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2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV First Drive Review: Staying on Target

The Outlander PHEV occupies a unique spot, and changes to its new generation only enhance the experience further.

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
With a standard third row and CHAdeMO fast charging, the Outlander PHEV has quite the leg up on its compact-SUV competition.
Andrew Krok/CNET

Even with the specter of supply constraints looming large, the fourth-gen Mitsubishi Outlander is a hit. Sales are up 63% year over year on the heels of a thorough redesign. The previous generation's plug-in hybrid was ahead of its time, but now that competitors have popped up, Mitsubishi made some small, thoughtful revisions to its PHEV powertrain, and the result is the 2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, a solid, EV-forward compact SUV that should continue to resonate with customers who want to dabble in electric-only operation.

The 2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV's general conceit remains the same, but every corner of the plug-in powertrain offers a bit more than before. The lithium-ion battery underneath the body now measures 20 kilowatt-hours, up from 13.8. The front axle's electric motor puts out 85 kilowatts while the rear puts out 100 kW, improvements of 25 and 30 kW, respectively. The 2.0-liter I4 under the hood makes 131 horsepower on its own, a boost over the old model's 126 hp. Heck, even the gas tank is larger, now offering 14.8 gallons instead of 11.3.

The result is a potent distance runner. The 2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV's output is a solid 249 hp and 332 pound-feet of torque. That new, larger battery permits a total electric range of 38 miles, while the more capacious gas tank swells overall range to 423 miles. Larger families should be geeked to discover that the Outlander PHEV now sports a third row, as well, since its redesign was engineered to accommodate a plug-in hybrid from the outset. Cargo space is also up as a result, offering a RAV4-tying 33.5 cubic feet of storage behind the second row, expanding to a RAV4-beating 78.5 cubic feet when the second row is also folded down.

There aren't too many external differentiators between the 2023 Outlander PHEV and its gas-only siblings. Unique wheel designs and PHEV-specific badging help it stand apart without being too overt, but I think the Outlander looks good from the outset. At the least, it's more attractive than the Nissan Rogue, with which it shares a platform. The nicely appointed and laid-out cabin contains a couple buttons specific to the PHEV, but otherwise, it too isn't any different from the gas model. The third row is nice to have in the compact segment, and the body is a little longer than before, but even with the second row slid forward, the way-backs are best left to children, pets or cargo.

With the third row up, you lose a fair bit of capacity, but a shallow well in the cargo area helps make up for that, albeit only a bit.

Andrew Krok/CNET

So, how does it drive? Pretty damn good, actually. The Outlander PHEV's powertrain is engineered to be as EV-forward as possible, and on my drive loop around the Ann Arbor, Michigan metro area, I was content to let the electricity do the heavy lifting. While there is no physical connection between the front and rear axles, both motors are always doing something, granting the PHEV full-time all-wheel drive, which should add some peace of mind for owners in more frustrating climates. After the first 10 miles of city driving, the standard 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster showed a remaining range of 35 miles, so I imagine its EPA numbers should be pretty easy to beat on the regular.

But electric motors aren't exactly efficient at highway speeds. Thankfully, I can keep the Outlander PHEV's battery at a consistent state of charge for later, more efficient use. Pressing the EV button on the center console lets me swap between powertrain modes. The default mode will rely on electrons as much as possible, and EV mode will ensure that it runs solely on electricity until it cannot. But for this specific situation, Hold mode will let me maintain the battery's current level for later use. I can also add a bit of juice on the go in Charge mode, even though plugging the PHEV in is really the most efficient way to fill 'er up.

Electric and drive modes are accessed on the uncluttered center console. I just wish the shifter was made from better materials.

Andrew Krok/CNET

When it does come time to hit up a plug, the 2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV retains one of its best standout attributes -- fast-charging capability. The Outlander PHEV has a CHAdeMO DC fast-charging plug, accepting up to 50 kilowatts of charge, which brings the battery from 0% to 80% state of charge in just 38 minutes. If you have a 240-volt Level 2 charger at home, it'll take about 6.5 hours to charge to full, which means overnight charging will have you topped up and ready to go every morning.

As with other PHEVs, regenerative braking will help boost the Outlander's efficiency. Five levels of regenerative braking are on offer through the wheel-mounted paddles. Hitting the Innovative Pedal (their name, not mine) button on the center console dramatically ramps up the regen, but the last 5 mph must still be shed through the brake pedal, so it's not a true one-pedal driving experience, which I wish it was. The brake pedal is pretty touchy, too, so it'll take some practice to stop smoothly.

There's a solid amount of power -- and efficiency -- hiding out under this hood.

Andrew Krok/CNET

In addition to the powertrain modes, there are seven vehicle modes available through the center console's rotary dial. These adjust the throttle, steering and all-wheel-drive systems. Eco is my favorite, providing just the right amount of throttle sensitivity, but I also like Power mode, which unlocks the powertrain's full potential and sacrifices efficiency for performance. There's a middle-of-the-road Tarmac mode, which is basically Mitsubishi's sport mode, in addition to several settings for traversing gravel and mud.

The Outlander PHEV's ride quality is about the same as the gas version, which is to say it's pretty comfortable for the segment. The fixed suspension does a good job keeping most unwanted motions at bay, and thanks to thicker glass on the front doors, noise isolation is also above average.

If you're at all familiar with the Nissan Connect infotainment system, or Mitsubishi's identical offshoot, then you won't have any issues navigating these menus.

Andrew Krok/CNET

All trim levels of the Outlander PHEV get the same solid cabin tech. A 9-inch infotainment touchscreen is standard, offering both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and while its Nissan-based infotainment system doesn't offer the flashiest graphics in town, it's still plenty fine. A 12.3-inch gauge display is also standard across the lineup, offering some interesting graphics in addition to clearly displaying all the usual pertinent stuff like powertrain operation status. There are boatloads of standard safety systems, as well, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, traffic-sign recognition, automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring.

The 2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is in a good spot. Its plug-in competitors are still largely front-biased, which gives the Mitsubishi the edge on driving dynamics. It's the only compact PHEV available with seven seats, and its powertrain is engineered to really lean on the electric side of things. When it launches later this year, its starting price of $41,190 (including the $1,345 destination charge) should put it front and center on the radar of any family looking to lean into electrification.