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Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid review: Is it as capable off-road as it is on?

Mitsubishi Outlander in snowy conditions
Mitsubishi Outlander in snowy conditions Nate Swanner / DTMG

The Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid is surprisingly good. So good it makes up most of Mitsubishi’s sales in North America. Mitsubishi also feels it’s good enough to be your daily driver, no matter what conditions you encounter.

So, we encountered some approachably tricky conditions with the Outlander Plug-in Hybrid. On two recent drives, we took the Outlander into the hills of Tennessee on a muggy Fall day and into the mountains during a mild winter in the Pacific Northwest. We test-drove the Mitsubishi Outlander SEL Premium.

We wanted to see:

  • If the Outlander was as capable offroad as it is on-road
  • If its traction control systems balked when used under challenging settings
  • If we were left hesitant to replicate our driving situations
Mitsubishi Outlander in the hills of Tennessee
Mitsubishi Outlander in the hills of Tennessee Nate Swanner / DTMG

What we like about the Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid

  • The Outlander is stylish. If you’re buying an SUV for daily driving scenarios, it should be cool, right? The Mitsubishi Outlander looks sharp, and its interior is well-equipped and stylish, too.
  • The Super All-Wheel Control (AWC) system is great. AWC monitors things like acceleration and wheel slippage to enhance the all-wheel drive (AWD) system, and it’s great. You can feel that it’s simply more engaged and active than a traditional AWD system, which often slips or “fails” before correcting.
  • It has smooth driving dynamics. Not the sportiest SUV we’ve ever tested, the Mitsubishi Outlander is a great drive. Smooth, capable, and assured on the road, it’s equally adept when things get treacherous.
  • It’s stylish – but still rugged. I wouldn’t take the Outlander on a rally race in the desert, but it’s capable of handling the situations you might actually find yourself in. I’d happily take the Outlander on a camping excursion that required some traversing into the deep woods.
  • Drive modes are performant and don’t alter driving dynamics. Slip it into “snow” mode, and the Outlander feels no different. Some vehicle modes on other SUVs we’ve tested can’t say this; in those moments, it feels like a different car altogether.
  • Hill descent control is surprisingly good. Mitsubishi has an excellent hill descent control system. We found it limited speed better than other vehicles we’ve tested in similar scenarios, which is comforting in a stressful situation.

What to consider before buying a Mitsubishi Outlander

  • Has a lower MPGe than the competition. The Outlander Plug-in Hybrid MPGe is right around 64 MPGe. Competing PHEV vehicles in this class often start around 80 MPGe.
  • Noticeable “whine” from the electric motor. This is common for plug-in hybrids, but the Outlander Plug-in Hybrid electric engine noise is too noticeable. Luckily, you get used to it over time.

Should you buy a Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid?

We think that for $50,000, the Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid is a great option if you’re looking for an SUV – and most are these days. It’s capable off-road, performs in winter on-road conditions, and never gives us pause. We encountered icy roads, rough backroad trails, and snowy gravel paths. Driving normally (because why try to make a vehicle fail?), there were no issues with the two Outlander SEL models we drove.

Our review wasn’t meant to test how the Outlander Plug-in Hybrid drives day-to-day. Honestly, it’s a great daily driver, but there’s nothing sensational about Outlander as a daily driver that warrants us discussing it in this article. It’s a rock-solid performer in everyday situations, but you’ll figure that out on your own when you test-drive it.

Those moments where you have to go off-road or encounter sketchy road conditions matter more than we realize, and the Outlander is fantastic in those situations. A good SUV can handle unique driving situations well; a great SUV handles them with aplomb. 

The Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid handles varied driving conditions with aplomb. 

Editors' Recommendations

Nate Swanner
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Nate is General Manager for all not-Digital-Trends properties at DTMG, including The Manual, Digital Trends en Espanol…
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“It’s not your car.”
Those words ring in my ear as I prepare to do a reverse-180 in a MINI. When you hear words like those, it’s usually an admonishment. This time, a MINI stunt school instructor is reminding me to stop giving a damn about the car and just go for it.
It’s not my car. It’s not my concern. At the end of this, I will walk away and go learn how to drive a manual transmission (again). Hopefully.
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We were all told to do unnatural things, but the instructors were patient. While doing frontside-180s, I tapped the foot brake, and the instructor admonished me over the radio. It does make you want to yell, “Calm down, this is all new to me, and it’s scary!” But you roll with it. (Slide with it? I digress.)
Stunt driving school had three components: a front-side-180, a backside-180, and a course designed to incorporate both disciplines with a new skill at the end: sliding into a parking spot at a 90-degree angle.
The frontside-180 was a brilliant, simple way to start the course. You get the car to about 25 miles per hour, and when you enter a cone “maze” you yank on the parking brake and jerk the wheel 180 degrees right-to-left. The trick is that once the front bumper hits the first cone in the entry, your hands go to work. The tricky part is leaving your feet out of it. I kept hitting the foot brake. It was a force of habit — and what I was admonished for.
It was here I learned that you can mentally prepare for g-force, but your body will do what it does when experiencing it. I wasn’t actively thinking about hitting the foot brake. My body reacted. In that scenario, my impulse was to hit the foot brake as that’s “normal” driving safety. Being embarrassed over the radio did allow me a little mind-over-matter for the rest of the event, though.
Second, we did a reverse-180. The aim was simple: mash the accelerator while in reverse and yank the parking brake and wheel 180 degrees (left-to-right this time), then stabilize the wheel once you’re facing the opposite direction at the end of the slide. Slip it into drive, and drive off.
I had more success here. I’d venture because I stopped caring about the car. While waiting in line for this stunt, the instructor looked me in the eye and said, “It’s not your car; just go for it.” So I did.

Once lined up and cleared for reverse entry, I stomped on the accelerator. Once I saw two marker cones in my peripheral vision and the car was whining while in reverse gear, I yanked the brake and pushed the wheel 180 degrees to the passenger side. As a lefty, this was unnatural, but I succeeded. Everyone in the class was nervous about this stunt — reverse is not a “speed” gear, after all — but it wasn’t as difficult as it seemed.
As the front side of the vehicle was less engaged in a reverse-180, my classmates and I began challenging ourselves to see who could get the car on three wheels. A MINI is too low to the ground to worry about rolling over, but we were pretty sure we could get at least one wheel off the ground. (Spoiler: Most of us did.)
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This was a bit of a test on how fast you could think your way through new tests, too. We hadn’t faced the cone maze yet, or been asked to drive aggressively through any obstacles. And we had no in-car experience with sliding into a parking space.
Plus, I had to focus on the stunt at hand, then immediately jettison that knowledge and focus on what was next. When doing one-off tricks, you have time to talk it out with classmates and think about how you will do it on your next run (you get quite a few tries at each stunt). In the final test, we each had to do the stunt, focus on what was next, and try to get the best time.
We got a few runs here, too. Sliding into the spot is more complicated than it seems and requires a 90-degree wheel turn while pulling the parking brake. Simple enough, sure, but a new skill and uniquely odd when you’ve been turning the wheel 180 degrees all day. After two 180-degree stunts, a 90-degree slide is a clever way to measure how much control you have of the car and yourself.
It was rewarding to nail the final, too. I hit all my stunts and no cones, then nailed the last 90-degree slide. And when you attend stunt driving school, know your daydreams about The Italian Job or your invented cool-guy-spy-movie-scenarios are normal. You feel like James Bond because you’re driving like James Bond.
He had an Aston Martin, of course. I had a MINI. But you know, a MINI is just a lot more fun than any other car out there and is the perfect vehicle for this misadventure of mine. I’ve never wanted to take a used car home more than after MINI stunt driving school.
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