Home > Motors

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Review: Racetrack to Two-Track

Plug-in crossovers are just fine on pavement, but Mitsubishi wanted to show they worked on dirt paths too. So, they sent me on a Tennessee tour covering pavement, dirt, grass, and even the racetrack.

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV(Photo/Evan Williams)
Support us! GearJunkie may earn a small commission from affiliate links in this article. Learn More

From a rural cabin with no cell signal to one of the swankiest hotels in Nashville, with a little bit of racetrack and some off-roading in the middle while touring the Tennessee countryside. Mitsubishi wanted to show off the capabilities of its plug-in Outlander, and the company picked a getaway adventure to help do it.

The Outlander is Mitsubishi’s first seriously competitive product in years and maybe even decades. I’ve already driven the PHEV form of the crossover and came away seriously impressed.

This time around, the company’s PR team told us that they wanted to show off two very different sides of the model. The side that uses its rear-biased electric AWD system to get you to places you might not expect and the side with semi-aniline leather and quilted stitching that should impress all but the most jaded hotel valet.

Nashville Getaway

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Cozy cabin, but not cramped; (photo/Evan Williams)

My day one destination from Nashville is Getaway Dale Hollow. Getaway House is a newish chain that takes glamping and then moves it a bit more toward rustic and remote.

There are nearly 30 Getaway House locations, all about 2 hours from a major city. The company describes them all as being much like this location in Dale Hollow, which is about 2 hours northeast of Nashville and tucked right up against the Kentucky border.

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Inside my tiny Getaway; (photo/Evan Williams)

The site is a little over 400 acres and has around 50 cabins well-spaced down a very long driveway. Each cabin is really a small trailer, less than 20 feet long and not much more than an arm’s span wide. Inside the tiny footprint was a comfy bed, table, kitchenette, and bathroom. And, crucially for this northerner against the triple-digit Tennessee heat, one hell of an air conditioner.

Instead of a number, each cabin is named after the grandparent of a staffer. It’s kitsch, but at the same time somehow feels more welcoming.

The Getaway has a few clever details like this, including a hidden Wi-Fi network so you’re not tempted by the allure of “Tap a Network to Select” on your zero-bars smartphone unless you really need the net. The cabin even had a box to hide your phone completely out of sight, but there was a landline in case I needed any assistance.

Fresh Air in a Fume-Filled World

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
(Photo/Evan Williams)

The Outlander showed off the point of its PHEV driveline as I left the airport. In electric mode, I wasn’t contributing to the choking fumes that are the first thing you experience walking out of any busy airport terminal. About 30 miles later (the Outlander PHEV has an official electric range estimate of 38 miles) on Interstate 40, the gas engine kicked on to refill the battery.

Outlander’s PHEV system is a bit of a standout. It doesn’t use a conventional automatic transmission or CVT like most other hybrids. On this one, the gas engine drives a generator which sends power to the battery. That battery supplies power to the front and rear electric motors. The gas engine can drive the wheels directly (there’s no transmission at all) only in some highway situations like interstate cruising.

Because the gas engine’s rpms aren’t related to your road speed, the gas engine is quiet on the highway. Most of the time, at least. It can get noisy on long climbs, but this part of the state is mostly flat. Or at least the hills are gradual so the noise levels were low.

Tennessee Slow Towns, Take It Easy

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
(Photo/Evan Williams)

I passed through sleepy small towns like Hartsville and Lafeyette, where the most active thing around seems to be, well, the group I’m with. The towns keep getting smaller (and quieter) the further we get out of the city, with the last one being the community of Moss.

I’m pretty sure Moss is both the town’s name and its pace on a busy day. If it sounds like I’m being hard on these places, I’m not. Each one I pass through leaves me more relaxed than the one that came before it, exactly the relaxation I needed after a day of flying.

The path from the main road to my cabin is a typical cottage path. I wasn’t looking forward to gravel and potholes with the Outlander’s standard 20-inch wheels, but the soft suspension handled exactly those conditions with grace.

Traction wasn’t a problem on this dry day, but the PHEV has about half a dozen drive modes for its AWD system when rain inevitably turns the ground to slime.

Barbecue Fight?

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
(Photo/Evan Williams)

Getaway Dale Hollow doesn’t have a restaurant onsite, and this isn’t the kind of place where you can order Uber Eats. So, Mitsubishi brought out a food truck. More of a food shack, really. It was a BBQ hut on a trailer, serving up some seriously good brisket and ribs.

Eating turned into a debate about the different styles and ways to cook BBQ, fueled by some of Tennessee’s delightful local spirits. This part of the state is still country, after all, though I wasn’t planning on hauling shine in the back of the Outlander.

Sipping on Uncle Nearest whiskey in some seriously bougie Orca outdoor martini cups — Orca parent Gathr Outdoors partnered with Mitsubishi for the camping part of the event — including camping drinkware and seriously comfortable suspension rocker camp chairs — made the discussion a lot more lively. Though, it didn’t help us settle the debate.

Plug-In on Road & Track

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
(Photo/Evan Williams)

The next morning, recharged by an espresso machine powered by the Outlander PHEV’s rear 1,500W AC plug, I headed to the east and south of Nashville on the way to the Polecat Training Center.

On the way, I crossed the Ring of Fire Trail, Top Secret Trail, and the Jack Trail. These are just a few of the scenic drive routes the state has marked out that take you through key landmarks and to interesting places new and old.

The Jack Trail, to no surprise, takes you by the Jack Daniel distillery in Lynchburg, as well as other museums, memorials, and attractions.

Polecat Training Center is home to a 2.1-mile road course where you can learn how to drive an open-wheel racecar or get out for lapping days on two or four wheels. The track and its instructors also teach law enforcement officials how to drive fast and safely.

Tarmac Drive Mode

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Mitsubishi took us on a couple of laps around the track at speeds faster than I could drive on a public road, but nowhere near the limits of the Outlander. Still, even at slower speeds, a closed course is a great place to learn more about the limits of any vehicle. And to test out how features like the Tarmac drive mode work.

Tarmac, which is rally-talk for pavement and is Mitsubishi’s attempt to remind you about its history at Dakar and in the World Rally Championship, gives you crisper throttle responses.

This drive mode also lets the Super-All Wheel Control system computer send more power to the inside or outside rear wheel as needed to curb understeer or oversteer. It makes the crossover handle better when you’re going quickly

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
(Photo/Evan Williams)

No Mud, Still Lots of Fun

The point of heading to the center was for the off-road trails it offered. The center is only about an hour from Mitsubishi’s U.S. home, so the automaker comes here often. The last time, last December, inches of rain fell just before the off-road driving part of the event.

That gave Mitsubishi a swampy, slippery, muddy mess to work with. It was the perfect place to show off the all-electric all-wheel drive system, and Mitsu encouraged plenty of donuts.

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Outlander PHEVs covered in the Tennesse mud I didn’t get to experience; (photo/Mitsubishi)

This week, there hadn’t been rain in many days. The terrain was dry and dusty to the point of crumbling under my feet (and tires).

That didn’t cancel out the fun, though. Set in Mud mode, the Outlander PHEV softened its pedal responses but because momentum is key in the mud the computer lets you spin the tires. It also lets you get more sideways than the other modes allow before the electronics kick in.

I’m not talking about Tommi Makinen-style Lancer Evo drifts, especially on narrow trails with trees on both sides, but it was clearly ready to let you play more than in the normal mode.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: Not Like Other AWD Systems

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
(Photo/Evan Williams)

Scrambling up steep hills, the Outlander sent power almost instantly to each wheel. The benefit of its twin-motor AWD system is that it can turn one motor up to maximum power while delivering zero power to the other if needed.

Most AWD crossovers don’t do a great job of sending power to the axle with grip. Even worse, because of how axle and center differentials work, you can end up with all of the power going to the tire with the least amount of traction.

Mitsubishis can send up to 134 horsepower and 144 pound-feet of torque to the rear axle (114/188 in the front) while sending zero to the front or the inverse, sending zero to the rear tires and 114 to the front. So as long as there’s some grip to be found, it can deliver much better forward movement. On the move, it can give you a much more tail-out experience if that’s what you want.

The Toyota RAV4 Prime can do a similar trick, but its rear motor is only capable of delivering 53 horsepower and 89 pound-feet to those two tires and that’s not always enough.

Mitsubishi gives you dashboard gauges that show you how much of the split of power each axle is getting. It will also show you side-to-side power distribution changes from the Active Yaw Control system. But if you don’t want to watch the gauges, what matters is that the eco-tire-equipped Outlander scrambled up steep slopes on dirt and long grass without a fuss or even a hint of wheelspin.

Plus with Mitsubishi’s Innovative Pedal, its name for the nearly one-pedal drive mode, you can off-road without the brakes. Most one-pedal modes use only regenerative braking, but Mitsubishi’s will also use the service brakes. So, it wi

ll slow the Outlander to a creep-forward speed when you take your foot off. How quickly it slows down depends on how quickly you take your foot off the accelerator, and there is a hill descent mode for the really steep stuff.

Silent Electric Off-Roading

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
(Photo/Evan Williams)

Thanks to some lunchtime charging, the Outlander PHEV had enough juice to run both the race track and off-road course without firing up the gas engine.

Driving off-road in the PHEV’s silent electric mode is an uncanny feeling. In a gas-engine off-roader, you hear the engine and sometimes the transfer case or center differential. A hard-working engine fan and the sounds of combustion cover the sounds of the outdoors, both when you’re stopped and when you’re moving.

Driving using electric power, I can hear everything. The sounds of the abuses I’m inflicting on dampers, ball joints, and tie-rod ends and the sounds as rocks and even blades of grass brush along the underside of the vehicle.

I’m not worried about anything breaking, this is what all vehicles sound like off-road when the engine is off, plus the battery is protected by a seriously beefy case. It’s just that they’re sounds you’re probably not used to hearing. The sounds of the forest, of birds, animals, and the wind more than make up for the oddity of the experience. Instead, they give me a sensation more like hiking — without taking steps in the unmerciful heat.

Once More Into the City

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

After the off-road experience, it’s back into Nashville for the night. On the way, I had a stop for a short presentation at Mitsubishi’s U.S. head office in Franklin. There, Senior VP of Sales Ken Konieczka said that a third of new Outlander buyers are going for the SEL trim and many are going for even higher-spec models. In the last generation, 75% took the base model.

It’s because of that new higher-grade customer that Mitsubishi took my group to the 1Hotel Nashville. The hotel chain focuses on sustainability, with touches like LEED certification, carbon offsets, and in-room water dispensers to keep people away from plastic bottles. Plus loads of cool eco-friendly luxury touches like cork finishes and recyclable wooden key card are all things that will probably appeal to a fancy PHEV buyer.

Were the valets actually impressed? Since they worked for the hotel and Mitsubishi had booked a big block of rooms for the week, I’ll never really know. I continue to be impressed by the cabin, though, which is much nicer than anything else in this class.

How about a class up? Well, you can’t even get real leather in a three-row Benz GLB, but you can get two different kinds here.

The Most Capable Vehicle Is the One in Your Driveway

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
(Photo/Evan Williams)

What matters is that I was impressed. Mitsubishi set up 2 very long days of driving that saw the Outlander PHEV on dirt and grass as well as pavement. The PHEV got me everywhere, including up steep hills and down two-track trails with electric ease and comfort thanks to very plush seats.

But that brings up a point that Mitsubishi’s communications department kept pushing over the 2 days. They said that the most capable vehicle is the one already in your driveway. And that even mainstream crossovers like this Outlander are capable of a lot more than you probably think, off-road as well as on.

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Review front three-quarter view

2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Review: Great 3-Row Crossover That Happens to Be a Hybrid

The 2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV gets more range and more power. But it's the luxurious new cabin and third row that makes it stand out. Read more…

Subscribe Now

Sign up to receive GearJunkie content direct to your inbox.

Subscribe Now

Sign up to receive GearJunkie content direct to your inbox.