Mitsubishi: Plugged in
Mitsubishi's Outlander PHEV hybrid is a car for our times
IT isn't that long ago that the name Mitsubishi was all but synonymous with one car: the fire-breathing Lancer Evolution saloon, writes William Scholes.
The reign of the Lancer Evo started in the early 1990s and only petered out a few years ago.
In all, there were 10 generations of the Evo. Each following the same tried-and-tested formula: take the otherwise humble Lancer saloon of the day, junk the mechanicals and replace them with a 2.0-litre petrol engine enhanced by a turbocharger on steroids and an impossibly sophisticated four-wheel-drive system.
The only reason such a weapon existed was to satisfy World Rally Championship rules which essentially said that a rally car had to be based on a production car.
The net result was that the road-going Lancer Evo that you could buy from your friendly Mitsubishi dealer was a thinly-disguised rally stage exile.
Every time Ralliart, the outfit which developed the Lancer Evo for the WRC, incrementally improved - or 'evolved', thus 'Evolution' - the car to make it faster at Col de Turini or through Kielder Forest, a version of those enhancements would make their way to the cars in the showroom.
Each new generation was more powerful, faster and more technically advanced than that which preceded it, and the pace of development was ferocious.
Throughout this period, another Japanese marque, Subaru, with its Impreza WRX STI, was Mitsubishi's arch-rival on the rally stage and with enthusiasts.
It was a remarkably fertile period: Finn Tommi Makinen won four consecutive world rally drivers' championships at the wheel of Evos between 1996 and 1999, and helped Mitsubishi also win a constructors' title in 1998.
But Mitsubishi itself was evolving, and it withdrew from the WRC in 2005.
Tastes also change, and performance car drivers were starting to look elsewhere rather than bonkers-fast, uncompromising rally rockets that could double as refugees from The Fast and the Furious.
Two of the biggest trends in the motor industry today are SUVs and electric cars. Mitsubishi has long been in the vanguard of both movements
To understand how much tastes have changed, consider how Mitsubishi is due to revive the Evolution nameplate when its e-Evolution debuts at next month's Tokyo motor show: with a four-wheel-drive electric SUV.
The e-Evolution is, for now, a concept car, but expect something close to it to go on sale in the near future.
It encapsulates two of the biggest trends in the motor industry today: SUVs and electric cars.
Mitsubishi has long been in the vanguard of both movements.
The Shogun SUV is a tough 4x4 workhorse in the mould of a Land Rover Defender, except with in-built reliability.
And though it's not an SUV, the 4x4 L200 is one of the most popular pick-ups in the market.
The company also has the small Mirage city car on its books and the ASX sits in the crossover/SUV class against the likes of the Nissan Qashqai and Seat Ateca.
In its four-wheel-drive guises, the ASX offers a more capable off-roader than most other crossovers.
The ASX will soon be joined by a new crossover, called the Eclipse Cross, which is a sort of lower-roofed semi-coupe-styled wagon in the mode of something like Toyota's C-HR.
Larger yet is the Outback. This is Mitsubishi's rival to cars like the Honda CR-V, but it is available with a number of features that make it stand out from the competition.
The most noteworthy of these is the choice between a diesel engine and a plug-in hybrid drivetrain.
Diesel versions get a 2.2-litre unit and the reassurance of a four-wheel-drive system from the people who also give the Shogun and L200 their go-anywhere ability.
Mitsubishi claims a total range of 700 miles on a tank - the official EU fuel economy on the combined cycle is 53.3mpg, which is pretty impressive for a large SUV with 'proper' four-wheel-drive and the ability to carry up to seven passengers in three rows of seats.
But things get really interesting with the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, or PHEV, version of the Outlander.
It pairs a 2.0-litre petrol engine with two electric motors in what is known as a 'series parallel hybrid' layout.
Essentially, this means it can power the wheels with either the petrol engine or the battery, or both, depending on the style of driving, conditions and so on.
The EV-only range is rated at up to 33 miles, making the Outlander the largest and most efficient of this style of vehicle currently on sale. That 33 mile range means the Outlander PHEV is classed as a 'high-range' hybrid, with only smaller cars like the Audi A3 and Volvo V60 offering comparable battery-only range.
The fuel consumption of this set up is rated at 166mpg and the CO2 emissions are stated as being just 41g/km.
The Outlander PHEV pairs a 2.0-litre petrol engine with two electric motors in what is known as a 'series parallel hybrid' layout. It can power the wheels with either the petrol engine or the battery, or both
That latter figure has made the Outlander PHEV a particular favourite with company car users, whose benefit in kind tax rate is calculated according to CO2; the Mitsubishi's 41g/km rating means the BIK is just 9 per cent.
Indeed, so popular has the Outlander been with company drivers switching from premium German brands that a posh £44k trim level, dubbed 5hs, was introduced with refinements such as nappa leather and a full suite of electronic gadgets.
The idiosyncrasies of the PHEV drivetrain mean that it may not be a cost-saver for every driver in every situation when compared to the diesel - your Mitsubishi dealer will be able to help you work that out - but whether you opt for diesel or hybrid, the Outlander is a big, comfortable, easy-to-drive family SUV.
The Outlander has been the UK's best-selling plug-in hybrid by some margin since it arrived in 2014.
It is as much a technology trailblazer as the Lancer Evolutions of old, with Mitsubishi adapting to deploy its know-how in keeping with the spirit of the times; where the Evo cars' mission was, to be blunt, to go as quickly as possible, the company's new hybrid era is focused on improving economy and lowering running costs. Who knows where this innovative car company will take us next?