Like a do-it-yourself home remodeling project taking years to complete, the 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander is a work in progress.
Cash-strapped development, shifting design idioms, a shrinking dealer network, and a long-delayed game-changing plug-in hybrid powertrain has sullied what is, on paper, a competitive crossover SUV in the hottest market segment in America. After all, the Outlander is roomy and comfortable inside, is safe for families, provides appealing value, and with gasoline engines includes a small third-row seat – a rarity in the class.
Yet in person, the Outlander Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) frustrates and confuses a driver often enough to make an alternative such as the comparatively simplistic Toyota RAV4 Hybrid mighty appealing.
Changes for the 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander
For 2019, Mitsubishi has made numerous improvements to the Outlander. From updated styling and improved interior materials to redesigned seats and re-tuned driving dynamics, this is a better SUV than it was last year.
Here’s the list of what’s new for the 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander:
- Re-styled front and rear ends, and new wheel designs
- New front seats, improved interior materials, updates to quiet the cabin
- Standard automatic up/down operation for all windows, rear air conditioning vents
- Re-tuned steering and suspension for improved ride and handling
- Electronic parking brake with a new brake-hold function
- Tire repair kit replaces the spare tire for all versions
- Most trims get power adjustable front seats, new rear USB port
The Outlander PHEV is offered in SEL and GT trim levels, and includes Mitsubishi’s Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC) all-wheel-drive system. Prices start at $36,890 for the SEL trim (including the $1,095 destination charge) while the GT costs $42,590. Mitsubishi dealers will be eager to sell you accessories for this SUV, many of which provide dubious value.
A federal income tax credit of $5,836 is available for the Outlander PHEV, and if you live in a state that offers rebates for plug-in hybrids, you can further reduce the financial burden. In California, for example, a $1,500 rebate is offered for the Outlander PHEV. Plus, in California, this plug-in SUV qualifies for carpool lane access with no more than a driver aboard.
My test vehicle had SEL trim, Pearl White paint, floor mats, a cargo mat, and a Towing Package. The price was $37,965, and since I live in California, federal and state incentives effectively reduce the price to $30,629. Factor in a $1,000 factory rebate available as this review is written, plus the usual price negotiation with the dealership, and you could drive home in one of these for around $28,000.
Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle Powertrain Overview
Clearly, there is value in the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. Aside from the discounts, Mitsubishi’s warranty program is generous. The SEL trim level is nicely equipped, too. But it does lack appealing features that are exclusive to the GT trim level, such as:
- A 1,500-watt AC power supply system that transforms the SUV into a mobile power station
- Advanced driver assistance systems including forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking
- Better LED headlights
- A multi-view camera system
- A premium sound system
What makes the Outlander PHEV special, of course, is its plug-in hybrid powertrain. Mitsubishi characterizes the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine as a range-extender, but since the maximum electric driving range is just 22 miles, that description is accurate only if you’re using the Outlander primarily for short trips.
The 12-kWh lithium-ion battery powers dual 60-kW electric motors, one located at each axle. Drivers can choose to drive the SUV as a hybrid or as an electric vehicle, save the battery charge for specific driving situations, or use the gasoline engine as a generator to recharge the battery. A regenerative braking system offers five levels of recuperation and can bring the Outlander PHEV to a complete stop.
A 120-volt charging cord comes standard with the Outlander PHEV, and offers 8-amp or 12-amp recharging capability. It takes 13 hours to recharge the battery using the 8A setting, or 8 hours using the 12A setting. The SUV is also compatible with 240-volt public and home-charging stations (3.5 hours to recharge) and CHAdeMO DC Fast Charging stations (25 minutes for an 80% charge).
Mitsubishi says the combined horsepower rating for these components is 190 hp. You can maximize that by driving in Normal mode, or you can use the more conservative Eco mode. Either way, there is enough motive force here for daily driving requirements. Just don’t challenge a Kia Niro Electric to a drag race, let alone a Tesla Model X.
Controls Need a Complete Redesign
To monitor the goings-on of the powertrain, Mitsubishi supplies a blizzard of displays and settings. Some are housed within the instrumentation on one of 8 screens. Others are embedded into two different menus of the infotainment system.
Using these displays is both confusing and frustrating. It didn’t help that the owner’s manual was missing from the test vehicle, leaving me to figure things out on my own. Normally, this isn’t a problem, but Mitsubishi clearly needs to hire a user-experience expert because the onboard tech isn’t self-explanatory.
Most of my aggravation, however, stemmed from lousy ergonomics and system configurations that seemed to have a mind of their own.
Here is an example: The data reset mode erased previous driving information after the SUV sat idle for more than four hours. On-screen instructions for changing these settings was not intuitive, and on one occasion the display told me that it was unable to reset the information…and then it reset the information anyway.
Here is another example: Within the instrument cluster, the display screen showing battery and fuel range is adjacent to the display screen showing average fuel economy and the percentage of driving on electricity. I frequently wanted to change between these screens, but you can only cycle through the 8 different displays in one direction. That meant I had to push, push, push, push, push, push, push the button hidden from view behind the steering wheel spoke and turn signal stalk. Grrrr.
Here is yet another example: The Charge, Battery Hold, and EV driving mode buttons are on the center console instead of the dashboard. They’re hard to find by touch, and when you look down to find them the road ahead completely disappears from your field of view. That’s dangerous.
Given that an Outlander PHEV owner who wants to maximize the benefits of the drivetrain will cycle through all of the driving modes on a regular basis, this is a terrible design. Mitsubishi should relocate these functions to make them easier to see and use. Since the dashboard is littered with button blanks, that should be easy enough.
And here is yet another example: At one point, with the Outlander in both B4 regenerative braking mode and Charge mode, I pulled to the side of the road to shoot some photos of the local scenery. I did not shut the SUV off. When I got back in and resumed my drive, those two settings were no longer active. No, no, no, Mitsubishi! Leave stuff the way it was! Argghhh!
I could go on about the poorly arranged controls and confusing displays and aggravating settings within this SUV, but you get the idea.
Roomy Interior is Comfortable and Useful
The most impactful change for 2019 is the Outlander’s new front seats. They retain the same chair-height driving position as the previous version of this SUV, but they’re far more comfortable than before. Both the SEL and GT trim levels have supple leather upholstery, and in addition to black, a new light gray color is available for 2019.
Furthermore, Mitsubishi bumps the interior quality up a notch or two. From the fabric-wrapped windshield pillars and softly padded upper front door panels to the plush center console and soft-touch dashboard materials, the Outlander looks and feels like a higher quality vehicle.
This is also among the roomier compact SUVs, offering plenty of space for front and rear seat occupants. The Outlander PHEV does not have a third-row seat like its gas-engine counterparts, but you won’t miss it. Only kids can fit into it, anyway.
Cargo volume measures 30.4 cu.-ft. behind the rear seat, and 66.6 cu.-ft. with the back seat folded down. The cube-shaped areas are useful, if somewhat narrow. Deep storage wells are located on both sides of the cargo floor, and a shallow bin beneath the floor holds the Outlander’s charging cord.
Up front, inside the cabin, practical storage is limited. Mitsubishi wastes a ton of space on the center console, devoting it to fake carbon fiber trim and various driving mode buttons instead of, say, a smartphone tray with a wireless charging pad and a larger center console bin. This is especially galling given the Prius-style transmission joystick that puts the Park button behind the controller where – no surprise – it is harder to see and use.
Warning: Motion Sickness May Occur
Thanks to Mitsubishi’s continuous improvement program for the Outlander, this SUV drives better than I recall.
The added weight of the battery and electric motors down low in the chassis, which lowers the SUV’s center of gravity, undoubtedly contributes to unexpectedly athletic cornering. It also, it seems, proves an engineering challenge in terms of woozy vertical ride motions.
Over the speed humps leading to my kids’ elementary school, the Outlander PHEV bounces enough hit the suspension’s bump stops – and that’s at 20 mph, less than the 25-mph speed limit.
On the undulating pavement of local mountain roads, the Outlander PHEV wobbles about on its underpinnings like a bobblehead. If somebody told me that riding in this SUV made him or her sick to their stomach, I’d believe it.
At the same time, though, the compliant ride quality smoothed out the pummeled pavement of truck lanes on local freeways. And on twisty 2-lane roads, the Outlander exhibited a remarkably flat cornering attitude, displaying little in the way of body roll.
Despite new efforts to quiet the Outlander’s cabin, wind and road noise effectively drown out the droning and wailing of the gas-fired 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine when you’re on the freeway. Around town, the SUV is agreeably quiet, especially in EV mode.
People expecting speedy acceleration won’t want the Outlander PHEV. It isn’t slow, but it isn’t fast, either. Maximum acceleration requests engage the 4-cylinder gasoline engine even when the SUV is in EV mode, accompanied by a steady drone as it helps to power the front and rear wheels through dual single-speed gearboxes.
Based on my driving data, over the course of 168.3 miles and several days of driving, the Outlander PHEV averaged 30.7 mpg. I covered 53% of those miles solely on electricity. For comparison purposes, official EPA ratings are 74 MPGe in EV mode and 25 mpg in combined driving in hybrid mode.
Active Drivers Only Need Apply
Given that combined rating of 25 mpg when driving this SUV as a hybrid, it is clear that to maximize the benefits of the 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, you must take an active role in not only choosing between the different driving modes but also understanding which ones can maximize efficiency depending on the situation.
For example, if the first half of your commute is freeway driving at the speed limit, you’ll want to select Eco mode and use the SUV as a hybrid, saving pure electric propulsion for later when traffic clogs or you exit onto city streets.
If the battery has no charge and you’re about to drive down a long hill, change to Charge mode, engage both the transmission Brake and the paddle-shifted B5 mode, and you’ll be surprised by how much electricity the battery can recoup. During one mountain descent, the battery went from zero miles of range to six.
Or, you can just plug it in when or if you feel like it, and drive it where you want, when you want, using electricity when the battery has a charge and using the gasoline engine when it doesn’t.
But if that latter scenario describes your plan, I’d recommend skipping the Mitsubishi’s complexity in favor of a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. It offers a lower starting price, a simpler driving experience, better performance, and 40 mpg in combined driving. You can even drive the Toyota in EV mode for short distances at speeds under 25 mph.
In the meantime, as it has since the Outlander’s last complete redesign for the 2014 model year, Mitsubishi has some work to do on its never-ending vehicle improvement project.