Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
AOL Cars gets a very early first drive of Mitsubishi's game-changer – their new Outlander Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV). But does it deliver?

What is it?
It's a world first! Expected to hit the UK market in August/September 2013, this will be the world's first plug-in hybrid SUV. Mitsubishi says the car offers the best of three worlds – the environmental conscience of an electric vehicle (EV), the cruising range of a conventionally-powered car and the the on- and off-road capabilities of an SUV. It will sit alongside the diesel version in the Outlander range, and comes in a unique shade of blue (other colours are available), a few styling tweaks, different instrument dials and a gear selector.

What's under the bonnet?
Mitsubishi calls this car a "Twin Motor Series Parallel Plug-in Hybrid". In other words it's not a pin-up green car such as the Chevrolet Volt/Vauxhall Ampera and nor is it a specific green car like the Toyota Prius – it's just another Mitsubishi Outlander with some clever green technology.

Under the bonnet lies a new 2.0-litre petrol engine, but the power is primarily delivered by two 80bhp motors located on each axle (so it's permanently four-wheel-drive). They are powered by a rechargeable battery under the boot floor which can be charged up in four hours and delivers 35 miles of pure EV motoring.

The petrol engine is used as back-up should you run out of juice and powers the electric motors (that's the "series" bit). Want full acceleration to pull out of that side turning? The engine will then drive the front wheels (that's "parallel"). Combined MPG is a stonking 141mpg, while total range is 550 miles. There's also a clever button on the centre console that can charge the batteries up to 70 per cent if you're cruising on the motorway and using the petrol engine.

What's the kit like?
Mitsubishi UK hasn't finalised spec levels or the price list yet. But we've been told the car will be offered in two trims, with the entry-level Outlander PHEV costing less than £40k. It hasn't been confirmed whether the car will be eligible for the Government's £5k grant, but it is pretty likely to get it. Mitsubishi told us even the entry-level car will get luxury such as leather upholstery. Unlike the standard Outlander diesel version, the PHEV is not a seven-seater but five-seater. Also, a 40 per cent tax payer will save more than £5k by opting for a Outlander PHEV compared to a Honda CR-V diesel.

Outlander PHEV

Any rivals?
Well, there are loads of hybrids around, available in petrol and diesel varieties, and in various sizes. But Mitsubishi only really regards the Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid as a serious rival in terms of technology. That costs £47k; it's smaller on the inside and Volvo only made 125 units available in the UK this year. Mitsubishi says they will be able to sell as many as they like when it arrives next year.

Is it any good?
The car we tested was a mule – the new Outlander PHEV's technology in an old Outlander body, so we can't be entirely conclusive. But we were impressed – the powertrain is very quiet and refinement levels are strong. It's very zippy too and doesn't feel remotely underpowered.

The AOL Cars verdict
Time will tell whether the PHEV is the better choice in terms of total ownership costs compared to the standard diesel-engined Outlander. But Mitsubishi is the first to tap into the needs of certain customers: Those who want the space and high-driving position of an SUV, drive under 30 miles a day and have the confidence to continue driving when the weather turns nasty. This is just the car Mitsubishi needs to get onto the shopping lists of UK buyers again.

The knowledge
Model: Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid
Price: tbc
Engine: 2.0-litre petrol, motor/generator with 2x80bhp electric motors
Power: tbc
Max speed: tbc
0-60mph: tbc
MPG (comb'd): 141mpg
Emissions: 49g/km (tbc)