There’s much to admire in this compact, affordable 2019 plug-in model

Doug FirbyThere are two important facts you need to know about the 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.

About 500 km. Eleven bucks.

Yup, if you nerd it up and stick close to home, you can slash your fuel costs like crazy. I proved it in a week of city-only driving involving a series of trips that rarely strayed over the PHEV’s fully electric range of about 40 km (based on my real-life experience).

Doing so, however, requires rigour and discipline. If you have to make two trips in one day, you probably have to use fossil fuel for one of them. That’s because taking the PHEV’s battery from fully drained to locked and loaded is no small task – typically, about 13 hours on eight-amp household current. Fast chargers will load the car up in a fraction of that time (about 30 minutes on DC charge will get you to 80 per cent), if you’re on the highway and are willing to pay for your power (about $20 an hour in Alberta).

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The joy of plug-in hybrids, of course, is the elimination of range anxiety. Short-range city trips are virtually ‘free’ on electric, but if you have to head out for a highway trip, there’s a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder gasoline engine that will get you wherever you need to go – albeit at a modest pace. The engine pushes out a mere 117 horsepower, and 137 foot pound of torque, although the electric motors boost that when you have some juice on supply.

Transport Canada rates fuel economy at 3.2 litres/100 km. On the brown-to-green scale of environmentalism, that puts you at a solid khaki.

There’s more to the Outlander PHEV than just great fuel economy. Unlike its competitors, it’s actually affordable, with prices starting at $43,498. Compare that to the Volvo XC90, which is unquestionably more refined than the PHEV but starts at $66,300, or about 50 per cent higher than the Mitsubishi. That’s probably a big part of why the PHEV is not only Canada’s top-selling plug-in hybrid (about one-quarter of the market), but also the biggest selling such vehicle in the world.

And there’s much to admire in this compact machine. It can run all-wheel drive in fully electric mode. It’s also the only plug-in hybrid with a quick-charge option.

The vehicle is surprisingly pleasant to drive. It has a tight turning circle that lets you execute an illegal U-turn quicker than a cop can click on his lights. Its steering is responsive, but the suspension is a bit wobbly for a putative off-roader.

I loved the ability to adjust the regenerative braking on the fly, using the paddle-shift levers on the steering wheel. If you want to coast, you can click into B0 or B1 mode, and there’s virtually no drag on deceleration. Maxing out at B4 or B5, however, optimizes regeneration and slows the PHEV down like you were standing on the brakes. Less wear on the brakes and more power to your battery.

I found myself playing with the paddles to try to optimize both acceleration and regeneration. It seems this car is made for hyper-milers, like me.

This is part of the third generation of Outlanders introduced in 2014. This year’s model adds air vents and a USB port for rear passengers, LED headlights on the GT trim, snazzier wheels and enhanced battery warranty.

The cabin quality generally seems to be a bit sloppy in fit, and squeaks and rattles were already creeping in. Acceleration is – let’s be kind – modest.

The PHEV is far from perfect. If refinement is your top priority, then gas-only options will give you more polished products for the money. However, if you want a truly green SUV, then the PHEV brings power to the masses. And that’s a good thing.

The automaker supplied the vehicle for testing. Content was not subject to review.

Doug Firby is a freelance writer.

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