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Auto review: Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is plug-in, off-road ready

Charles Fleming, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Automotive News

It was an offer too good to refuse: Take a helicopter ride and spend the day driving the unpaved back roads of Santa Catalina Island in an SUV.

It didn't matter that the exploring would be done in a Mitsubishi. With an invitation to explore some of the "no cars allowed" dirt roads of Catalina, just off the Southern California coast, I'd have shown up for a Ford Pinto.

I was pleasantly surprised. Mitsubishi's new plug-in hybrid Outlander is a competent, comfortable compact sport utility vehicle.

Executives at the Japanese car company call the Outlander PHEV a "halo car" -- a vehicle that will create buzz and attract new buyers to the brand. They boast that it's the first plug-in hybrid crossover in this class of vehicles, and the only one with all-wheel drive.

Though it looks like a conventional Outlander on the outside, the PHEV model is missing the 2-liter, 2.4-liter or 3.0-liter engines that drive the gas-powered Outlanders.

Instead, the PHEV is powered by a 12kwh lithium battery that drives two 60kw electric motors -- one on the front axle, one on the rear -- resulting in what Mitsubishi calls "super all-wheel control." It's paired with 2-liter gasoline engine.

The battery-only range, not yet certified by the EPA, is expected to be comparable to luxury hybrid crossovers made by Volvo, BMW and other companies -- around 14 miles between charges.

But the Outlander is also one of only a few plug-in hybrids that come standard with the hardware that allows Level 2 charging. Mitsubishi claims the SUV's onboard lithium-ion battery can be charged to full capacity in four hours or less on this type of charger -- or about twice that long on a standard household 120-volt system.

Because it's a hybrid and not a pure electric vehicle, there is no range anxiety. The Outlander PHEV is fitted with a 2-liter gasoline-burning internal combustion engine that can provide propulsion to the vehicle or generate electricity to charge the battery.

Mitsubishi executives said they believed the fuel economy would be about 54 miles per gallon equivalent.

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