The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is the UK’s best-selling plug-in vehicle with more than 10,000 sold in 2014, or 83% of the market.
Such dominance was achieved with an almost unique blend of savvy pricing, intelligent engineering and great marketing. After all, who wouldn’t fancy a car that promised 156mpg, free road tax, exemption from the congestion charge in London and only 5% company car tax?
Comfort and easy access
The styling is generic four-wheel-drive SUV, which means a conventional estate shape with the lofty suspension we Brits are currently in love with. It looks utterly normal, which is stage one of the assault on our pre-conceived idea of what an alternative-fuel car should be like.
It’s the same story inside. The five seats are, thanks to that raised suspension, elevated for easy access so you slide onto, rather than down into, them.
They are also very comfortable – the front seats have a layer of memory foam, which is a first as far as I can tell – and are very supportive; the biggest compliment I can pay them is that I failed to notice anything about them, which, for seats, is about as good as it gets.
The controls are conventional and completely fuss-free. Anyone could jump straight into an Outlander PHEV and drive away without the slightest instruction in how to operate it. This is stage two in Mitsubishi’s master plan to demystify the electric vehicle.
Silent and speedy
However, it’s at this point that Mitsubishi’s stealth plans start to go awry, because the Outlander PHEV is so utterly unlike your average crossover or sport utility vehicle that it could never be mistaken for any of its competitors.
It’s silent, for a start, and offers the instantaneous acceleration of a dodgem, hitting 25mph from rest in around four seconds, so it’s a hoot to whizz around town in.
It is also astonishingly quiet when under electric propulsion, offering the sort of refinement that the engineers at Rolls-Royce spent a century perfecting: so inaudible is the chassis that wind noise started to become a real issue during development, meaning that a lot of effort has gone into sealing the door gaps to prevent it becoming any more than a gentle whisper.
You are unlikely to drive a car with lower levels of noise, vibration and harshness, no matter how deep your pockets.
Of course, it isn’t perfect. When the petrol engine kicks in the driving experience is merely average. This is more of a concern than you might imagine because the claimed all-electric range of 32 miles is woefully optimistic.
Driving through the streets of Bristol my co-driver and I drained the battery in a little over 18 miles, suggesting that a pure electric range of low to mid-twenties is likely to be a more likely range for those owners blessed with a lighter right foot than mine.
Nor is 156mpg easily achievable. Honest John’s crowd-sourced fuel consumption figures report an average of 49.3mpg being the reality for the 24 sets of owners who submitted their data. However, the reported overall fuel consumption varied between 38 and 60mpg, showing that the actual journey types and driving styles will have a huge effect on the sort of consumption potential owners can expect.
It isn’t uncommon for the official fuel consumption figures to be considerably higher than those that can be achieved in practise but it is important for potential owners to note that they may be spending rather more time under petrol power than they might have anticipated, especially when one is considering as contentious a topic as a zero emissions car.
However, green considerations aside, range anxiety won’t be an issue as the petrol engine cuts in seamlessly when the battery is exhausted, offering you an infinite range given a sprinkling of petrol stations along your route.
Charging the battery
There can be pleasure to be had in charging the battery, too: stop at a motorway service station for a coffee and by the time you are re-caffeinated you car will have an 80% charge thanks to the sort of fast chargers that are now the norm in public places like this.
Or you can play the Regeneration Game by altering the level of regenerative braking through five levels from inconspicuous through to heavy via the steering wheel-mounted paddles and watch the range climb as you coast to a halt. This is a clever car, designed from day one to be an EV, and it shows.
Economy and zero-rate road tax
The benefits of driving an electric hybrid car are many: aside from a level of refinement that you will never have previously experienced (assuming you aren’t the current owner of an electric car), the financial rewards are huge: everyday fuel consumption may well be zero if, like the majority of the population, your average journey is 30 miles or less.
Dealerships throughout the country tell of owners returning for an annual service never having never filled the tank since first collecting their new car. Owners just plug their Outlander PHEV into the mains at night and enjoy guilt-free motoring day-after-day – and when a long journey beckons, rely on that petrol engine to keep them mobile.
Company car owners will also enjoy the 5% benefit-in-kind (BIK). Anyone swapping from a BMW 5-series or Audi Q5, as many have, will save well over £3,000 in company car tax in addition to anything they save at the pumps and everyone will appreciate the zero-rate vehicle excise duty (road tax) and exemption from paying the congestion charge in London.
Government grants and discounts
If that isn’t enough of a financial incentive, websites like carwow are reporting that you should be able to negotiate another £3,000 or so off the (already very reasonable) list price on top of the Government’s £5,000 grant. This makes it extraordinarily cheap for a four-wheel-drive SUV that could cost almost nothing to run.
As a result, the Outlander PHEV might very well be your ideal car if your daily commute or regular journey is short enough to be undertaken on battery power alone.
If it can’t, then the argument becomes harder to make but then apples are never an adequate substitute when you really need an orange, are they?
Best-in-class – The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 4x4 is in a class of its own when it comes to all-round ability and initial purchase price.
The best of the rest – The Outlander PHEV doesn’t really have any direct rivals. However, if you don’t need the electric option then the Volvo XC60 would be my recommendation.
Left-field alternative - If you can afford it, the Volvo XC90 T8 is outstandingly competent, but then it does cost £60,000.
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