Remember nameplates like Galant, Starion, Colt, Nimbus, and icons like the Lancer Evolution? Sadly for Mitsubishi, those cars are all long-buried. And so too is any hope that this century-old marque might save itself from financial mire by channelling its product glory days of the 1970s–1990s.
Beyond 2021, Mitsubishi will just be a brand – subsumed by the Renault-Nissan Alliance and sent to the bottom of the pile as an entry-level price leader, as opposed to the engineering-led alternative to Japanese conservatism Mitsubishi once was.
That situation means the current-generation Outlander PHEV midsize SUV (and soon-to-die Pajero large SUV) is something of a bookend to a life when Mitsubishis were a little less ordinary.
Sure, the third-generation Outlander itself is as dull as a dry Sao, but the plug-in hybrid version has long been much more tempting – not only for its engineering innovation and its efficiency but also its improved driving dynamics.
Having a 13.8kWh lithium-ion battery embedded in the floor and an electric motor on each axle brings centre-of-gravity benefits and chassis-balance improvements to the Outlander. And that has been further honed with a new GSR version in the 2021 plug-in hybrid line-up.
Unlike the badge-engineered phonies it shares showroom space with (the ASX GSR small SUV and Triton GSR ute), the Outlander PHEV GSR actually boasts some hardware changes, though only to its suspension tune.
Bilstein monotube front struts with ball-bearing upper insulator assemblies, Bilstein rear dampers and increased front and rear spring rates aim to improve “steering balance, stability and ride comfort”, which sounds promising on any Mitsubishi these days.
The GSR also gains a bunch of visual tweaks to validate the matte-black GSR badge on its tailgate. There’s gloss black on the front and rear bumper ‘skid’ plates, the door mirrors, roof, and roof rails, as well as black chrome on the grille, bumper details and tailgate garnish, and black 18-inch alloys with machined facings.
It’s a solid once-over that aims to unify the Outlander’s visual fussiness, though there’s only so much a lick of paint and a prayer can achieve on an ageing SUV with overhangs this unsporting.
Inside, the GSR brings sexy microsuede seat inserts (bordered by leatherette bolsters), silver stitching, an electric driver’s seat and anthracite headlining. You also get eight reasonably strong speakers for the GSR’s fresh multimedia system with an eight-inch touchscreen with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, though Bluetooth phone calls only transmit through the front left speaker, which is weird.
Ditto the electric tailgate operation, which opens automatically (and slowly) when you push the button on the dash or key fob but not when you squeeze the mechanism above the number plate.
As for the suspension upgrades, they definitely bring something to the table. The Bilsteins control the body movement of this 1,880kg medium SUV with impressive focus and the Outlander sits flat through faster corners, almost as if it’s enjoying the experience.
The Outlander GSR’s steering plays the game too, with a smooth, even consistency as it changes direction, though the 225/55R18 Toyo tyres don’t seem to be on the same page. Your right foot needs to be measured when exiting tight corners or roundabouts to prevent the front end from pushing wide, and the Toyos seem to betray the Outlander PHEV’s mass all too readily. They’re not particularly quiet on coarse surfaces either.
Speaking of which, the downfall of the GSR’s driving experience is its ride. At low speeds on rough roads, it intimately conveys every road imperfection, to the point where you can hear various parts of the Outlander’s trim creaking as you get tossed about.
In most urban driving situations, however, its tautness is tolerable and definitely preferable to being overly soft. Yet this firmness never escapes the Outlander PHEV GSR. No matter how briskly you travel on country roads, it always feels unsettled.
Our favourite aspects of the Outlander PHEV GSR also apply to the entry-level PHEV ES and range-topping PHEV Exceed. There’s a meditative calmness to having up to 54km of electric-only city driving, providing you have the facility to plug it in (though it will manually recharge – loudly – from the engine). On electric power alone, you tap into
The torquey, battery-boosted drivetrain is silky smooth and in most driving situations it combines seamlessly with a humble 94kW/199Nm 2.4-litre petrol four for effortless progress. Even the PHEV’s neat little ‘joystick’ gear lever operates with impressive ease and slickness.
Only in foot-flat acceleration does the ageing 4B12 petrol donk expose its 15-year-old vintage and ultimate lack of refinement, though for a Mitsubishi it’s actually pretty good! Providing you keep the PHEV’s battery topped up (seven hours to charge from a regular household wall plug, three hours on a Type 2 charger, 25 minutes from a 50kW DC fast-charge station), there’s enough electric oomph to keep the petrol engine lurking meekly in the background.
Once bi-directional charging becomes available here in 2021, the Outlander PHEV will be able to feed surplus energy back into the grid (as will models dating back to MY17).
Like the upgraded 2021 PHEV ES, the GSR’s active-safety offering includes AEB, adaptive cruise, lane-departure warning, a rear camera with parking sensors and auto high-beam, though the GSR goes one better with blind-spot monitoring, lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and front parking sensors. Only the Exceed gets a 360-degree surround-view camera.
The GSR also shares a commanding driving position (on a surprisingly comfortable seat), a roomy (if not so plush) rear bench and a reasonable 463-litre boot with its PHEV siblings. But not even a smattering of features and an intriguing drivetrain can disguise this Outlander’s circa-2012 origins or its even older underpinnings.
As appealing as it is for a five-seat, electrically assisted SUV – especially when priced at $47,990 (ES), $52,490 (GSR) and $56,490 (Exceed) – this is an old car lacking design cohesion.
Being the world’s best-selling plug-in-hybrid SUV was never going to be enough to save Mitsubishi’s bacon and maintain its independence. The Outlander PHEV’s ageing 2.4-litre petrol four can’t meet forthcoming emissions requirements in Europe so the Mitsubishi brand will soon exit the continent for good.
The Outlander PHEV’s plug-in hybrid drivetrain will live on in Asian markets (and Australia) in the soon-to-arrive Eclipse Cross PHEV and a new-generation Outlander set to debut some time in 2021.
Riding on a shared Renault-Nissan CMF-C/D platform, here’s hoping the next Outlander PHEV can achieve the holistic design and styling appeal its endearing drivetrain deserves.
Key specs (as tested)
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