Maybe it’s my age, but being on the wrong side of 45 I like my cars to sound like, well, cars. Driving around in silence feels quite unnerving, it’s like watching your favourite band on stage miming, it’s wrong.
At a recent press day I had the opportunity to take the new Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV plug-in hybrid for a spin both on and off road, I’m not going to lie, it was odd. Prior to sitting in the Outlander I had only ever driven one other hybrid car before, and that was the new Range Rover, and if I’m being completely honest, I wasn’t keen.
Mitsubishi claim that the Outlander PHEV is capable of 148 mpg, and paying no road tax, no congestion charge, and with a free home charge point, it will certainly make a lot of sense to a lot of people. With twin electric motors and an efficient 2.0 litre petrol engine, there’s a lot of witchcraft going on in the Outlander, but today that wasn’t my concern, I just wanted to know what it was like to drive.
Unfortunately I only the keys for around 20 minutes so my experience was going to be brief. I wouldn’t exactly call it typical either as I was at the Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedford, so no traffic lights, parked cars or other normal hazards to concern myself with.
Driving around the Alpine test track with hot hatches, Bentley’s and a host of other super cars overtaking me, I thought it performed great. It accelerated, slowed and turned, what more do you want from a car? Being honest though, although the Mitsubishi PR man did give me a thorough explanation of what all the buttons and gauges meant, I forgot the moment I left the paddock.
It was only as I approached the off road circuit did things become strange. Driving on gravel towards the long and slippery hill, the car was silently moving forward, imagine coasting with your ignition switched off. All I could hear was the squishing sound of mud under the tyres, even the local rabbits felt safe as they hopped around in merriment, blissfully unaware of my presence.
Piong! Another noise you don’t often hear when driving off road, a small pebble was sprung from the tyre. Odd. You hear everything, and more, like grass gently flirting itself along the chassis and exhaust as you drive over it.
Then came the steep slippery hill. There was no changing gear or engaging diff lock, you simply point it upwards and press the loud pedal, or quiet pedal in this case. Again, apart for the road tyres fighting for grip, I was in complete silence. I was desperate to hear some engine revs to give me an indication of how I was doing, and as I neared the top it began to slow down, as if the gear I’d chosen was too high and was going to stall. Was I about to perform my first failed hill climb in an electric car? I hoped not.
Reaching the top successfully I pulled over for a moment and tried to remember what I was told about using the Outlander’s brakes for both generating electricity and extra engine braking for descents. I couldn’t, so I chickened out of driving back down as it was too slippery for me to start using its brakes.
Carrying on around the course I took the Outlander pretty much everywhere I took the bigger 4×4‘s, and apart from its lack of ground clearance and clogged up road tyres, it didn’t falter.
Driving back to the paddock gave me time to reflect, and it actually performed far better than I expected it to, though I can’t imagine any owner of a new Outlander PHEV taking it this far off road, it wasn’t built, nor designed for it, but that doesn’t mean can’t.