By Tracey Spicer, Columnist for Fairfax
The 10-year-old unfurls his fingers to reveal a fistful of AAAs.
“Mum, if the car’s battery runs out I’ve got these, just in case,” my son Taj says, earnestly.
The kids seem to think a hybrid is a model car operated by remote control, like the one they got from Santa for Christmas.
So it is with some surprise that they spy the Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle - PHEV, for short.
“Wow, it’s fancy,” eight-year-old Grace declares.
Indeed it is.
This luxury vehicle boasts keyless entry with push-button start, leather seats, touch-screen navigation, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlamps, Bluetooth connectivity and a superb sound system.
After alighting from my beaten-up beast of a car, I feel rather regal slipping into the embrace of the black leather bucket seat in the SUV.
The dash is sporty and stylish. “It looks like the control panel for a space ship,” according to the kids.
Except I can’t find where the key fits. Then I see a large button, marked Start.
“You mean, I just have to press this button and the car starts?” I ask the sales guy, slack-jawed.
(Truly, during the entire week I have the privilege of driving this vehicle, I feel like some toothless banjo-player from the Deep South who goes to the ‘big smoke’ for the first time…)
I LOVE new technology. But it frightens me. So I exit the driveway at approximately three kilometers an hour.
Amid the hooting and honking, I manage to find the accelerator and pick up speed swiftly.
For a large vehicle, it’s got good get up and go.
(I’m sure that’s not the technical term for it but, hey, I ain’t a motoring writer…)
“Mum, put the radio on!” comes the call from the rear seats which are, I’m delighted to say, quite a way back, so you don’t have to listen to excessive whingeing.
I happily skip between stations using buttons on the steering wheel, unlike my old car where I swerve between lanes while fiddling with the dial.
The six-speaker sound system is sensational; soon it’s a party on wheels (without the cocktails, of course).
Like a kid in a candy store, I’m calling my friends on the voice-controlled Bluetooth-connected iPhone.
“I’m driving one of those eco-thingies!” I screech, beside myself with excitement.
But my favourite part is watching the 7-inch screen which displays the transfer of energy (yes, I am a nerd).
If you take your foot off the accelerator while going downhill, it charges the battery. This is shown by a series of arrows from the wheels, creating kinetic energy.
By pressing the Charge button, it switches to the 2.0 litre, four-cylinder petrol engine, which amps up the battery. Then, the arrows go the other way.
There’s also an ECO dial which displays the switch between EV Driver, Series and Parallel modes.
All in all, it’s a very cool science lesson for the kids.
With its two 60kW electric motors (one for the front wheels and one for the rear) the SUV can travel more than 50 kilometres on battery power alone.
To recharge, simply drop into one of the charging centres in your capital city, or plug it into a 15-amp power point.
If you plan to do this at home, you’ll have to upgrade your source from the usual 10-12 amps. An electrician will charge around $200 to do this.
It takes around five hours for a full charge.
Most of the week, we switch between electric and petrol power, to see how long we can last.
We end up with half a tank of fuel and a little charge left on the battery.
It’s extremely light on the gas, sipping less than two litres every 100 kilometres.
Which is good, considering we travel for hours each day trying to find the best surf spots (gotta love school holidays….)
Unbelievably, we manage to fit three surfboards, two skateboards and a boogie board in the back.
(According to the specs, folding down one of the rear seats create a space 1741mm in length, by 852mm in height.)
Of course, we secure the boards with occy straps.
Which brings me to safety.
There are not one, not two, not three, but SEVEN air bags, plus anti-lock brakes and brake assist, stability and traction control, hill start assist, reverse camera, parking sensors, adaptive cruise control and a forward collision mitigation system. Phew!
Despite being big, it’s a cinch to park. And it has a really tight turning circle.
In conclusion, the world’s first plug-in SUV is luxurious, fun and easy to drive.
More importantly, it’s a living lesson for the kids in environmental science.
“So, there are no carbon emissions when it’s running on the battery. Wow, that’s cool,” Grace says.
(Technically, the clean air benefit is local, because the air pollutant emissions are shifted to the location of the electricity generation plants. But it’s still a lot better than petrol emissions, long term.)
For years, we’ve been searching for ways to change to a cleaner, greener lifestyle.
But many hybrid vehicles simply aren’t good value for money.
This one bucks the trend: The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is the perfect solution for those who want a spacious vehicle, without the corresponding carbon footprint.
And no need for a fistful of AAAs!
Twitter & Instagram: @TraceySpicer