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Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 2013: Quick Spin

Quick Spin
Mobara circuit, Japan

What we liked:
>> Plug-in refinement with SUV functionality
>> Proven cross-country capability
>> Will be cheaper to buy than Holden’s Volt

Not so much:
>> Slow response to demands for performance
>> We’re hanging out for a styling update
>> Price may remain out of reach for Aussie buyers

Mitsubishi engaged in an interesting experiment in August of this year. The manufacturer supplied an Outlander PHEV to a team participating in a cross-country rally starting from Pattaya in Thailand and finishing in neighbouring Laos six days later.

After 2000km of typically tough terrain the near-standard car finished the event, along with all the buggies and ‘monster truck’ pick-ups. What made the Mitsubishi’s feat so noteworthy was that it’s a plug-in hybrid.

With the Outlander PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) due in Australia as a production model in April, Mitsubishi offered journalists visiting Japan last week an opportunity to drive the range-extended SU(E)V around the tight and twisty Mobara racing circuit, about an hour out of Tokyo.

At a briefing before letting us loose on the track, it was explained that the PHEV features two 60kW electric motors powered by a lithium-ion battery pack. A 2.0-litre petrol engine generates electricity on the move to recharge the battery pack, and also provide motive power in extreme need.

The weight distribution has shifted rearwards with the added 200kg of battery pack on board, and is now 55:45 (front to rear).

Two aspects of the Outlander PHEV’s character were under the spotlight at the Mobara Circuit: performance and cornering control.

The extended-range SUV offers three nominal driving modes that could be tested around the circuit. ‘EV’ mode was electric-drive only, with both electric motors doing all the driving, and drawing power from the lithium-ion battery pack alone.

Series Hybrid mode comes into play when the electric motors are drawing more power from the battery pack – if the driver demands more performance – and the petrol engine cranks over simply to generate more electric power to keep the battery pack charged.

Parallel hybrid mode applies when the driver is demanding more performance than the combined power (120kW) of the two electric motors. At that point, a single clutch connects the petrol engine to the single reduction gear transaxle for the four-cylinder to drive through a direct mechanical link to the front wheels.

The ratio of the reduction gear is 3.45:1, which means the engine will supplement power in the same ratio as a direct-drive gear (say fourth gear in a five or six-speed manual transmission) in a car with perhaps a 3.0-litre V6 and diff ratio to match.



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