Kyle Fortune reports on the transition from a people carrier to a plug-in SUV
Our car: Mitsubishi Outlander GX5 HS 2.0 PHEV Auto List price when new: £45,554 Price as tested: £45,554 Official fuel economy: 156.9mpg (EU Combined)
March 14th, 2017
Fuel economy this week: 38.9mpg
A trip to Ikea; something that in real life is to be endured, but in the bubble of motoring journalism it’s a brilliant demonstration of a car’s usefulness. So much so it’s rather a cliché, but if you’ll forgive me that I’ll continue regardless, particularly as my trip involved more than merely the collection of a wardrobe.
Off I set to Ikea then, with the goal not just of folded seats and flatpack furniture, but to plug in. Shamefully, perhaps, it would be my first attempt to do so via the public system, as, frankly, my journeys don’t usually make it practical. I’d noticed two rapid charging points last time I was at Ikea - usefully, near the doors - so the plan was to fill up the battery while I strolled around before, eventually, picking up a wardrobe.
With the Coventry store just 23 miles from my house, that enforced walk around the store meaning I’d be at least an hour in the store - allowing an 80% rapid charge - it all looked to be golden. The drive there I achieved with a 265mpg average, thanks to running almost entirely on battery power, which given the fast roads was impressive enough. Smugly I pulled into the charging parking place and got out.
Blame naivety, but my assumption that I could just pull up to any charging point and plug in was clearly wrong. I’ve a Polar card, as part of the Chargemaster network - which fitted the charger to the front of my house - though the charging point at Ikea is via Ecotricity, which, after a fair bit of faffing required me to download an app, set up an account and, once billed - should I want - claim back up to £6 for the charge off Ikea, which seemed mighty decent of them.
The reality was less simple. Being in a multi-storey car park meant the data signal on my phone was non-existent, so no app, and a three-year old who by now had been in her car seat long enough meant zero patience.
The result? I pulled out of the space and didn’t bother. My smugness waning, my first experience of the public charging network was far from satisfactory (though not, in fairness, the car’s fault). Perhaps a bit more planning would have helped, but can you imagine the frustration and headaches caused if you could only pull up and fill up at a particular brand of petrol station rather than any of them? That’s pretty much how the charging for plug-ins hybrids and EVs seems to be presently - a mess.
The wardrobe fitted in snugly, and the journey home without battery wasn’t too bad, though not the 256mpg I’d achieved on the way to the store. Given that a decent portion of my return journey was on dual carriageway, I forced some charge into the battery via the petrol engine (by pressing Charge), which yielded a useful eight-mile EV-only range to finish my journey.
Oddly, the green leaf icon that gives an idea of how economical you’re being was in full five leaf bloom when doing so, which rather confused me, as pushing power into the batteries when driving does seem like rather an inefficient way to add charge.
The flatpack instructions for the wardrobe were a cinch. By comparison, PHEV remains ownership less clear-cut, and at times downright confusing.
February 28th, 2017
Fuel economy this week: 42mpg
I see loads of PHEVs on the road and every time I do, more than any other car I drive, I want to stop the driver and ask what their thoughts are on it.
I’ve not yet done so (it's a bit stalker-ish) but a friend popped around the other night and seeing ‘ours’ plugged in said that his boss had bought one - no doubt attracted by the huge tax benefits it brings to company car buyers and the sizeable specification it all looked excellent on paper.
The reality, for them, is less impressive, his other half not liking how it drives, and the fuel economy not coming anywhere near the quoted figure.
I can relate to both of those. Of all the cars we have access to my wife likes the Outlander the least. Specifically the drivetrain, the rest of it she’s happy with - the space, comfort, plentiful equipment and everything else, which kind of makes me think we would’ve been better off with a standard diesel Outlander.
I’m a little bit more forgiving, realising the limitations and compromises that come with its plug-in hybrid drivetrain and working around, even with, them to try and maximise its economy. There’s no doubting that it’s a short-trip car as a result, though before it goes back in the next month or so I’m determined to take it on at least one long journey that will necessitate a re-charge en route.
With its time with us coming to an end I’m pondering another big change. Downwards in size again, our needs as a family evolving as our children get bigger. I’m thinking of a city car, which given that we’ve gone from a full-size MPV to this SUV might seem like madness, but then I’m genuinely interested to see if we’re not all being a little bit hoodwinked into thinking family cars need to be huge.
We’ll see, and in the meantime I’ll be reading the series of emails that have started popping up in my email inbox from Mitsubishi UK about how to maximise the economy from the PHEV. I might even try forwarding them to my wife.
February 13th, 2017
Fuel economy this week: 43.0mpg
Things I thought I’d never need number 1. A heated steering wheel. Honestly, I remember the first time I read about one, it being an option on a Range Rover. I genuinely thought it was ludicrous. That’s changed, as heated steering wheels are becoming more mainstream it’s become as essential an item as a heated seat in my eyes (or, I should say, pampered warm hands and bum).
Sure, I could live without it, but the warmth radiating through your fingers on a frosty morning is very welcome, especially if, like me, you’re jumping in and out all morning dropping kids off at school, pre-school and the like.
That’s quickly become the Outlander’s role in the Fortune household. Where other long-term test cars have done that, and more, the Outlander’s never too far away from a 10-15 mile radius of our house - about the limit of its battery range. We have other cars for longer trips, the Outlander being a sizeable, economical short-trip car, which plays very much to its strengths. It’s yet, for example, to do an airport run, which given that I’m in a departures lounge typically once a week is something of a miracle. I’ll do so soon, just to really see how good the charging infrastructure is on our motorway services.
Some motorway miles might also persuade me that I need the Lane Departure Warning system that automatically comes on every time I start the Outlander. I’ve yet to come across one of these active driving aids that’s not more of an annoying, interfering distraction than it is a genuine help.
Presently it absolutely always gets switched off when I drive off. Like the heated steering wheel I’m prepared to be turned, although if it's a choice between incessant, irritating beeping or toasty hands, I know which will be coming out on top…
January 30th, 2017
Fuel economy this week: 42.0mpg.
A first world problem, I admit, but to the list of regular jobs on the PHEV I’ve had to add cleaning the rear- and around-view cameras. There’s one on the boot, and another one each side under the door mirrors and they get pretty mucky. As I’m out cleaning the number plate of road grime regularly in these dank winter months it’s no hardship and, being a parent, I’m never too far away from a packet of wet wipes.
While I’ve been despondent of reversing cameras in the past, having had them on our previous Seat Alhambra and now this long-term test car, I’m rather a convert. They shouldn’t ever replace basic skill, mirror use and good old spatial awareness, but their usefulness at helping out in otherwise blind spots when manoeuvring is helpful.
On the occasion I don’t have them on other cars I miss them, while I’d love them on both of my classics when squeezing in and out of the tight garage.
Other news is the Fortune household has properly embraced a hybrid and electric drive future. Outside the house we’re now the proud owners of a Chargemaster charging station.
Given that I occasionally test other plug-ins hybrids and EVs, the one I’ve gone for can supply 32 Amps, which is double what the Mitsubishi draws. However, I need a specific cable for it - it’s news to me, but apparently Japanese, European and US electric cars all use different sockets…
Another first world problem I know, but not one that’s as easily fixed as breaking out the baby wipes.
January 17th, 2017
Fuel economy this week: 38.0mpg
A new year, and a new wall socket, as I’m due to have one fitted so I will be able to charge the Outlander PHEV in far less time - at the moment it takes virtually all night using the supplied lead plugged into a standard 13 Amp wall socket.
That rapid charging should bring more usefulness to the PHEV, the relatively limited battery-only range exacerbated when it takes eight hours to replenish.
That might see it changing from its current role of second, occasional runaround to more of an everyday car, because running it without any charge delivers fuel consumption more akin a supercharged V8 Range Rover. Not what you’d expect with something with an Eco button and a quoted 156.9mpg should be doing.
The tiny petrol tank doesn’t help, it taking about £40 to fill, which means more frequent trips to the fuel station than you might in either a regular petrol, or diesel, SUV.
Otherwise there’s still lots to like, and given the sheer number I see on the road Mitsubishi is selling lots of them, too.
I was buoyed by the promise of snow, not least because the pre-warmer allowed an easy departure with a clear screen, but also a chance to properly test the four-wheel drive system. Our light flurry in Warwickshire didn’t really warrant four-wheel drive (indeed, the mid-morning sun had thawed what little snow there was) so, unlike everyone else, I have my fingers crossed for more of the white stuff.
Until then, the news there’s a new one coming with an EV-mode-only button is of real interest, my chief frustration being that it’s very difficult to drive this version without the petrol engine cutting in.
I might just have to borrow an example of the new verison, and plug it into my fancy new charging socket on my wall, more of which next week.
December 20th, 2016
Fuel economy this week: 42.0mpg
I’m slowly getting the hang of this PHEV driving. It needs management, a lot more than in a regular car, the PHEV at its best when you’re on your A game. Big revelation this week was that to get it to start in EV mode even in lower temperatures you need the climate control to be set at sub-20 degrees.
Obvious? Well, yes, but when it’s cold outside the heating is habitually up around 24 degrees, with the heated seats and steering wheel switched on, too. I’m warmed now by the thought that a cooler car is contributing towards a cooler planet, doing my bit for global warming one scarf, hat and layer of thermals at a time. Now if only I could get the kids to wear coats…
That shift to EV driving, rather than the engine running to heat us all, has seen a marked improvement in the fuel economy. Local journeys are now possible in 100% EV mode, though doing so leaves the MPG status in the trip computer as a line of dashes, making it almost worth a one or two second fiddle with the heating to necessitate the engine running so it delivers a mpg number.
Do that and it climbs from nothing right up through the hundreds of mpg until reaching 1,000mpg, when those dashes return. It’s hugely enjoyable and satisfying watching it climb, though if you venture further than the battery range it tumbles pretty quickly, too. Planning is required then, as well as warm clothes, but the challenge is fun, though it’d be better still if the battery alone took it that little bit further.
December 13th, 2016
Fuel economy this week: 40.2mpg (135.1mpg - briefly)
Never before has fuel economy so dominated my thoughts. The PHEV Outlander promises much, with its official figure of 156.9mpg, but to achieve anything approaching that is very, very tricky indeed.
Typically I’m managing to get about 40mpg or so out of it, which isn’t brilliant given that’s what I achieved without any trouble in the diesel automatic Seat Alhambra I ran previously.
Indeed, it is quickly becoming apparent that the PHEV works best in particular situations. Winter doesn’t help, where ambient temperatures are low enough to necessitate the petrol motor running when starting up.
A break in the weather this week though saw the mercury rise to the point where I jumped in, pushed the start button and was only greeted by the little ‘ready’ light in the instruments, rather than hearing the petrol engine start up as well. Result.
I was genuinely elated getting the PHEV to drive the entire 11 miles from home to my daughter’s swimming lesson on electric power alone. The satisfaction of seeing the 100% EV mode drive on the centre instrument binnacle was huge, though the realisation that I’d be unable to do so on the way home did quickly quash that smugness - there being nowhere at the pool to plug in for a battery top-up.
Still, with a bit of work I would be able to get about two thirds of the way home on what was left in the battery, before that petrol engine would kick in and help things along.
That’s exactly what I did, my daughter sitting in the back unaccustomed to daddy driving so slowly, every opportunity to coast being taken, my absolute focus on getting as far home on what battery power I had left seeing me switch off all heating and ventilation, too. Who needs a heated bum and hands when there’s an mpg figure to chase?
In the end the petrol engine kicked in to give the battery a boost about eight miles into my return journey, the brief sight of an mpg figure of 850mpg amusing, if inaccurate.
The end result a figure of 135.1mpg over the 22 or so miles my return journey covered being impressive, but pretty exhausting if truth be told…
December 6th, 2016
Fuel economy this week: 38.0mpg
Nothing says that winter has arrived more than picking up the Christmas tree.
Our near-6ft one fitted in the back of the Outlander with ease, thanks to one-touch operation of the folding seats. If only getting all those dropped needles out of it were so easy. Still, it smells pine fresh for now, which makes a change from the usual whiffs of crushed Mini Cheddars and suchlike that seems to accompany any family-run vehicle in the Fortune household.
The PHEV has settled in nicely then, our two-year-old daughter describing the cable we plug it into as the "string", the boot filling up nicely with all the detritus that is a family inevitability.
Charging at home is still done via a conventional plug, but Chargemaster is already on the case for the fitting of a proper fast-charging, high amp outlet, which will allow some of the smarter elements of the PHEV’s settings to be enabled.
Given the recent hard frosts I must really explore the pre-heating function properly, which will save my wife from freezing on the occasions she drives it, and mean I’m not out every morning with an old hotel key card scraping the windows free of ice.
The cold does mean that the petrol engine seems to be getting more use than I’d initially expected, but once it’s warm it does tend to push to EV mode whenever possible. I could help by not having high-draw things like the toasty heated seats (there are some in the back too, but they’re wasted as there are child seats on top) as well as the heated steering wheel switched on, but once you get used to roasted buttocks and palms it’s difficult to give it up.
Achieving decent economy does take some planning and practice, as a result, it needing a fair bit of effort - particularly on a longer journey. I relish that, my wife less so, though now we’ve got a Chargemaster card we should be able to take advantage of the public charging points more readily.
November 29th, 2016
Fuel economy this week: 39.8mpg
We’re plugging into an electrifying future at the Fortune household with our new long-term test car. We’re not alone either, judging by the number of Mitsubishi PHEV Outlanders I see on the roads.
An SUV, rather than an MPV, we’re breaking away from our family vehicle norm and embracing the market’s push towards the SUV.
With the onset of winter, and living in leafy Warwickshire, I’m rather taken that we’ve got four-wheel drive, even if some wet autumnal leaves on the roads is about as big a challenge we’ll ever likely give the 4x4 system.
I’m more interested in how life will be with a plug-in hybrid, the promise of guilt-free short drives and the management of charging on longer ones. I’m realistic, I know the 156.9mpg that’s officially quoted is all but unattainable, so I’ll be happy with about a third of that in normal use, and enjoy the challenge of managing the battery power to achieve it.
The best of both worlds, then? We’ll find out over the next six months. It’s already won favour here by being able to swallow our double buggy length-wise in the boot, and the kids love the red leather interior.
Me, I’m partial to the battery and electric motor’s quick step-off performance and like the looks, and am glad that while it’s got all the connectivity you’d expect in a modern car, there’s still a CD slot for all those story and Disney CDs that any parent will know (and love/hate?).
I need to sort out a proper charger for the house, but that’s in hand, the current means of plugging in at night being via a conventional three-pin socket and the cable slotted into a small recess I’ve cut out of the window frame.
Once that charger is sorted we can explore all the useful features such as pre-heating, which my wife will love, though the heated seats and steering wheel that come with this car’s range-topping specification are already doing a good job on the increasingly cold mornings.
A good start then, and one that’s very different to our old test car, life with the Mitsubishi should prove very interesting indeed.
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