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

2018 Honda Clarity Touring

Another Home Run from Honda

Back in the day, the guy whose job it was to use the pole with the suction cup on it to rearrange the numbers on gas station’s signs would have been frantically working overtime to keep up with the rapidly changing cost of fuel.

A good-looking PHEV sedan with family-friendly space and cargo room, designed to run on purely electric power as much as possible.

Good thing we live in the future now, and those signs are electronic and can be revised with the touch of a button, making the numbers easy to change as gas prices rocket skyward; fluctuating wildly all the way.

It is times like these that hybrids and pure-electric vehicles attract attention anew, and Honda’s Clarity has been one of my favorites this year.

The car is a plug-in electric vehicle, with the gasoline engine combined with electric motor setup everyone is by now familiar with, but the deal with PHEV vehicles is that the hybrid battery can be recharged by – yes, plugging it in.

Here’s the thing with pluggable hybrids like the Clarity, they can be charged with household current (although that takes a long time, but if you can leave it overnight that will top up the battery), or more quickly with high-voltage Level 2 or Level 3 charging stations. Not everybody has 240v available at their home, of course, but an infrastructure is beginning to develop making the fast chargers available.

These can be few and far between, though, depending on where you live. I think there are a grand total of three such stations in my area (I found one at an Ikea store, and two more at branches of the Edmonton Public Library).

And here’s the salient point: I ended up with an overall fuel economy rating of 1.9L per hundred kilometers driven after putting on about 340 km in mostly city driving, when I was able to keep the Clarity fully charged. That’s insane.

Of course, that number changes when the battery gets low and the car uses the gasoline engine more; you’ll especially notice it on the highway – although even driving from Edmonton to Calgary under mostly gas power, the vehicle still came in at just over 6L/100 km.

A Clarity featured in the recent AJAC EcoRun event won a lot of hearts and minds with this kind of economy, and kudos for remaining an all-round ‘real’ car as well.

Honda touts the model as a ‘no compromise’ vehicle, citing the reassuring presence of the gasoline engine as a counter to range anxiety (which is a real thing, btw. I have driven purely battery-operated vehicles and experienced first hand the lump in the throat that starts when the juice gets low and you still have a fair distance to go).

Wrapped around all the technology, though, is a pretty decent car regardless of the drivetrain.

The one in the photos here is a Touring trim (so, top of the Clarity line), which showed off good people- space inside (along with overall cargo volume), and a comfortable array of surfaces and supports for passengers.

Clarity doesn’t compromise the driving experience, with more-than-ample power and torque (it outdoes a number of competitors, like Hyundai’s Sonata or the Kia Optima PHEVs, and Ford’s soon-departing Fusion Energi) with the combined output from the system rated at 212 hp.

Three major drive modes are selectable, the usual Normal, Eco and Sport choices (and a driver really can feel the difference in response when put into Sport) as well as what Honda has named ‘HV Mode’ – designed for use at highway speeds when the gasoline engine can be used to recharge the hybrid battery.

The price is where potential buyers may get balky, but in areas where rebates are available for purchasing efficient cars (I’ve read that it can be up $14K in some regions, but that doesn’t apply in Alberta), that may be something people can justify. Especially with the fuel saving factored in.

The 2018 Clarity starts at $39,900 for a base model; but the Touring trim test car I used pushes that to $43,900

Pretty neat stuff any way you approach it, and I must admit it’s kind of cool living in the future. Despite the loss of those gas station sign-changer jobs.

 

EcoRun 2018!

Prologue: Good Morning New Brunswick

The EcoRun vehicle showcase wrapped up its seventh year late in June, once again demonstrating the real-world utility of a cross section of fuel-efficient cars. This was my third year participating in the event (which is staged by the Automobile journalist’s Association of Canada).

I’ll get to that pretty quick – and you can find background info on EcoRun here and here, for a rundown of what its all about – but first, can we get a shout-out for the province of New Brunswick!

Serving as the backdrop for the adventure, the beautiful province provided fine scenery and a backdrop of Maritime lifestyle for myself and the other participants as we wound our way through three cities on some beautiful roads.

This year marked the first time NB has been the staging ground for EcoRun, and it is also he first year it could have been – the event requires somewhere to plug in for the various PHEVs and all-electric vehicles that account for many of the cars used for the drive, and the province has just completed a year-long implementation of the province’s charging network.

Indeed, NB has gone from having virtually no public charging points for such vehicles to having 49 of them, including 18 level 3 chargers (level 3 are the ‘fast’ chargers, these are the ones you want if you’ll need to get up to full battery in a reasonable amount of time).

Photo courtesy John Walker/AJAC

That alone is a good reason to plan your holiday in the Atlantic province if you drive, say, a Honda Clarity or Toyota’s Prius Prime, but put it together with the hospitality and scenery and (of course) the food, and my advice is to put New Brunswick on your list of Canadian adventures.

Go ahead, learn more here.

EcoRun: Part One

The scene at Catch 22 in downtown Moncton.

We kicked things off in Moncton, where we’d landed the day before and fueled up with a dinner at Catch 22 Lobster Bar downtown; which I mention for no other reason than to say that if you are ever in downtown Moncton, eat at Catch 22. Order the lobster, of course, but really, order anything on the menu.

The next morning, Day One, the assembled auto journos and our nineteen vehicles gathered at Moncton City Hall where we were welcomed by the province’s Finance Minister, Cathy Rogers, and the city’s Mayor Dawn Arnold.

Justifiably proud of the giant strides made so quickly in modernizing the provinces electrical infrastructure, they waved the EcoRun green flag to start us on our way – nearly 600 kilometers split up into six legs of driving over the next two days awaited.

NB Finance Minister, Cathy Rogers, and Mayor Dawn Arnold, with EcoRun co-chair David Miller at Moncton City Hall. Photo by John Walker/AJAC

I started out in Ford’s Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid (and with as many vehicles as we had at the 2018 event, of course not all the participants could get seat time in all the cars, so I’ll focus mostly on the ones I drove).

The Energi is the pluggable gas-electric hybrid version of the Fusion (and this may be one of the last chances to see one, for as I’m sure you know, Ford is going to stop selling cars in North America to focus on trucks and utility vehicles). A full-size sedan boasting a roomy and comfortably appointed interior beneath some good-looking sheetmetal, I put a little over a hundred km on it en route to our first change point, a recreational family holiday spot called Snider Mountain Ranch.

Now, I won’t lie to you, me and some of other drivers kind of blew the curve for the Energi – I ended with a fuel consumption number of 4.6L/100km (which is high, for that car, a couple of the other drivers got into the low fours and one brought it down to a ridiculous 2.4L/100km)

The thing of it is, though, it wasn’t that long ago that those numbers would have been considered really good – that’s how far hybrid technology has come.

Anyway, we spent a couple of hours at Snider Mountain (where the EV and plug-in hybrids were recharged at Flo chargepoints) and then saddled up in new vehicles.

I took a run from the ranch to the City of Fredericton in Mazda’s CX-3, one of a few gasoline-only vehicles entered in the EcoRun this year. Mazda loves to make the point that even in a field of hybrids, the SkyActiv underpinnings of the vehicle can still yield very good economy.

And here’s the thing – it did. I put over a hundred km on it and beat the NRCanada rating by over a litre per hundred. Nearly all the drivers who used the CX-3 did – average economy for our event was 7.2 – versus the official rating of 8.2 from NRCan.

That’s kind of the main point of EcoRun, that virtually any vehicle can achieve better fuel economy when driven with an eye to lowering consumption. I didn’t do anything special with my driving habits in any of the cars; except maybe for sticking to the posted limits and trying to avoid hard braking and lunging starts; and I figure all the other participants did the same. AJAC strongly discourages ‘hypermiling’ techniques (i.e., driving waaay too slow) as it defeats the spirit of the event.

Anyhoo, switching cars in Fredericton I got into one of my favorite new vehicles of the year: Honda’s Clarity plug-in.

The Clarity was originally going to be present in New Brunswick with both its powertrains (it is also sold as a hydrogen fuel cell car, but apparently the FC one wasn’t able to make the event).

Clarity is a full-size family car that I will feature pretty soon right here on the world’s finest website; as it delivered some of the best fuel economy I have ever seen. No kidding, I did a week-long test of one recently where it ended up at an incredible 1.9L/100km over 360 kilometers driven.

I really have nothing but praise for the 2018 Clarity.

Here’s my room at a Delta in Moncton. The layout was very similar in other members of the chain we stayed at.

We rolled into Saint John at the end of day one and parked everything at the hotel. As a bit of trivia, all the hotels we stayed at were Delta. What I found interesting was how uniform the room layout was in all three of them. Once you get used to it, everything is exactly where you found it in the previous one, which is pretty handy when I want to locate the TV remote and flip on the Cartoon Network while I fall asleep.

EcoRun: Day Two

Photo by John Walker/AJAC

Most of St. John downtown appeared to be under construction when I rolled out the next morning, resulting in a detour where I almost immediately got lost; but fortunately was driving the Camry Hybrid from Toyota, which had an excellent navigation system.

Good thing it was a short leg to a cool little spot called the Baybreeze restaurant, where we performed another car swap. I didn’t post my best mileage in the Camry, but I want to stress it came in with an overall score of 4.8L/100 km, which beat its NRCan rating.

Mitsubishi’s latest gas-electric utility vehicle was up next – the Outlander PHEV. Once again, this new entry outperformed its FE rating overall, but I bet it could do even better. There’s a lot of tech onboard and a lot of fuel-saving, efficiency-boosting wonders within its electronic presets. Mitsubishi’s rep gave me a bit of a rundown on the basics, but you know, this tiny brain of mine…

I am hoping to get a longer-term test drive in the Outlander plugin (hopefully this summer) and I’ll let you know how it goes.

Photo by John Walker/AJAC

The best possible car to finish up the 2018 EcoRun was the Lexus. I didn’t plan it that way, it just worked out that I got the new LS500h sedan for the final run to our last destination, back in Fredericton.

It goes without saying it is a supremely luxurious auto, and after a couple days of sitting in cars for extended periods, well, give me the one with the massage seats.

The LS500h is also the only car that I beat the rest of the field in, finishing up at 6.9L/100 km, which is just over two litres per hundred better than the NRCan numbers, and even lower than the average posted by AJAC drivers at this years event (which was 8.0)

And with that, the ‘Run came to its end at the Delta Marriott in Fredericton (the nicest of the three we stayed at, imho). Now, while EcoRun isn’t run as a competition, either for the vehicles or the drivers, the group does award the Green Jersey to whomever posts the best overall fuel economy.

Just to show you that anyone can win, I won it last year; but for 2018 the prestigious t-shirt was taken home by Jim Kerr, a real good guy and long-time auto writer (and mechanic, and teacher) from Saskatoon.

But the point that EcoRun is truly making, is that this is a game anyone can win; regardless of what they drive; and with gas prices where they are, it would foolish not to play.

Photo by John Walker/AJAC

You can view the stats of all the models driven here; and once again, I exhort you to visit New Brunswick when you can.