by Morgan Carter
While it may look identical to the Mitsubishi Outlander, the PHEV variant swaps out the V6 engines for a tamer four-cylinder paired to two 60 kW electric motors that develops a combined 190 horsepower. While not horribly underpowered for the segment, the Outlander PHEV is quite a bit slower than rivals like the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid. It also doesn't deliver a very fun driving experience, even if it is the more capable off-roader. The hybrid Outlander may offer more cargo space than the regular gasoline version, but it does so by sacrificing a row of seats. Still, many rivals can best it in terms of overall trunk space. And, while the Mitsubishi may have improved its standard tech offering with the inclusion of more advanced driver-assistance features and an upgraded infotainment system, it's still a bit pricey at a starting MSRP of $36,295. It's not without its appeal, but the Mitsubishi Outlander is quickly falling behind segment leaders who are updating their offerings to provide better value for money.
While nothing changes mechanically for 2020, the Outlander gets a more comprehensive standard safety suite than now includes lane departure warning, automatic high beams, and forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection. The outdated infotainment system gets a larger eight-inch display, and an eight-speaker Mitsubishi Power Sound System replaces the Rockford-Fosgate system on the GT. Power lumbar is now standard on the front seats for both trims, and the GT gets access to the Premium Interior package.
The Mitsubishi hybrid SUV hasn't received any aesthetic updates for the new year, keeping its 18-inch alloy wheels and body-colored bumpers with silver accents. The SEL gets automatic halogen headlights, fog lights, and LED daytime running lights, while the GT upgrades to LED headlights and fog lights. A small, bland grille with dark chrome accents fronts both trims, and a power remote liftgate comes standard on the base model, while the upper trim gets a power sunroof. Overall, the Outlander remains a bit behind the times in terms of looks.
Despite the loss of the third-row seats, the Outlander PHEV keeps the same dimensions as the non-hybrid SUV, measuring in at 184.8 inches with a 105.1-inch wheelbase. It stands at 67.3 inches tall, giving a commanding view, but it can squeeze into slightly tighter spots than most SUVs, with a width of 70.9 inches. The hybrid has gained about 50 pounds over the last year, weighing in at 4,222 lbs for 2020. With a ground clearance of 7.3 inches, the Mitsubishi can manage a fair amount of off-roading - much more than most of its hybrid SUV rivals.
The hybrid powertrain under the hood of the Outlander consists of a 2.0-liter four-cylinder combustion engine, developing 117 hp and 137 lb-ft of torque, paired with two 60 kW electric motors, adding an extra 73 hp. The power is regulated by a single-speed automatic transmission with switchable drive modes. Functioning on its own, the engine powers the front wheels, while the rear wheels only get their own power when the electric motor joins the party. This switch happens after the SUV passes the 42 mph mark, which can take a while, since the Outlander takes its sweet time getting moving - it's much slower than rival hybrid SUVs, taking more than nine seconds to make the 0-60 mph sprint. The hybrid components don't improve the Mitsubishi's towing power, though, with the PHEV managing the same 1,500 lbs as the non-hybrid. The powertrain might impress in terms of its technological complexity, but it is actually quite unrefined, with only average performance and more engine noise than you'd expect from such an advanced vehicle.
Nothing about the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV lends itself towards an enjoyable driving experience. The steering is light and yet somehow numb, too, making it harder to control the SUV. There is also little to no communication with the road, which makes the significant body roll that much more disconcerting. The Outlander's height and relative slimness only serve to exacerbate this sense of instability.
The crossover's lack of quickness might be a good thing here, as it's awkward proportions don't lend themselves to high-speed stability. At least the ride comfort is pretty good, regardless of speed. It's also rather quiet, which makes the sudden increase in engine noise when you pass 42 mph a bit shocking. However, while the Outlander might not be that composed on the road, it handles itself off-road better than rival hybrids. This is largely due to its unique four-wheel drivetrain, which allows it to simulate a locking differential and act like a 4x4.
The regenerative braking on the SUV has multiple settings, with steering-wheel-mounted controls. Depending on which mode you select, it can be a little uncomfortable, and you will have to experiment to find what suits you best.
With only one powertrain, the Outlander gets the same fuel consumption on both trims. The standard combustion engine is capable of covering 25 mpg over the combined cycle without any assistance from the electric motor. Similarly, the 60 kW electric motors can carry the SUV across 22 miles with a fully charged 12 kWh battery. When working in unison, the engine and motors get a combined fuel economy of 74 MPGe. However, the fuel tank is pretty small, only 11.3 gallons, so the Outlander can only manage a total range of 282 miles on gasoline.
The battery can be charged in a variety of ways, each with different timeframes. At 120-volts/8 amps (standard household outlet), the battery charges in 13 hours, while upping the amps to 12 shortens this to eight hours. At 240V/16A (level 2 charging), only 3.5 hours are needed to fully charge the battery, but it can fill up to 80% in just 25 minutes with a DC fast charger.
The Outlander PHEV can't seat as many as the non-hybrid model, as it loses its third row of seats to make space for the battery and electric motor. However, the remaining seats don't lack space in either row. Even full-sized adults can fit comfortably in the rear, but those up front do get a few extra inches of head- and legroom. The interior is upholstered in leather as standard, in either black or gray tones, but leather with diamond-quilted patterns is offered as part of the Premium Interior package. The front seats are power-adjustable in eight directions and power lumbar support comes standard on both trims. The GT comes with a power sunroof that swallows a few inches of headroom, and both models sport plenty of faux aluminum and cheap hard plastics. Overall, the interior is a bit smaller and lower grade than we're used to in this segment.
The battery pack and electric motor eat into the rear cargo space, giving the Outlander a below-average capacity of 30.4 cubic feet. However, this is only compared to other two-row SUVs - the PHEV offers more room than the standard Outlander since it deletes the third-row seats. While this may be a bit small for the segment, it's still more than enough room for most daily tasks, such as grocery shopping, or taking the kids to school and sports practice. This area can be more than doubled by folding down the rear seats in a 60/40-split to free up 66.6 cubic feet in the SEL and 62.8 cubic feet in the GT, thanks to the sunroof.
Small-item storage is adequate for a vehicle of this size, with a spacious glove compartment and center armrest cubby. The door pockets are equally large, and each row of seats gets a pair of cupholders. The center console also sports a storage tray.
The Outlander PHEV comes with an extensive list of features, even on the base-model SEL. Creature comforts include leather upholstery, heated eight-way power front seats with lumbar support, and dual-zone climate control with rear air vents, while conveniences comprise cruise control, remote keyless entry, push-button start, and a remote power liftgate. This year, the entry-level trim comes with even more advanced driver-assistance features, such as forward collision avoidance, pedestrian detection, a rearview camera, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, lane departure warning, blind-spot warning, lane change assist, and rear cross-traffic alert. The SEL gets a single 12-volt power outlet, while the GT gets a 1,500 watt AC power supply with two outlets. The upper trim also upgrades to adaptive cruise control and adds a surround-view camera, and a power sunroof.
The SUV's infotainment suite has always been one of its weaker points. This year, though, it gets a larger eight-inch touchscreen with improved graphics. From this interface, users gain access to Bluetooth functions, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, HD Radio, and SiriusXM, with a six-speaker sound system channeling audio throughout the cabin. The SEL gets a single USB port for the front seats, while a second port is added in the rear on the GT. The upper trim also upgrades to an eight-speaker Mitsubishi Power Sound System.
While it hasn't received all that many complaints, the Outlander only gets a dependability rating of 75 out of 100 from J.D. Power. It was recalled in 2018 for faults in the collision avoidance system and the possibility that the safety systems may fail during use; however, the recall in 2019 was only for a simple error in labels on the wheel rims. Mitsubishi offers a pretty impressive warranty plan on new purchases, though. The bumper-to-bumper warranty covers 60,000 miles/60 months, while both the powertrain and hybrid components are covered for 100,000 miles/120 months. Unlimited roadside assistance is offered for 60 months.
The plug-in hybrid SUV comes with a solid five-star safety rating from the NHTSA, and the IIHS awards it a top score of Good in every crash test, while the head restraints and headlights get an Acceptable rating. Standard safety features include ABS, EBD, stability and traction control, as well as seven airbags: dual front, driver knee, front side, and side curtain. Even the base model comes with a comprehensive suite of advanced driver-assistance features that comprise blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane change assist, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, and forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection. The GT only adds a surround-view camera.
The hybrid SUV segment is a quickly growing and competitive segment, and the Mitsubishi Outlander struggles to stay current with more competent rivals. Still, it appeals to buyers who want a fuel-efficient, short-range hybrid at an affordable price.
It also offers a fair amount of utility. While it may sacrifice a row of seats, thereby reducing overall capacity to five passengers, the crossover offers more cargo space than its non-hybrid counterpart. However, rivals like the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid still manage to best it. The Mitsubishi also comes with a decent list of standard features and a comprehensive safety suite.
The Outlander is also starting to show its age, both inside and out, and many of its rivals like the Kia Niro are offering much more modern models at an even lower price than the Mitsubishi's starting MSRP of $36,295. Some shoppers may be tempted by the Outlander's good mileage figures and its competent off-roading ability, but with such low overall range, you wouldn't want to get stuck out in the wild. Throw in the crossover's unimpressive driving dynamics, poor acceleration, and numb steering, and it would be hard to categorize it as a good vehicle. Honestly, there are much better hybrid SUVs on the market, with most offering a lot better value for money, too.
The Mitsubishi Outlander is pretty pricey, even for a plug-in hybrid, with the base-model SEL going for $36,295. The upper trim adds $5,400 to the bill for the extra comfort features, but you can still pick up a fully specced GT for less than $50k. These prices exclude tax, registration, licensing, and Mitsubishi's $1,195 destination charge. As a hybrid vehicle, the Outlander may be eligible for federal tax rebates in certain states.
Both trim levels get the same powertrain and largely similar feature lists. Nevertheless, there is still a pretty large price discrepancy between the two. The GT mostly gets semi-luxury improvements, such as an upgraded eight-speaker MPSS sound system, a power sunroof, and enhanced LED lighting. But for over $5k, this isn't really money well spent. The SEL is already pretty expensive for the segment, and it comes with everything you need, including a newly enhanced standard safety suite that includes forward collision avoidance, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. It also gets an eight-inch touchscreen with complete smartphone integration. Thus, the base model is our recommended pick for the best value for money.
Toyota's RAV4 Hybrid is a much more modern entry in the segment, having recently been redesigned in 2019. Thus, it's no surprise that it boasts a much more eye-catching aesthetic, but looks aren't all it has going for it. In fact, the Toyota is better than the Outlander in just about every area. It accelerates significantly quicker than the Mitsubishi and still offers better handling dynamics. The RAV4 doesn't come standard with blind-spot monitoring or rear cross-traffic alert, but it matches the safety suite on the Outlander in most other regards. It also delivers an equally comprehensive infotainment suite and more cargo space than the Mitsubishi. With a total power output of 219 hp and much better fuel economy of 41/38/40 mpg in its all-wheel-drive guise, the Toyota is also far more efficient on the road, and cheaper at $28,350 starting MSRP.
The Kia Niro is quite a bit more athletic than the Mitsubishi Outlander, with impressive acceleration and admirable handling dynamics. It's not overly powerful though, with combined outputs of 139 hp and 195 lb-ft from its hybrid powertrain. It also lacks the all-wheel-drive capabilities of the Outlander, as well as its off-road competence. Still, the Niro is quite a bit more modern, and it receives a facelift for 2020 as well as some improvements to its tech. However, it's quite a bit cozier inside, with less cargo and passenger space than the Mitsubishi. At a lower starting price of approximately $30,000 when the 2020 model arrives and decent fuel economy figures, the Kia is highly appealing, but if you actually need to do some off-roading or need to haul bigger loads, you'll want the Outlander.
Check out some informative Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV video reviews below.