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2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: All We Need is Plug
Full review of the 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid, an electrified crossover with DC Fast Charging capability.

2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: All We Need is Plug

Shannon and Bill leapt from Wisconsin to LA with both feet — two kids, two dogs, two friends, a couple rodents, a cat and enough paraphernalia to keep them all entertained during the cross-country trip. As their new plug-in hybrid minivan rolled into California on paper plates, it burned one of the last full tanks of gasoline it would ever drink.

A year and a half later, Mitsubishi parked an Outlander PHEV at LAX and left my name with the valet. Our first major outing: find a charger to top off the 32-mile battery pack. George and I rolled into the Pacific City mall garage silently enough to hear the electric angels sing: an empty charging spot, front-and-center — the VIP experience I’d seen in commercials!

By the time Shannon pulled up in her Pacifica, I’d given up on registering for the “free” charger, which required a $10 ChargePoint deposit to use. I had no cell service in the underground garage — Sprint — and the charging station wouldn’t take a credit card. I figured I’d just borrow Shannon’s account.

“We’ve never used a charger,” Shannon said. “We just charge up at home.”

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Merciless. Public EV charging requires manners, cooperation and honor — human factors that manufacturers and charging companies can't control. Above, you see tangled charging cords and a non-charging Tesla parked in a charger spot. Add the complexity and expense of memberships to several competing charging networks that keep baseline funds in escrow, and slow Level 2 chargers that only trickle-charge a battery, and you'll wind up in my situation: I wound up paying $2.12 for about 10 miles of range, in a parking garage that would've otherwise been free. Later, when I found a free @ChargePoint charger in a public parking garage, an error message stated I wasn't allowed access. For now, public Level 2 charging just isn't worth the time and expense for such a minimal increase in range. Luckily, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV can be charged at home. If you top off overnight, that's 22 miles of range that can be used at highway speeds. If you happen upon a free charger that's open and works, great — but at this point, banking on public charging takes a healthy measure of both planning and luck. #hmMitsubishiOutlander By the way, check my Insta story for a few EV polls!

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That’s how plug-in hybrids work: charge overnight at home, when electric rates are low, and the battery pack eliminates fuel waste during a bumper-to-bumper commute. As of today, however, that’s the only way plug-in hybrids work. Public charging infrastructure is still too slow, too sparse and too cumbersome to rely on outside the home.

“We fuel up about every two months,” Shannon said with a shrug, sipping a cocktail to complement the breaking waves behind us. “The rest is all-electric.”

My friends already live in the electrified future that you and I will someday see. The best way to preview our electric destiny without a home charger is through a DC Fast Charge station, which gives the Outlander an 80% charge in about 20 minutes. Cost of installation makes these Level 3 chargers both rare and usually free: visionary dealerships open their fast chargers to owners of every marque, and in sleepy Cypress, Mitsubishi headquarters is now the hottest late-night spot to zap up fast for free.

I love Mitsubishi headquarters. The first time I walked in, a mint-condition 3000GT VR-4 Spyder stopped me in my sandy tracks. Southern California is my spiritual second home, and since my very first visit, I’ve needed an excuse to visit a living link to formative cars in my youth. Headquarters is where I fell in love with the JDM, all-wheel-drive, mid-engined Mitsubishi i, and later took the keys to a benevolent robot with 4WD Lock called the Delica D:5. I’ll take any excuse to stalk the parking lot where I once encountered a mothballed Starion and a Dandelion Yellow Evolution VII on manufacturer plates.

George, my co-pilot for the week, was infinitely patient with my moth-like attraction to their charger’s shining light. Battery packs fully gameify driving into an endless search for a charge, with animated graphics subliminally convincing you to save your charge and avoid internal combustion. An hour-long stint in bumper-to-bumper traffic heading out to Riverside revealed the reward: 29 miles of all-electric driving skyjacked my average MPG from 28 to 88. If I could have charged at home, I would have consistently exceeded the window sticker’s advertised 74 MPGe. Completing a trip in all-electric mode is its own brand of thrill, and the Mitsu’s decent-sized pack allows that sense of reaching a high score.

It’s fun in other ways, too. Size and proportions matter in this era of behemoths, and though the Outlander fits into a Forester’s shadow, the Mitsubishi’s rounded front and swooping tailgate whisper “wagon” — specifically, the Diamante. The rear three-quarter looks long and raked, just like Mitsubishi’s full-size family hauler from the best automotive era, and the heritage cues continue inside. Just like in the Delica, front, rear and parallel parking cameras make it easier to stash the wagon on a street. The cameras are controlled by a button on the steering wheel — a centerpiece so nice, it deserves its own graf.

Wholesome and honest, the Outlander PHEV’s chunky four-spoke steering wheel evokes the design theme used in the Delica for generations. Thumb cutouts just above 9 and 3 feel fantastic in the hand, and raised contrast stitching keeps fingertips engaged. True to the vaporwave era’s technological optimism, there are enough buttons to keep both thumbs busy, too. I learned to navigate them in about five minutes. Long, broad and wrapped in leather, this is a wheel you want to grasp — which makes you want to drive.

Unladen, the Outlander feels like a sprightly wagon, too. Even though America doesn’t get Europe’s bigger 2.4-liter gas engine, the electric motor provides enough torque to bring a grin when merging. The steering ratio was reworked for 2019, which Mitsubishi says is faster and more communicative than last year’s setup. No, it’s not a racecar, but the Outlander PHEV sports a more direct connection to the road than Honda and Toyota rivals in its class. Grabbier tires with stiffer sidewalls would help to make the most of the Super-All Wheel Control system, the same torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system made famous by the LanEvo.

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ESC and torque vectoring help today's behemoths belie their size — but you can't fake dimensions and proportions. This is the crossover sweet spot, where a car still feels like a car. At 4178 pounds, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV isn't light — but it feels lithe in the right places, with near-flush door handles and thinner doors that still close with substance. I'm impressed with the electric power steering calibration here, immune from the parking lot speed numbness that infects too many cars. Whizzing off the 405 to the 710, never once did I wish for more weight through the gorgeous four-spoke steering wheel — way more than I can say for most modern Hondas. #hmMitsubishiOutlander

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Every single time I’m in Los Angeles, I conjure a freak rainstorm. Downpours bring out the worst in LA drivers, whose corded tires are more suited to picture-perfect weather. With a touch of the Twin-Motor 4WD Lock button, the Outlander PHEV splashed through puddles while dodging locals who seem to forget what rain looks like twice a year. Equip a set of knobbier tires on the PHEV, and it’s not hard to envision all-electric two-tracking. In fact, I’ll put that on my bucketlist.

Of course, the Outlander isn’t built for hot laps or off-roading: this is a city-bound commuter. New rigidity enhancements and sound dampening materials mark incremental improvement over last year’s model, making all-electric trips all the more haunting in their silence. Composure over bumps and pavement transitions is top-notch, with on-center steering feel even at low speeds.

It’s a shame Mitsubishi didn’t equip a proper tachometer, instead opting for the hybrid industry’s staple “eco/power” swinging gauge. Mitsubishi’s large base of returning customers would appreciate a gauge with actual mechanical meaning, even if most other hybrid shoppers wouldn’t. In the center console sits a skinny joystick, a ubiquitous and unfortunate automotive interior design trend that reduces the weighty substance of gear selection to the limp nudge of a plastic toy. Some of the instrument panel switchgear comes from Mitsubishi’s 2003 parts bin, detracting from the ambiance. Opt for the dark brown leather instead of basic black, and the interior takes on a much more upscale feel. It’s the only way to have the Outlander. It’s the only way they should make it.

Technology is important to the savvy EV buyer, which is why it’s surprising Mitsubishi fell short here. Head units can make-or-break the ownership experience for a tech-obsessed car buyer, and Mitsubishi’s system could certainly make a better first impression. Animated boot-up videos can’t be skipped, and the rise time just takes too long. Soft keys for presets and tuning don’t allow for muscle memory, though there is a physical volume knob. Design-wise, the page layout is too busy, with high-contrast lines that don’t match the design theme of the gauge cluster or center stack. Oddly, the PHEV is not equipped with a navigation system — instead, there’s a GPS readout with a satellite display. Mitsubishi anticipates most owners will use the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality of the system, but that requires the use of a physical data cable connection to the car. My personal Type C turned out to be a charging-only cable, so I was unable to use Android Auto during my test.

The Mitsu’s active safety suite stops just a little short, too. There’s Lane Departure Warning, but no Lane Keep Assist. There’s Adaptive Cruise Control with cruise-to-stop functionality, but no automatic restart with the touch of a button. The Forward Collision Mitigation and Blind Spot Warning systems are dialed in and never gave a false alarm, but LKA and an automatic restart in traffic would really help the PHEV shine in its native environment.

After all, an all-electric bumper-to-bumper commute is what the Outlander PHEV is built for. Plug-in hybrids are a bridge to the future, providing a gasoline safety net to eliminate range anxiety caused by the lack of public charging infrastructure. Plug in at home like Shannon does, and the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is a futuristic proof-of-concept: how much gas you use is finally up to you.





 

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