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Plug-in Hybrids Will Give Drivers Mixed Results

Some Will Get Infinite Fuel Economy, Others Will Hyperventilate.

Plug-in Hybrids Will Give Drivers Mixed Results

If you drive an Outlander Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) on the highway, the fuel economy is so bad compared with Mitsubishi’s claim of an average 123 miles per U.S. gallon you will think about suing for false pretences. If you drive this mid-size SUV in town or on country roads and have a daily commute of less than say 40 miles each way with a few hills in it, you’ll start to forget where the gasoline stations are.

The Outlander PHEV is a two-faced beast. After driving one for a week and a total of just over 600 miles, some things become clear. If you drive on the motorway a lot here in Europe, you’d be better off with a diesel. If you drive around town and on country roads, the plug-in hybrid system comes into its own, and depending on the length of your commute, you could realistically expect never to use any gasoline again.

The battery on its own will get you 32.5 miles before you have to use the gasoline engine, and if you know when to engage the regenerative braking system, you can extend this. On one run, I managed to extend the battery to about 44 miles. You can do this by using the flappy paddles on the steering wheel which engage varying degrees of braking pressure to replenish the battery when you go downhill. It’s like driving with a manual gearbox in the traditional way when you change down to induce engine braking. There are five grades of different braking tension, and on the steepest hills you can keep the speed steady while boosting the battery. You pull on the left paddle consecutively to add degrees of braking tension, and disengage with the right hand one.

On a long run with not many hills this option runs out. On a journey of just over 200 miles, mainly cruising on motorways at an indicated 80 mph and starting with a full battery, I managed only 29.1 mpg. On the return journey with no battery at all, this fell to 27.6 mpg. But on a 100 mile rural and urban section with a few hills, starting with a full battery, I squeezed out 49.8 mpg. Clearly if you had a round trip commute of say 40 miles with a few hills, you could realistically expect never to visit the gasoline station again, so quite how you measure that I’m not sure, because the 123 mpg claim would than appear to be modest. Anyone buying an Outlander PHEV should persuade the dealer to supply a brief lesson on how to get the best out of the vehicle.

Mitsubishi is honest about the possible problems though.

“Unlike non-hybrid vehicles, it is hard to predict what MPG the vehicle will return in real life. A lot depends on journey length and speed – for instance, for the average daily commute of 25 miles most people will achieve much higher than 123 mpg. For longer journeys at higher speeds it may achieve less than 123 mpg,” Mitsubishi says.

You can plug the car into your house or at the office and it takes between 3-1/2 to 5 hours, depending on the electric current you have. A rapid charger will restore 80 per cent in 30 minutes. When you drive with the battery only, the electric motors drive all four wheels. There’s no prop shaft so the petrol engine only drives the front wheels. Mitsubishi says the combination of electric motors and two litre petrol engine delivers performance like a 3 litre engine.

Overall, the plug-in hybrid system is a terrific advance on battery-only vehicles, which will inevitably induce chronic range anxiety, although the highway performance lets it down. Perhaps the best compromise is a diesel-electric PHEV, which will have a better economy performance cruising on motorways.

The Outlander PHEV goes on sale in the U.S. next year. Other manufacturers are scrambling to adopt this technology. Audi has recently launched its little A3 sedan with a PHEV. It’s parent VW will shortly add this to the Golf range. Next year Audi will add the technology to its big Q7 SUV, followed by the A6, then A8. BMW has already launched its i8 PHEV supercar.

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