Fair-weather friend

by Haney Louka . Dec 14 2018
The Outlander’s heating system can be controlled using a mobile app or on-screen menus.

The Outlander’s heating system can be controlled using a mobile app or on-screen menus.

Electrification in the auto business is a difficult thing to ignore these days, even in our Prairie town. Teslas are becoming a more common sight on our streets and charging stations are starting to pop up in a few locations. Most recently, a Flo charging station began operating at CF Polo Park shopping mall in September.

The selection of electrified vehicles (EV) in Canada is growing substantially every year. At last count, there were 36 EV models available for sale in Canada, if you include both full electric vehicles and those of the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variety.

Note that we are not talking about conventional hybrids that use the gas engine and regenerative braking to charge their batteries.

EVs, by current definition, can all be plugged in for a charge, whether there is an internal combustion engine on board or not. The selection ranges from a Smart Fortwo, starting around $30,000, up to the $150K BMW i8.

Pure electric vehicles have no gasoline engine and rely entirely on their battery packs to power the electric motors.

Pure EVs have a significantly longer electric-drive range than plug-in hybrids, but there is no plan B if the batteries discharge completely.

Plug-ins are a more practical choice than pure EVs for those who need a single vehicle to do it all, including road trips. That is, at least, until we have a more comprehensive network of Level 3 charging stations on our nation’s highways.

The current crop of PHEVs on the market offer a maximum electric-drive range between 20 and 80 kilometres before the gas engine needs to start and either charge the battery or propel the vehicle.

But how does the selection look when buyers want the PHEV experience in a crossover (CUV)? Much smaller. So small, in fact, that Mitsubishi has the market cornered when it comes to affordable CUVs with plugs. And as of the end of November, the Outlander PHEV is the first plug-in ever to reach 5,000 Canadian sales in a calendar year.

The starting price for an electrified Outlander is $43,198 before incentives. Since the Ontario EV incentive program ended earlier this year, B.C. and Quebec are now the only provinces with rebates on EVs.

But Mitsubishi hasn’t forgotten the rest of us, offering a $2,500 factory discount to sweeten the PHEV deal.

Still, our discounted GT S-AWD PHEV tipped the scales at $47,698, representing a $9,300 premium over the same trim level with the gasoline V-6.

I’m not going to start getting into payback periods here, because any calculation would have to assume that you are maximizing the electric range of your vehicle every day. And as we’ll see, that’s just not realistic.

It seems logical to expect that owning a PHEV will consist of frequent charges and frequent fuel-free trips around town. Problem is, we have winter here, and as I found out during an extended test of the Outlander in early winter conditions, the gas engine runs at initial startup and stays running until systems are up to operating temperature before shutting off and letting EV mode take over.

At any ambient temperature below about 8 C, the gas engine started up even when the batteries were fully charged. Minimizing the heat demand on the system (climate control, seats, steering wheel) had some effect on shortening the gas engine involvement, but even so the gas engine will run for the first five minutes or so after every cold start, and that time gets longer as the mercury drops.

For someone like me who has a 20-minute commute in the morning, this has a major impact on daily fuel usage. Example: at 8 C, I drove to the office using zero fuel. At zero degrees, my consumption was 3.0 L/100 km on the morning commute. And at -4 C, it was up to 4.6 L/100 km.

When the battery runs down, the Mitsu behaves like a conventional hybrid, using a combination of gas and electric propulsion to efficiently ferry its occupants about. The transition between drive modes was all but imperceptible and remained remarkably quiet, even with the engine operating. In all, I drove almost 800 km and consumed an average of 7.8 L/100 km in city driving.

I charged the Outlander every night but did not have a place to plug in during the day. And even though the battery gives the PHEV a claimed range of up to 35 km, that total drops down by nearly half when the Mitsu is parked outside in the winter.

This PHEV can be charged from the grid in one of three ways. Level 1 charging can be done anywhere there is a standard 120V household outlet. A full Level 1 charge takes approximately eight hours at 12 amps. Level 2 charging requires a 240V power source, shortens the charge time to 3.5 hours and requires owners to have a dedicated charging station installed at home. Level 3 DC quick charging is the fastest charge available, providing an 80 per cent charge in 25 minutes. Mitsubishi says it has the only PHEV with Level 3 charging capability on the market today.

The Outlander PHEV has two 60-kilowatt motors (one front and one rear) with a 2.0-litre gasser beside the front motor. Below the floor resides a 300V, 12-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that powers the motors and gets its charge from both the gas engine and your neighbourhood electrical grid.

This PHEV system adds about 220 kg to the Outlander compared with the V-6 version. While the extra weight is positioned low in the vehicle, ride quality does suffer a bit. I noticed this mostly when loaded with four passengers and navigating over rough city roads. It’s as if the suspension wasn’t beefed up to accommodate the extra payload.

I was disappointed with the PHEV’s user interface when it came to understanding and monitoring the electrical workings of the Outlander. There is no way to monitor long-term fuel and electricity consumption, unless you go into the menu system every time you drive and manually tell it not to reset. There are graphs that track this, but there are no numbers on the graph, and when the scale is zero to 60 L/100 km, it is impossible to know with any accuracy what the actual number is.

It is possible to have the heating system activate while the Outlander is charging, but getting it to work was frustrating. First, there is an app that allows remote operation, but it did not work on my Android device, despite several attempts at the dealership and with Mitsubishi Canada. It worked on my wife’s iPhone. However, I expected it to be as simple as activating a remote starter, but there is no such function to tell it to start heating. The heating system needs to be programmed like an alarm. Too many steps to be useful, especially if your day is rarely routine.

There are controls on the car’s on-screen menu system as well, but they are no more intuitive to operate. Surprisingly, there is no temperature to preset; rather, you choose between A/C, defrost and heat. Naturally, I chose heat, but that only activates the seats and steering wheel, not the HVAC system. And even then, you need to remember to leave the heated seat on when you get out of the car the night before, or nothing will happen. Choosing defrost is what gets the HVAC system going, but rather than setting a temperature you choose the length of time (up to 30 minutes) that it will run.

These are just software issues, but I feel like I was being asked to evaluate a beta version that wasn’t fully sorted out.

The Outlander PHEV represents a major achievement for Mitsubishi and a meaningful step forward in our march toward electrification. But given the hefty price premium and reduced winter effectiveness of the technology, it’s still a hard sell.


Twitter: @HaneyLouka

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Photos by Haney Louka / Winnipeg Free PressDriving in winter conditions forces the Outlander PHEV to rely more on its gasoline engine, resulting in a clear increase in fuel consumption.

Photos by Haney Louka / Winnipeg Free Press

Driving in winter conditions forces the Outlander PHEV to rely more on its gasoline engine, resulting in a clear increase in fuel consumption.

Haney Louka / Winnipeg Free PressThe Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is the first plug-in hybrid vehicle to reach sales of 5,000 in Canada in a single calendar year.

Haney Louka / Winnipeg Free Press

The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is the first plug-in hybrid vehicle to reach sales of 5,000 in Canada in a single calendar year.