I've come to love plug-in hybrids for how they ease you into electric car ownership. In the case of this 2021 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, I can decide when to use its 24 miles of all-electric range, but I still have the peace of mind of an internal combustion engine to keep me chugging on long trips. PHEVs really do make going electric easy. Unfortunately, this Mitsubishi is not a plug-in I'd recommend.
As you've probably noticed, the 2021 Outlander PHEV is still the old version of Mitsubishi's midsize SUV, not the swanky new 2022 model that shares its underpinnings with the Nissan Rogue. Still, the old SUV does have some updated tricks, by way of a new 2.4-liter I4 engine supplemented by a pair of 60-kW and 70-kW motors, giving the Outlander all-wheel drive. Combined, this powertrain produces 221 horsepower -- 31 more than last year. The 13.8-kilowatt-hour battery pack is larger than before, allowing for an EPA-estimated 24 miles of electric range (up from 22). Also, the battery can accept a 50-kW DC fast charge through its CHAdeMO plug, which allows the battery to achieve 80% capacity in 25 minutes. That's slow compared to the 150-kW and 350-kW options for full EVs, but not all plug-in hybrids have fast-charging capabilities, so this 25-minute time is a point in the Mitsu's favor.
The Outlander PHEV has a tiny gas tank -- only 11 gallons -- so the SUV's total range is just 320 miles. After a week of testing, I averaged 32.1 mpg in gas-only operation and 3.9 miles per kWh. The EPA says the PHEV should get 26 mpg and 2.2 miles per kWh for a combined total of 74 MPGe, but I clearly found those numbers easy to beat.
The Outlander has Normal, Eco and Gravel driving modes, in addition to Sport and Snow, which are new this year. The Outlander PHEV could be a good choice for those who have to deal with inclement weather. I should also point out that the Outlander PHEV competed in the 2020 Rebelle Rally, a seven-day navigational rally that takes place on the dirt without the aid of GPS. The Rebelle Rally goes through some of the toughest desert and mountain roads of California and Nevada, and aside from getting stuck in the dunes of Glamis for a bit, the Outlander had no mechanical issues and ended the rally with a third-place finish in the crossover class. It's more capable than you might think.
In addition to driving modes, there are also specific EV settings. I can operate the car in full-EV mode for that zero-emission goodness, a series hybrid mode that charges the battery while I'm driving or a parallel hybrid mode that uses both the battery and the gas engine simultaneously. I can even pick and choose when to use the electric power, saving it for around-town errand running. Once the battery is depleted, the gas-powered engine kicks on. Regardless of what mode the car is in, power swaps are smooth and easy.
Unfortunately, the Outlander isn't exactly nice to drive. Its steering is loose and sloppy and the SUV feels like it's all over the place on the road. The handling is roly-poly yet the ride quality is harsh and uncomfortable. The brakes, however, are firm and confident, and they do double duty with regenerative braking sending power back into the battery. The extra oomph from the electric motors means there is plenty of get-up and go, but overall, this isn't a car I'd want to drive everyday.
On the plus side, every Outlander PHEV comes standard with forward-collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and automatic high beams -- and my GT trim gets the added benefit of adaptive cruise control. All these systems work as advertised. The lane-keeping assist can easily be turned off for those who find it annoying.
Inside, Mitsubishi's infotainment system is easy to use but the touchscreen's graphics are very dated, there are no physical volume or tuning knobs and I had a number of issues trying to get my phone to actually connect using the USB-A port. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are both standard, but I couldn't get the Outlander to register my phone on more than one occasion. Wireless phone charging is not offered, either.
Overall, the interior is hit or miss. My GT tester's seats look pretty cool and I love the use of contrasting stitching. Heated front seats are standard on all trims and the GT even has a heated steering wheel. However, there are tons of hard plastics and evidence of cost-cutting throughout the cabin. Case in point: a set of cup holders resides in the cargo area, a vestige from when you could get a third row in the gas-powered 2020 Outlander.
That cargo area is a little small, as well, with 30.4 cubic feet of space with the second row seats up and 62.8 cubes when folded down. The rear seats don't fold perfectly flat either, so be prepared to have smaller items sliding towards the back.
Even with its minor updates, the 2021 Outlander PHEV is priced the same as the 2020 model: $37,490, including $1,195 for destination. But this crossover is so, so tough to recommend. I really like the Toyota RAV4 Prime which is a much nicer SUV overall, and offers 300 hp and better range. A lot of folks criticize the RAV4 Prime for being expensive, but my Outlander PHEV GT comes in at nearly $44,000, which is a ton of money for something this old.
The 2021 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has a lot going for it in terms of fuel economy and electric range, but the driving experience, materials and tech all leave a lot to be desired. Here's hoping Mitsubishi puts this PHEV drivetrain into the spiffy 2022 Outlander instead.