2018 Prius Prime

My new favorite PHEV, right here:

We have a saying out here in Edmonton, a pithy witticism of homespun folksy wisdom “What the heck happened to our fall?” because although we do get a very nice autumn, the beauty only lasts a couple of days and then the wind kicks up and blows all the leaves off the trees and everything looks like a backdrop from a Tim Burton movie.

Thus it was, in the final days of October, that I was delighted to head for Ontario, where the trees are still adorned in colors; and also where the testing days for the Canadian Car of the Year are held.

Fully recharged in about 2 1/2 hours on a Level 2 charger. The Hilton in Ajax has a bank of chargers for both regular EVs and Tesla vehicles.

There were a lot of nice vehicles at the CCOTY event (held at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, formerly called Mosport) but I tell ya, one of my favorites wasn’t an entry in the contest this year – it was this one right here: Toyota’s Prius plugin hybrid.

I had the chance to put some time in a Prime, getting from Pearson airport to the city of Ajax, where the voting journalists make their home for the four days of the event, and commuting to the CTMP site.

Overall, I put about 427 km on the Prius, driving to the site every day; mostly highway kilometers – and this is where a hybrid vehicle saves the day. The Prime will run purely as an electric vehicle for as long as it can (and the Prime has more battery capacity than the regular model Prius) and after it runs out of charge switches to operating as a regular hybrid car, with its gasoline engine in combination with the (dual) electric motors.

The basics are this: the Prime employs a 1.8L gasoline powerplant, which combined with the electric motors yields a net output of 121 horsepower. It’s a front-wheel drive four seater (2+2 configuration) with a CVT transmission, all rolled up in a compact, hatchback body that sports a little more style than the regular Prius.

While the horsepower numbers don’t sound impressive, I never found the car let me down. It handled merging and passing on the highways without causing me a lot of angst or apprehension, and at one point I managed to fit four full-sized adults into it without anyone feeling cramped.

The car is comfortable enough in the driver’s position, with ample overhead space – oh, and hey! – heated seats and a heated steering wheel make for a welcoming environment on cold mornings.

My test car, in a trim level they call Prime Upgrade with an additional Technology package option, gave it a full-featured suite of electronic conveniences with an upgraded audio system and a heads-up display that projected all the pertinent information.

Prime models also get a bigger information screen on the center stack, and satellite navigation system (which is a lifesaver for people like me, I don’t know the area around Toronto/Ajax well at all). Indeed, without the nav system I would probably still be driving up and down the 401).

As for the economy case, even though I was mostly operating in hybrid mode (the fully electric range got used up fairly quickly during highway driving, and the Prime will automatically switch to using the gas engine), I still ended with fuel consumption of only 3.9L/100 km, which actually beats the stated FE number from NRCanada.

When I was just running short distances around Ajax, my fuel consumption was zero, as long I kept it charged; and the hotel I was at (a Garden Inn) provided a bank of Level 2 chargers for guests; which would fully recharge the battery pack in about two-and-a-half hours.

Prime is the only member of the Prius family I hadn’t driven before (or it was, anyway, if you’re following the action from the LA auto, you’ve seen the company introduce and AWD version of the car) and has made itself my personal favorite.

The one seen here, with its Tech package option, came to $38,570

2018 Outlander PHEV

OUTLANDEMONIUM

Alright, I am totally down with hybrids and increasingly, plugin hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV, is acronym, I figure most everybody knows that by now). Not just for the best of reasons, either – although the case for lower tailpipe emissions and decreased resource consumption is compelling – but for selfish concerns, i.e., it costs me less to drive them.

Honda’s Clarity has been one the big revelations I’ve been treated to this year, when one brought incredible FE numbers at the Auto Journalist’s association EcoRun event earlier this year, and then even incredible-er results during my time in a test car this fall.

An increasing number of PHEVs are coming online from all segments in the market, riding on platforms from compact to luxury, to the country’s current-favorite configuration: crossover SUVs

This is where Mitsubishi has positioned itself, with their best-selling (indeed the company claims it to the world’s best-selling) PHEV – the Outlander.

I had the opportunity for a good look at the 2018 Outlander PHEV out here in the Paris of the Prairies during what could characterized as either the best of times or the worst of times; depending on your perspective.

See, when I picked up the test model (in top-of-the-line GT trim) Edmonton had been blessed with an early snowfall and accompanying subzero temps – which on one hand, sucks if you’re a human and other hand sucks if you’re an electric vehicle.

Cold temperatures affect battery capabilities along with human capabilities (especially when you can’t find your snow-brush and have to de-ice the car with your hands), but the silver lining was getting to see how a PHEV would deal with northern climates in real life.

I didn’t get as anxious as I would have if I had been using a purely-electric vehicle though, because the Outlander PHEV is a hybrid; combining it’s two (yes, two, one at the front and one at the rear) electric motors with a capable 2.0 litre gasoline engine.

Starting off in the vehicle with nearly no charge left in its batteries (it had come in from a long highway drive and sat overnight getting snowed on), the Outlander’s economy monitor stated it was currently getting 9.2L/100 km from the gas engine.

The plug-in model’s batteries can be charged in a number of ways, by plugging into standard household current, or faster Level 2 or Level 3 charging stations. Level 3 would be the fastest (Mitsu says it will come to 80% capacity in less than half an hour, but there aren’t a lot of Level 3s around here. There’s one at a Simons store across town, purported to be free, but requires a membership in the Flo network).

A cool thing about the Simons location is the massive array of solar panels overhead:

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In past experience, I have found that household current takes a long time, so that was of less interest for me, but found a couple of level 2 charge points around town that were free to use – Ikea has a station, and so do a couple of branches of the public library.

Plugging it in at the library’s 240 volt station brought the Outlander up to full charge in a little over a couple of hours.

Now, I’ll just go ahead and spoil the ending for you – charging it very day brought the gas consumption down to a final result of 4.6L/100km, which is great, even exceeding the NRCan rating.

The charge drops fast when you’re running it in cold weather with the heated seats and the climate controls cranked (along with the heated steering wheel), so I made an effort to plug it into whatever was available everywhere I went; and attempted to run in fully electric mode as much as possible.

An interesting thing with the Mitsubishi’s sophisticated PHEV is that among its available drive modes is Battery Charge Mode. When activated, the Outlander uses the gasoline engine to recharge the lithium-ion packs as you drive – slowly, but it does work. I could see the power level increase from nearly depleted levels as I drove with the feature turned on.

The company states the Outlander is also currently the only plug-in hybrid that can operate in 4WD mode on fully electric power.

I’ll leave it at that before this turns into a James Joyce style, novel-length litany about the many aspects of Mitsubishi’s technical wizardry, but if you want to learn more about their system, check their site.

Setting aside the hybrid component, the Outlander still stacks up as a useful family ute and daily driving vehicle.

It brings the cargo space and passenger volume buyers in the segment want, and offers a comfortable seating scheme and cabin, good quality materials and upholstery.

When option’d up to the top-of-the-line GT that my test model was, the vehicle packs on a adaptive cruise control, boosts the safety suite with a collision mitigation system and multi-view camera, and adds a Rockford Fosgate audio package.

All the major controls and switchgear are easy to figure out and use (and interestingly, the shifter pattern is nearly identical to what you get with Toyota’s Prius).

About the only complaints I can muster after spending some time in the Outlander were that mine didn’t have a heads-up display (although it did have an easy-read digital speedo above the gauges).

Oh, and no navigation system. Its seems if you want the nav, you have to run it through an app on your phone. Don’t know why, frankly, as pretty much everything else in this price range seems to have navigation included.

Styling, too, the Outlander is well… it’s kinda ‘meh’. Judge for yourself of course, but on the outside the vehicle is unremarkable. In fact, I encountered a lot of people who thought it was a Toyota Highlander.

And getting to the price, the Outlander stays competitive; especially if you live in an area where EVs are eligible for rebates (I don’t, though).

The entry level starts at $42,998 and the GT I drove takes that to $49,998