, if you need to venture off road, the Outlander PHEV isn’t hardcore. Instead, regard the PHEV as a large, practical estate car that can, once the eco-driving technique has been mastered, render non-SUV economy.

Unlike the conventional Outlander, the PHEV only accommodates five passengers. The extra seats have had to make way for battery storage. The remainder of the cabin has been carried over from the previous model. Comfortable, with more than ample space for five adults, along with 463 litres of cargo space and 1,500 kg of towing ability, for a car of this price it wouldn’t be a big ask for both front seats to be electrically adjustable, instead of just the driver’s.

Equally, the fact there’s still no satnav is an oversight that needs rectifying. Likewise, the grey faux carbon fibre around the now-dated-looking silver transmission selector looks out of place on a class-leading hybrid. But while the Outlander can’t tell you how to get to where you’re going, your referral to the central screen’s numerous apps and vehicle functions will far outweigh looking at the large speedo and eco/recharging dial that replaces the rev counter.

Without question, there’s an art to driving the Outlander PHEV that, if you aren’t prepared to learn, you might as well go full internal combustion. Similarly, the new, larger, noticeably more refined and more responsive 133 hp 2.4-litre petrol engine is markedly more economical in its own right, its mid-30s mpg average rising to 42 mpg on longer motorway runs. Reason being the engine, fed from a conventional 45-litre tank, runs on two combustion cycles, depending on throttle application; the Otto for performance, the Atkinson for general motoring. With a top speed of 108 mph and a 0–60 mph of 11 seconds, neither is overly impressive, but in the case of a hybrid that’s almost irrelevant.

However, petrol power is only half the story. The PHEV is also powered by two electric motors, one a 60 kW unit that sits alongside the internal-combustion unit, the other a 70 kW motor sat at the rear of the car. Drawing energy from the Outlander’s power bank of batteries, you have three ways of topping up electrical reserves, with cables located beneath the load bed floor: the conventional recharging point found on the high street and similar locations; a domestic 13 amp plug that takes around five hours, or the Outlander’s own regeneration system.

This brings me on to the transmission, using what Mitsubishi calls its ‘Multimode’ e-automatic, although it feels remarkably like a CVT. Offering ‘Drive’ and ‘Reverse’ with the option of ‘Normal’ or automated ‘AWD’, along with ‘Lock’ and ‘Snow’, the shift also selects the B modes from 0 to 5 that, in conjunction with the back-to-front paddles, determine the amount of electrical regeneration you’re putting back into the batteries. There is the option to save the charge and run the Outlander as a pure petrol vehicle or, conversely, you can run pure EV, providing you have sufficient electrical reserves.

I ran it for exactly one week with but one full charge from the 13 amp plug option, by setting the Outlander in either B2 or B3 and utilising the hills that surround my part of the world, from a starting range of a combined petrol/electrical range of 200 miles. That, combining the aforementioned petrol consumption with the initial and then self-generated electrical power, resulted in a figure of approximately 86 mpg. Each downhill stretch of road, when combined with braking, added at least four miles of electrical range, with steady 60 mph cruising adding a little bit more. 

Cumulatively therefore, if my motoring was confined to within a 75-or-so mile radius, I would only need to hook up to the mains once, maybe twice, a week, while seeking out a petrol station once a fortnight, if that. And while it may all sound complicated, the various settings altered to suit within a matter of seconds once I was used to them. Just think ‘new mobile phone’ and away you go. 

To drive, the Outlander PHEV offers a relatively smooth, unhurried ride and is fairly undemanding. My only warning is not to become overly transfixed by the digital readouts that show energy and recharging rates and increasing potential distance.

Compared to the original Outlander PHEV, the third generation is at a point where it is in a different class. Technologically, the vehicle has been transformed, while the potential to achieve three-figure mpg is more than possible, though driving it like a conventional car means your factory figures will remain ‘laboratory conditions’ only. But if this hybrid Mitsubishi suits your lifestyle and the starting price of £39,500 is within your budget, then out of all the plug-in hybrids, Mitsubishi’s latest Outlander is one of the most accomplished.