No question, battery-powered cars are gaining in popularity. The all-electric Tesla, for example, has sold over 40,000 units since its introduction, in 2012, and Nissan’s Leaf is now the best-selling all-electric car in the world, with some 50,000 of them going out the showroom door in North America since 2010.
But the problem of operating range lingers. Even the top-of-the-line Tesla will run out of juice eventually, and if you’re not near a charging station, it’s the tow truck for you.
To get around this and the consumer phenomenon known as range anxiety, manufacturers have come up with a kind of hybrid-hybrid. A conventional internal combustion/electric motor system combined with a plug-in arrangement that allows you to charge the car….or not. General Motors’ Volt, Ford’s Focus EV, and the Toyota Prius are just a few models that have this set-up.
And now Mitsubishi, who have supplied 30 all-electric i-Miev cars to the city of Vancouver, have added another plug-in to their line-up: the Outlander PHEV.
Featuring technology taken from the i-Miev, the Outlander PHEV is, in the company’s own words, the world’s first all-wheel-drive plug in SUV. It has a 2.0 litre four cylinder engine mated to a 60-kilowatt electric motor up front, with another 60-kilowatt electric motor in the back…..some 200 horsepower in total. A lithium-ion battery pack fuels the electric motors and the system will automatically select the most efficient driving mode, depending upon driving conditions.
For example, if you’re driving along in pure electric power and come to a hill, the “series hybrid mode” will start the engine and provide additional power. Ditto if you need to overtake another car, or if the battery starts to deplete. Driving with pure electric power, the Outlander PHEV has a range of about 60 kilometres, depending upon conditions, and the vehicle can reach a top speed of around 120 km/h before the engine cuts in.
The all-wheel-drive system, meanwhile, is aimed more at handling poor road conditions and lousy weather than it is scrambling through the bush or slogging through deep mud. This is still an SUV, after all, and, at this point, the Outlander PHEV is not equipped to do any towing….that may change. “In Europe, these kinds of vehicles have to have towing capacity,” adds Mitsubishi program technician, Christian Dion. “but for North America, this feature is still on the drawing boards.”
As far as re-charging goes, the Outlander PHEV can be brought up to full charge in some six and a half hours with conventional household 120-volt current, four hours with 240 volts, and a “quick charge” zap in about 30 minutes at 440 volts. “This gives it about 80 per cent,” adds Dion. With a purported 93 charging stations in the lower mainland, this means, theoretically at least, that you could drive this car indefinitely on pure electric power around Vancouver.
Mitsubishi showed the new Outlander for the first time in Canada in Vancouver recently. Because production hasn’t ramped up fully, the company had to literally buy two units from their European division and then ship them over for training and a product launch….although the event in Vancouver was not a product launch, claimed Dion. If you say so.
One of the intriguing features of the Outlander PHEV is a six-setting regenerative braking system that is controlled via steering wheel-located paddles. You can increase or decrease the brake drag while underway, and this set-up prolongs the vehicle’s range automatically, while regulating speed. It works well, and any transitions between pure electric and hybrid power are virtually seamless.
This models we drove were obviously European spec, and equipped with leather interior, back-up camera, climate control, Bluetooth, power tailgate, hill start assist, and on and on, as well as a full whack of instrumentation. The car will tell you if you’re driving habits are “sensible” and a multi-information display will provide an energy flow indicator….how much power is going where, in other words. You can also keep an eye on your range, and when you’re away from the vehicle, a smart phone app will let you control the charging timer….re-charging it at night, for example….as well as turn on/off the air conditioner, and regulate the length of the charging process.
So when will the Outlander PHEV got on sale in Canada? How much will it cost? No idea for the latter but Mitsubishi did point to the pricing structure of the current, non-PHEV model. A full-zoot, all the bells and whistles, all-wheel-drive GT starts at $36,198, so the PHEV is bound to be in that neighbourhood. We should see this model in Canada sometime in mid-2015…..after all the various regulatory hurdles have been dealt with and the company has its service personnel and dealerships up to speed.