Hybrid Mitsubishi Outlander leads the charge off road

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The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is powerful and efficient. Photos: supplied

In the same week that the local specification PHEV Outlander was shown to media, petrol rose in price; a mere 2c adjustment, but enough to remind us that, as much as we prefer not to consider it, fossil fuels are not in inexhaustible supply.

The PHEV does not fully sidestep that conundrum; this is not a fully electric car. The acronym is for plug­in hybrid electric vehicle, so it's akin to the Holden Volt, a range­-extender.

It has a floor­-mounted battery pack and two electric motors for primary operation, but once the lithium ion batteries are exhausted, a 2.0­-litre petrol engine kicks in, primarily to act as a generator although (unlike the Volt) it can also direct-­drive.

Full electric power is available for up to 52km, and even at speeds up to 120kmh ­- quite stunning considering this is a chunky, 1810kg, medium five­seater sports utility. Beyond this point the petrol engine kicks in, to ultimately eke a 650km­-plus range from that 45-­litre tank (which happily accepts 91 octane).

To show how capable it is on the battery draw alone, Mitsubishi Motors New Zealand had us follow a preset 60km route over mainly winding 50kmh­-70kmh roads, with the finishing flourish of a 15­-minute 100kmh cruise along a motorway, after which consumptions from our fleet were compared. The aim was to meet its advertised optimum claim of a potential 1.9 litres per 100km.

Three cars, including my own, failed that target. But one hit bang on ­and the other came in below, with 1.7L/100km.

It's this astounding ability that now has MMNZ reckoning that the PHEV will mop up sales big time; having originally predicted it would achieve a 20% cut of overall volume, it's now saying 50%, 50 vehicles a month.

The other pluses of the PHEV are that if you choose to drive it hard, the performance is quite electric (though obviously this kills the range), and that, apart from being the only Outlander that plugs into an electrical wall socket for (five/six­hour) recharging, it is just like any other in look, specification and general functionality.

This isn't a total utopia. The obvious barometer has to be the previously range-­topping turbo­ diesel, neatly $10,000 cheaper and, if you use the Outlander to its full SUV potential, then perhaps the better choice.

The PHEV is OK for touring. For one, that extra battery weight settles the ride beautifully, but the real forte is urban cruising. Low emissions (44g per litre), and if your daily runs are less than 40km you'd be unlikely to ever burn a drop of fuel.

Compromises? Seven­seat Outlanders are especially popular but, because of its under­floor battery pack, the PHEV cannot have that third row of seats (or a spare tyre) and Mitsubishi's insistence it is on par with any other Outlander off­road was untested on our drive. The electrics are fully waterproofed, but adventurers should note that solid-­mounting the electric motors on the rear axle precludes the PHEV being towed. It has to be lifted.

The battery will lose about 20% potency over 10 years and at today's price replacement, a two­-hour job, will cost $16,000. You'll also want to take care of that boot­-stowed recharge cable as it alone is an $800 item.

Hybrid Mitsubishi Outlander leads the charge off road
At a Glance

MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER PHEV

Prices: XLS $59,990, VRX $66,990

Engine: 1998c four­-cylinder petrol with two 60kW electric motors linked to a 12kWh lithium ion battery pack, maximum power combined 150kW, maximum torque 337Nm

Transmission: Direct drive (AC motors) with planetary gearbox for engine in parallel hybrid mode

Brakes and stability systems: Disc/disc, ABS, EBA, ESC

Wheels, tyres: 215/70 R16 (XLS) and 225/55 R18 (VRX)

Fuel and economy: 1.9 litres per 100km on Australian Design Rules cycle; capacity 44 litres

Dimensions: Length 4655mm, width 1800mm, height 1680mm