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Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Long Term Test Report 5 – Any good off-road?

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV – Any good off-road?

By Paul Clarke

ECO FACTS

Model/Engine size: Mitsubishi Outlander GX4hs 2.0 PHEV Auto

Fuel: Petrol-Electric Plug-in Hybrid

Fuel economy combined: 156.9 mpg

Can the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) really combine an official economy figure of 156.9mpg with genuine off-road ability?

To find out, we set off into North Wales for some of our favourite off-road test routes. The weather as we left Manchester was perfectly fine, but there had been mention of more wintry conditions on higher ground, so a full range of off-roading and snow equipment was packed, just in case.

The other preparation included selecting the Outlander’s Save mode on the journey to the hills, in order to keep the maximum battery capacity for off-roading. Previously we had spent some time with Land Rover’s Electric Defender development vehicle, and its team of off-road testers, and the view from the experts was that off-roading in an electric vehicle has many advantages over a petrol or diesel vehicle, as you can control elements such as creep much more precisely. So we wanted to test that theory in practice by some electric off-roading in the Outlander.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEVMitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Click on images to enlarge and for slideshow

The off-roading ‘Plan A’ already started to look in doubt even when we reached the valley at the bottom of the Welsh hills. Even here, the roads had patches of snow and ice – nothing serious, but enough to present a challenge for most two-wheel drive cars. Not having driven the Outlander on snow previously, as soon as we hit these conditions, our main aim was to proceed carefully to evaluate the levels of grip.

This situation was compounded by the tyres on the Outlander: Toyo R37’s. The Toyo website says about this tyre: “225/55 R 18 98H Toyo R37 tyres are Original Equipment for the Mitsubishi Outlander. Mitsubishi Outlander is a car which is both refined to drive as well as highly versatile. Toyo R37 tyres provide the necessary driving dynamics whilst also providing safe, dependable load carrying. Tire choice was critical to achieve a mix of environmental improvement without compromise and Toyo R37 delivers.” Hmmm, no mention whatsoever about the performance of the tyre off-road or in snow; instead it sounds like the tyre aims to improve efficiency. We’re obviously all in favour of efficiency – but not at the cost of getting stuck for days on end in a snowdrift.

We took a look at some online tyre fitting sites. Black Circles said: “The Toyo R37 is 4×4 tyre chosen as Original Equipment on the Mitsubishi Outlander.” Again, no mention of whether this tyre has any off-roading or all-season ability.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEVMitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Click on images to enlarge and for slideshow

So, we needed to apply personal experience. We’ve spent many years driving off-road, and in snow and ice, in a wide range of vehicles, and visual inspection of the tyres suggested that the tread doesn’t have much of an off-road design, and even more worrying, there are zero ‘sipes’ – the very thin grooves in the tyre tread which act as ‘claws’ in snow and on slippery road surfaces to improve traction and mobility. And the tyres didn’t appear to have the softer rubber compound that winter tyres need to prevent the tyres hardening in cold temperatures (so giving the flexibility to grip in to the road surface effectively). (Read more at http://www.greencarguide.co.uk/features/winter-tyres/).

So at this point things are not looking good. Then things get a lot worse; the road to the top of the hill (and to the off-road test route) comes into view. The patches of snow and ice on the road that we’re on transform into 100% snow cover as the road rises upwards – and even from a distance, it doesn’t take a meteorologist to deduce that the snow is looking pretty thick.

So Plan A for an off-road test of the Outlander has suddenly transformed into a test of what the Outlander is like in the snow. And we already know that the most important elements for driving in snow are the tyres, and the tyres aren’t looking reassuring.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEVMitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Click on images to enlarge and for slideshow

However, there’s some good news at this stage. We’re driving on patches of snow and ice, albeit on a road with only a gentle incline, and the Outlander hasn’t had one slip or slide so far.

But we’re now faced with a decision: do we turn round and go home, and abandon the test? Or do we keep edging forwards and see what happens? The sensible choice is of course to turn round. The alternative is to carry on driving up a single track road with no turning places, that is cut into the side of a valley. On the left hand side, the hill goes up and up. On the right hand side the slope falls away to the valley below, a drop of at least 300 metres in places, and there are no barriers to stop you sliding off the edge of the road, at least not until the very top of the mountain pass.

Curiosity wins out over common sense, and we decide to explore where no electric 4×4 has probably ever explored before.

From the bottom of the valley we could see that the road got steeper and the snow got deeper. We’re now driving up that steep road and through that deeper snow, with the 300 metre drop to the bottom of the valley just a couple of inches to our right.

We know that the PHEV demonstrated surprisingly good grip on the patches of snow and ice at lower levels, but as the car starts crunching through deeper and deeper snow, our main concern is with the tyres. However the Outlander keeps maintaining forward progress, to the point where we make it to the end of the section of road where there are no barriers – and we breathe a huge sigh of relief.

But then we realise why there are now sturdy metal barriers to our right – the road now gets really steep, the drop to the right is even larger, and of even more concern, the snow is up to six inches deep in places. But there’s nowhere to turn round, so the only way is up. And beyond all hope, the Outlander PHEV just keeps climbing and climbing – and we make it to the top of the pass.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEVMitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Click on images to enlarge and for slideshow

Considering that the tyres seem to have no special off-road or cold weather properties, this is a miracle. And the reason for this miracle must be the clever – and evidently effective – technology that’s behind Mitsubishi’s all-wheel drive system. However we did play our Joker – we tackled the snow hill in electric mode, and due to the constant torque of the electric motors – rather than the peaky torque of a petrol engine – this seems to have assisted with minimal wheelspin.

Before the road became steep and snowy, we also pressed the ‘Twin Motor 4WD Lock’ button, which is designed to offer better traction in off-road conditions – and it seemed to work.

So we made it to the top of the hill. But now we’re here – where the off-road test was supposed to take place – the snow has drifted, and it’s more than a foot deep in places. We explore a number of off-road routes, with varying depths of snow, and the Outlander has no problems.

At the very end of the day, we’re literally in the middle of nowhere – on a hillside miles away from any tarmac roads, it’s going dark and it’s starting to snow again, and suddenly the snow on the track or field or whatever we’re driving on gets deep – very deep – we’re talking a two-feet deep snow drift. The choice is to plough on, with the most likely outcome of becoming stuck until the snow melts – probably in a few days or weeks – or to reverse back a long, long way. Neither of these options sounds ideal, so we consider a third idea. Could we drive off to the right of the track, down a very snowy hillside, and try and steer round to the right and get enough grip to somehow clamber back up the hill and onto the track?

The snow is deep, the hill is steep, and not far down the field is a fence, against which we’re likely to become stuck if the Outlander can’t muster enough traction for this manouevre. But this seems like the best out of the three potentially ill-fated plans, so we give it a go.

So we turn to the right, the tyres climb over the snow-encrusted edge of the track and onto the virgin snow on the field, and the car heads off down the slope. We hold the right hand lock and before long we’ve turned through 180 degrees and we’re facing the way we came, but the hardest challenge of the entire day is now to come: the vehicle has to somehow muster traction up a deep snowy grassy hillside to get back on the track. However before this thought has been fully processed, the car has somehow clambered up through the snow and is back on the track, ready to head homewards down the hill, just as more snow clouds roll in.

The verdict… Any good off-road?

During our day in Wales we tested the Outlander PHEV on tarmac roads, on off-road routes, on snow, and on ice. When driving off-road you have to be aware that the Outlander has relatively long and low overhangs both at the front and at the rear, and the ground clearance overall isn’t great. But despite this, and even with tyres that appear to essentially be road tyres, the vehicle had no problem with any challenge thrown at it. Imagine what it could do with a decent set of all-season off-road tyres. We’re hoping that Mitsubishi might send us such a vehicle for next winter…

Our next report looks at what the Outlander is like to live with on a day-to-day basis. But firstly, a quick update on fuel economy. Our last update reported an average fuel economy of 60.6mpg after 8 weeks. For the last two weeks we’ve been able to drive the vast majority of journeys on electric power, and the economy has improved to an impressive 76.0mpg.

Paul Clarke

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV long-term test report 1 – What do we want to find out?

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV long-term test report 2 – How does it work?

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV long-term test report 3 – What’s it like to drive?

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV long-term test report 4 – Can it really achieve 150mpg in real-life?

CAR FACTS AND FIGURES – Mitsubishi Outlander GX4hs 2.0 PHEV Auto

Real-life economy: 76.0mpg after 10 weeks

NEDC electric driving range: 32.5 miles

Real-life electric driving range: 22 miles after 10 weeks

Official CO2 emissions: 42 g/km

Green rating: VED band A (£0)

Weight: 1,845 kg

Company car tax liability (2015/16): 5%

Price: £35,999 (after the current UK government Plug-in Car Grant of £5,000).

Insurance group: 22E

Power: 200 bhp

Max speed: 106 mph

0-62mph: 11.0 seconds

Torque: 385 Nm