PHEV lets you plug and play

26th Mar, 2014

It's a game-changer, some motoring journalists cry about every second new car that hits the road. This well-worn cliché is usually used with no consideration as to what game the machine in question is actually changing.

Does it have 12 wheels, a rear-mounted driving turret and a joystick to steer it with?

No? Does it prevent bug guts from sticking to its windscreen and offer you unconditional love on an emotional level you never thought possible?

No? Well, it ain’t really changing the game then, is it?

If you stop and think about it before blindly blithering the clichés, a truly revolutionary vehicle doesn’t change the game, it simply plays it differently.

Take the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, for example. It plays the same old game we are all well and truly used to.

It is your garden-variety SUV. It has five doors, four wheels to move about on and a steering wheel to make it change direction.

The difference is that it plays that game by a completely different set of rules.

From the outside the Outlander PHEV would appear at first – and even second – glance to be an ordinary Outlander that has had a few visual tweaks for the 2014 model year. The tweaks give the Outlander a bolder look, with stronger front and rear visuals coming from the new bumpers that feature matt silver inserts, and more aggressive lines.

But the sexy new alloy wheels and a few badges give the game away about the PHEV version of the Outlander. And it is precisely the PHEV bit of the name to the new addition of the Outlander range that makes it so different.

It stands for “plug-in hybrid electric vehicle” and while we have all seen – and possibly even owned – vehicles that used some of those words in their names, the Outlander is the first SUV production car anywhere in the world, to use all of them together.

While the whole hybrid thing is generally understood to mean “a petrol engine, one or more electric motors, some batteries and a whole lot of clever computers driving the wheels in some way and using less fuel to do it”, the actual specifics are far more complex and usually best left to the boffin sorts with very big brains and very small social lives.

The Outlander PHEV takes things more than a few steps further than this, while remaining true to the essence of that very vague description.

With an 88kW 2-litre petrol engine and two 60kW electric motors handling the motivational duties, the PHEV has an electric-only range of 50km.

Like an electric car, the PHEV can be plugged in at home to charge its batteries at night and when you head out in the morning, for all intents and purposes, you are driving an electric car.

Spend your day pottering around town, to work and back, and chances are you will be driving an electric car all day. Demand more of it, however, and that is where things start getting very clever indeed. The Outlander PHEV basically uses all the best bits of the series-parallel hybrid drive system (found in the likes of the Toyota Prius) and the electric range extender drive system (Holden Volt) and combines them, using some very clever computer brains to control it all.

There are many ways the 88kW 2.0-litre petrol engine can help the electric motors by charging the batteries, providing extra power when needed, or even directly driving the front wheels when at suitable road speeds. This is all done completely automatically and with no need for input from the driver other than just driving the car like you normally would.

And that “just driving” is actually the highlight of all of the PHEV’s fuel-saving and technological cleverness. It weighs more than a standard Outlander, but with all that weight down in the drivetrain it actually improves the Outlander’s handling. The extra weight also improves the feel of the Outlander on the road.

The extra grunt from the electric motors is felt as well, with Mitsubishi’s claim that the PHEV is also the performance model of the Outlander range certainly holding true on the road.

Mitsubishi like to claim that the Outlander PHEV is a game-changer but, as we have already established, this is nonsense. It isn’t a game-changer, it still plays the same old game, but by its own all-new set of rules. And that is far, far more exciting.

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