This is the definitive 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL S-AWC PHEV review

Disclosure : Mitsubishi wanted to sell me one of these so bad, they made me drive to a different state, slide around ice-encrusted roads on a test drive with a dead drive battery, and tacked a bunch of useless crap on to the car to inflate the price. So, this opinion should be mostly unbiased.

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What Is It?

The 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL S-AWC PHEV says it all right in the name, with all those abbreviations and acronyms. It’s a mid-sized SUV with Mitsu’s version of AWD (actually, a different version then their normal version, more on that later) with plugin hybrid technology strapped on for good measure. The SEL means ‘select’, which of course means you’ve selected the base model. This is currently the cheapest AWD plugin hybrid available. In the same neighborhood are the Mini Countryman PHEV, the and the Subaru Crosstrek PHEV. The Mitsu’s MSRP edges these guys out by 2 & 1 thousand respectively.

The Specs That Matter

This is a complicated little bugger, so expect a lot of numbers, not all of them very clear.

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Gas motor : 2.0l, 117hp, 137tq

Electric Motors : Front - 80hp, 100tq. Rear - 80hp, 140tq

Combined system : 197hp, ??tq (Mitsu doesn’t tell you, but I doubt it’s much more than the 240 combined of the electric motors)

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Transmission : 1-speed reduction gear

Generator Output : 70kW

Drive Battery : 12kWh, 300V. Consists of 80 series-connected Yuasa LEV50 batteries. Forced air heated & cooled pack.

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MPGe : 74

MPG : 25 combined

Curb Weight : 4,178

Tow Rating : 1500 lbs

Gas tank : 11.3 gallons

Seating : 5

0-60 : 9.2s

A deeper dive into those specs, now that you’ve picked your jaw up off the floor. Because, come on, 9.2 to 60!

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First, the gas motor. It’s an unloved little bugger, 2 liters, but only 117 hp and 137 ft-lbs. Immediately, these are not good numbers. But the reasoning is that this sucker isn’t really responsible for driving the wheels, at least not alone. The Outlander PHEV is setup like the Chevy Volt. It’s intended to maximize electric propulsion, first in EV-only mode, then series Hybrid mode. However, if you’ve sufficiently drained the batteries, and are at a highway cruising speed, it will employ the 1-sp direct drive, and drive the front wheels from the gas motor directly, while also trying to charge the batteries. It’s a complicated system, but the Mitsu is right upfront with what it’s doing. There are not one but two display screens showing you what’s happening with little animations and color coding. It’s interesting to not that transmission isn’t much of a transmission, it’s more like a super fancy differential. This means that associating engine sound to wheel speed is no longer a thing. It’s making its own decisions as to how much gas to burn.

Also, I’m sure your eyes went right to that MPG rating (nobody knows what the hell the MPGe rating means, so who cares, right?) I do not know how that number is measured. It looks to be the combined EPA cycle with completely dead batteries, but from my 8-tank experience thus far, it’s not accurate. I don’t know if it’s relevant or not.

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Lastly, that gas tank capacity. 11.3 gallons is not a lot, and the total range reflects it. Topped up and charged up, you going just over 300 miles before something needs a replenish. That is roughly in line with my other car, an FR-S, not known for its highway cruising acumen.

Looks

Photo: Look at those meaty snow wheels/tires!

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The Outlander PHEV is available in a handful of colors, most as dull as expected from a modern SUV. There’s white, and black, and two(!) different greys. Wow. HOWEVER! There’s also a brown, and a red. I was initially all in on brown, as self respecting pseudo-wagon hunting auto snob should be. But, when I looked at the interiors, I saw brown was actually the wrong choice. How could this be? Well, the only interior options for the PHEV are black leather and brown leather. Well perfect, you say, brown on brown and maybe a couple bonus brown leather patches on my blazer elbows for good measure. Well, there’s a catch. That brown leather interior comes with red stitching. Why? Simple : Mitsu doesn’t want you ordering the brown exterior. It’s a conspiracy! Well, it worked. No brown on brown for me, instead, pairing the red exterior with brown interior including red stitching looks smashing. Specifically, the combo is Rally Red Metallic over Dark Brown.

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Daily Driving

Daily driving is exactly what this thing is for. In my case, this thing will be run every day, mostly at city speeds for 10-20 miles, with a semi-monthly trip of anywhere from 140 to 500 miles thrown on top. So it needs to be an everyday car. So far, this is up to the challenge. It’s comfortable, with decent leather on all the touch points, and the expected cost-cutting hard plastic on all the parts only your eyes touch. The biggest plus for the Mitsu versus the other options is the 2nd row space. It’s noticeably larger, especially fore and aft. There is a lot of legroom, which is a big deal when loading up with three kids. The second row even has some limited reclining action. The dash is a combination of old and new. It’s dominated by a 7.1" touch screen, but that’s supported by actual physical buttons for things like heated seats, dual zone HVAC controls, and a volume knob! I’m no fan of touch interfaces, and this one is as annoying as I expected, but once you’ve set everything up, you can mostly ignore it. Steering wheel controls and voice activation can get you around most of it. The most important piece of the interface is that it works with Android Auto and Apple Carplay. It’s not the easiest to setup, but once working, the connection is easy, and gets you an interface you’re familiar with. No need for (and no option for) navigation. Google Maps is right there for you.

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Out back the hatch space is ample. The battery pack is tucked under the front and rear seating rows outside the cabin, so there is little penalty on cargo space. The one big sacrifice is no third row option, as that would displace the already meager gas tank, and interfere with the placement of the rear electrical components. The rear seats flip their lower cushions forward, and fold the backs flat to match the hatch area, and provide a pretty large floor. You can even put the front seats all the way forward and recline to make a massive, mostly flat space for....sleeping I guess? Like a lot of modern cars, there is no spare. I hope you like fix-a-flat.

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The driving experience at a relaxed pace is pretty nice. It’s surprisingly quiet when untaxed. Quieter than even the 2014 A4 we ditched in favor of the Outlander. It sits quite high, and does a good job of isolating you from the road. Stock wheels and tires are 225/55R18, but as it’s February, these were quickly swapped out for Winter 215/70R16s which probably make the ride even softer. In full EV mode at city speeds, it’s almost eerie. Once the batteries are depleted, the motor kicks in and thrums along pretty quietly until more is demanded. Once you ak for more, it responds, but sounds like trash. There’s no reason to mince words. When thrashed, the 2 litre sounds harsh and unhappy. Also, because of the serial hybrid/parallel hybrid mix, the engine doesn’t always reflect the wheel speed changes which draws your attention. It’s just meant to be dynamic.

I took a long drive to Boston and back (~500 miles round trip) and it did quite well. The Outlander has drive select modes which let you dictate normal operation (let the computer decide what to do), as well as a battery charge mode and and battery save mode. The thinking is, you know what your route will be better than the ECU. So, if you’re highway cruising with a city drive ahead, it’s better to use battery for that city drive. You can conserve the charge when you have it, or build charge when you don’t. I used both modes along the way, and they performed as advertised, and allowed me to operate through Boston on full electric. Overall consumption for the trip came out to ~32mpg. Pretty good for a sizable wagon on stilts. Around town where much of the driving is electric, the last tank was 68.5mpg. That’s what I’m expecting for most of its life.

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The last thing I’ll mention here is that it also has a 4WD lock mode, which sets it in serial hybrid mode and engages both electric motors. In normal operation, it drives the front wheels unless the S_AWC traction system requests AWD. In the 4WD mode, it is extremely sure-footed. Being in Vermont, I’ve had plenty of chances to drive in slick stuff, and it never seems to slip. The S-AWC apparently responds very quickly with a direct electrical control, versus throttle-by-wire control for ICE systems.

Enthusiast Driving

As mentioned, this is not that car. With charged batteries, the initial acceleration is strong, but that thrust trails off before 60mph is reached. It performs very much like the 4 cylinder Outlander in the 0-60 category, but it gets there differently. I’d like to measure the 0-40, but honestly it would be for an argument not worth having. This is not a fast vehicle. Also, the ride is soft, and the S-AWC system is quick to limit the fun, so no angular flogging either. The stability can be turned off with a button push, but I don’t know yet how ‘off’ is off. I’d be interested to see how offroad it could go, as low speed control with the electric motors is great, and it has a drive lock mode that defeats the ‘crawl’ that is meant to behave like an auto with a torque converter. But the ground clearance is reduced by the batteries from 8.5” in the standard Outlander to 7.3” in the PHEV. Maybe in the Spring I’ll risk getting stuck, but I don’t want to go bashing things with those pricey batteries.

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Photo: A look at the stock wheels

Electric Wizardry

The electric range is rated for 22 miles. So far it has come up short, more like 15 or 17, but it’s February in Vermont. Batteries don’t love the cold, and the HVAC has a definite impact. It has been sufficient for almost all of the around town driving on a daily basis thus far.

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The vehicle interface offers up an energy flow display, that shows how the drivetrain is operating. This means showing power flowing between the battery and wheels (under drive or regen), and the power flowing from the engine to the batteries, or wheels, or both. Whenever power is flowing from the engine to wheels, it is colored orange, because apparently that means I’m being a bad environmentalist.

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While operating, it feels quite seamless, I have yet to experience any jerkiness, or odd transitions from regen braking to actual pad-and-rotor braking. Again, when the control system decides it needs to dip deeply into the gas motor, the sound is not pleasant. More incentive to save the planet or whatever.

The AWD system uses the paired motors fore and aft. I’ve only done limited slippery surface duty thus far, but it has been very planted throughout. You can force the AWD system on to avoid the gas engine_FWD mode, but that’s only applicable at near highway speeds anyways, so it’s mostly to feel better. At low speeds it’s EV or serial hybrid, and those modes use both motors.

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The car has an app with it, which lets you schedule both charge times (if you’re targeting off-peak rates) and HVAC warm up or cool down while plugged in. You can also just start a 10/20/30 minute timer for the HVAC if you know you’re out the door soon. This uses an electric AC system, or a ceramic heater system to cool or heat s set through the 2-zone climate control. It works when you’re not plugged in, too, but that’s a waste of battery in my opinion (this would serve as Tesla’s Dog Mode that garnered some attention recently). I’ve added a 240V charger to the garage, so it can go from empty to full in about 3.5 hours. It also has the option for DC quick charging via CHAdeMO port, but I doubt I’ll ever use it.

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Value

The MSRP puts this right around what you’d pay (before extras) for a Mini Countryman PHEV, or the yet-unreleased Subaru Crosstrek PHEV. But, this is a Mitsu, and nobody buys these in the US. In Europe, the Outlander PHEV actually enjoys relative success, having sold over 100,000 units since the release in 2014. Stateside, this thing sat for about a year with only 8 test drive miles on it, and was delivered from a remote dealer to the dealer I used with a dead 12V battery that had to be quick swapped while I waited.

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All that means that while the sticker showed $36,780 after destination, I paid $30,000 flat before taxes and $75 doc fee. That, plus the $5,836 federal tax credit means that the effective out of pocket cost will be $24,164. For a leather lined PHEV SUV. Feels like a bargain.

Highs

  • 32 MPG on a 500 mile highway stint
  • 68.5 MPG on the last tank, assisted by lots of EV-only errands
  • Very planted on slippery roads
  • Quiet around town
  • Big on the inside
  • Cheap after discount & tax credit

Lows

  • No digital speedo display
  • Sounds like an angsty teen if you hammer the gas
  • Slow acceleration at highway speeds
  • Big on the outside
  • Limited passenger comforts (no rear seat heaters, 1 auto up/down window)

The intention is to keep this thing for a very long time. It should be relatively reliable, and it has a long warranty (10/100k). That’s a long time to spend with a relatively boring car, but it will never be an ‘only’ car, so that helps.