Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Review
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is a plug-in hybrid car that can't fail to impress. It'll get over 32 miles on a full electric charge, which means that many commutes will cost pennies in energy charges. The 42g/km emissions figure also means free London congestion charge and a minuscule benefit in kind tax bill. Here, we look at the facelifted version of this Mitsubishi hybrid car.
We liked the Outlander diesel when we tried it but the PHEV uses very different mechanicals. This plug-in hybrid car features a 2.0-litre petrol engine and a pair of electric motors on each axle, giving all wheel drive and a combined power output in the region of 220bhp. This revised version is more sprightly when you bury the throttle, getting to 25mph from rest a full two seconds quicker than the original version, though Mitsubishi still quote a sprint to 62mph time of 11 seconds, which sounds strangely slow. Driven in full electric mode, you'll feel the huge torque of the motors and be able to cruise at motorway speeds on electric power alone, although not for too far. Refinement is very good, even without the sound of an engine to drown out wind and tyre noise.
There's a very handy feature that you'd want to find in the best hybrid car, where you can request the battery holds a particular level of charge and you can also use the petrol engine as a generator, to drive battery power back up to 70 per cent of its capacity. There's also a sophisticated five-level regenerative braking system that the driver can select using the wheel-mounted paddles or what you'd otherwise take to be the gear lever.
A good deal of development budget has been spent on improving the Outlander's refinement and more sophisticated engine mounts, thicker glass and improved sound insulation materials have all been fitted. The electric power steering has clearly taken a lot of the development budget. The weight distribution for the Outlander PHEV is 55 per cent front and 45 per cent rear, so it's not too far from the diesel model in that regard.
These facelifted models feature a revised look, with 'Dynamic Shield' frontal treatment that includes LED daytime running lights, a 3D grille, restyled bumpers and mildly different tail treatment. The bumpers also add 40mm to the overall length, making this Outlander look a little lower and sleeker than its predecessor. Inside, updates to the cabin make the fascia look simpler and classier but otherwise, things are much as before. You won't think you're in a the Audi version of a top hybrid car, the Q5. But this Outlander hybrid car offers plenty of soft-touch finishes and a clean, architectural fascia design.
Moving back into the second row, there's reasonable space for two adults - or three at a squash, though taller folk may feel the need to recline back the adjustable backrests. There's no seven seat version offered, which probably won't come as a surprise, given the rearwards need to accommodate all those batteries.
On that subject, there's a small increase in the vehicle's weight due to the floor-mounted battery pack, a paltry reduction of 14-litres in boot space and rear legroom is a touch more pinched due to the raised floor height. The 577-litre boot is still more than adequate for most requirements if not in the top 10 hybrid car league, and the luggage bay is well shaped.
As long as you get on with the styling and don't have a pressing need to seat seven people, we've got nothing but good things to say about the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV hybrid car. It's one of those rare vehicles that is massively better than you expect it to be. The calibration of the hybrid powertrain, the options it gives its driver and the sheer depth of engineering that's apparent in the way it's been built all point to a car that deserves all the acclaim it's now getting.
Being first to market improves the chances of success - and so it's proved. Being first with a product so strong that it will have many rivals going back to the drawing board ought to guarantee success - and so it's also proved. Enough to rate it as the best hybrid car? All we'll say is this one deserves a big stage.Click here to find out more about our Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Review range
Volkswagen Golf GTE Review
The Volkswagen Golf GTE hybrid car promises some faintly absurd-looking efficiency measures, emitting 35g/km of CO2 and managing 188mpg on the NEDC fuel economy tests. Of course, in the real world, this plug-in hybrid probably won't make anywhere near those numbers, but with 204PS on tap, it's got the muscle to back up the now improved sporty styling and be counted as one of the best small hybrid cars on the market..
The GTE is powered by a combination of a 150PS 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine and a 102PS electric motor. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean you get 252PS. When used together, they nevertheless deliver a useful 204PS - and the torque figure of 350NM can't be sniffed at. When both power units are running in parallel, the GTE hybrid car will accelerate to 62mph in a crisp 7.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 138mph. It can even hit 81mph using electric power alone.
Naturally, the GTE's battery packs put it at a weight disadvantage compared to a GTI. The extra 120kg of lithium-ion batteries and the 80kg of electric motor lift weight to 1,520kg but the additional bulk is mounted very low in the vehicle which means that the GTE will feel planted and well-resolved in a corner. Mind you, this is a front wheel drive car, so deploying all 350Nm of torque when accelerating out of a tight corner is going to induce a little torque steer. The GTE uses a six-speed DSG gearbox with a triple-clutch system specially developed for hybrid cars.
A big part of this hybrid car's appeal is that it doesn't look that different to a GTI. Visually, the Golf GTE combines elements of the look of the e-Golf and the GTI and of course it shares the aesthetic updates recently made to that car. The front bumper features C-shaped LED daytime running lights, like those on the e-Golf, as well as aerodynamic horizontal fins, like those on the GTI. Where the GTI features red, the GTE has blue accents, including across the radiator grille and into the headlights. The headlights, along with all lights on the GTE, are LED. In the UK, 18-inch 'Serron' alloy wheels are fitted as standard and the car is sold in the five-door body style only.
Inside this hybrid car, as on the outside, the Golf GTE features blue highlights where the GTI has red. This includes stitching on the steering wheel, gear lever gaiter and seats, plus a blue stripe in the tartan pattern on the sports seats. You still get the flat-bottomed steering wheel with its circular hub and deep dish with audio, telephone and cruise control buttons mounted on two of its three spokes. There's also a set of drilled pedals and a big alloy foot rest. The vehicle speedometer and tachometer are familiar and the latter is supplemented by a power meter in the central display, which shows the status of the battery, whether or not power is being used and the intensity of any regeneration and real boon for hybrid car drivers.
With a petrol GTI and a diesel GTD in the range, it would appear that Volkswagen has covered its bases reasonably comprehensively when it comes to quick Golfs. Is there adequate breathing space for this plug-in hybrid GTE? Yes. And, if the pricing can be kept sensible, then the GTE should be able to carve a niche for itself in the best hybrid car segment. It does offer the torquey muscularity of the diesel with the smoothness of the petrol, all well and good. We'll have to crunch some real world numbers to bring you the definitive gen on actual running costs but the initial signs look extremely promising.
The GTE offers the tantalising prospect of a Golf Mk 7 that's quick and fun to drive with the running costs you'd normally associate with a stunted citycar. If ever you needed evidence of technology as an enabling factor in vehicle development, you couldn't do a lot better than this.Click here to find out more about our Volkswagen Golf GTE Review range
Toyota Prius Review
Toyota has changed things again with its fourth generation Prius. Not content with the extraordinary success of this pioneering top hybrid car to date, the Japanese brand has ripped up its own rule book and redesigned the entire platform on which this small hybrid car sits, underpinnings that'll also be used for many of its future products. This MK4 model Prius is the first model to feature the revised architecture, benefiting from improvements in space, safety and handling.
Hybrid cars are known to be much heavier than traditionally fuelled cars because of the big pile of battery-cells that provide the electric power. What is crucial to handling though, is where the extra weight is positioned. Toyota's modular architecture allows the centre of gravity to be lower and closer to the middle of the Prius, which translates into a better balanced ride for passengers but not a hybrid car you would ever describe as 'sporty'. It takes a fraction longer to get going than the model it replaced, reaching 62mph in 10.6 seconds, but the emphasis is now on making this one of the best hybrid cars that business users want, so a comfortable, economical ride takes precedence over speed.
That being said, efforts have been made to make the Prius a more pleasant hybrid car to drive. The nickel-metal hydride battery pack gets the electric motor turning first and only when the Prius starts to pick up speed does an updated version of the familiar 1.8-litre petrol engine from previous models fire up and seamlessly take over. The engine can be switched off if you need to run entirely on batteries, say, through Central London's Ultra Low Emissions zone. If you can afford more, a Plug-in model is being offered that can go up to 39 miles on electric power alone.
It will certainly stand out in Central London. The new styling is bold with more than a flavour of Toyota's hydrogen Mirai model, particularly towards the rear end. Like previous versions of this top hybrid car, the Prius' design won't be everyone's cup of cocoa but, apparently, form follows fuel-efficiency. The body is said to scythe through the air with very little resistance and while the blacked-out rear pillar might play tricks on the eyes, the hump-backed shape that has become something of a Prius silhouette remains. The side profile suggests more of a saloon than a hatchback, but the flat surface on the rear acts as a spoiler that helps create the 'sudden drop' common in low-drag designs.
Inside, the cabin has been refreshed but continues with the theme of mounting all the useful displays and information in the centre of the cockpit rather than putting the dials directly in front of the driver. Instead of an instrument binnacle behind the steering wheel, the speed and other info is shown on an upper information display mounted just below the front windscreen. This gives a much greater sense of space inside the cabin than most of the top 10 hybrid car rivals. While the wheelbase remains the same as the previous generation, the longer body and repositioned battery pack lend themselves to improved luggage space. The boot is over 500-litres in size and if extra space is needed, the rear seats can split 60/40 and fold down. This might not be quite as impressive a space as you'd get from, say, a comparably-priced Ford Mondeo Hybrid but, given the compromises that petrol/electric cars have to make in the pursuit of fuel-efficiency, it represents a significant improvement on the previous model, by almost 60-litres, what you want in a top hybrid car.
As eco-competitors like Vauxhall Ampera and Honda's Insight have come and gone in the hybrid car segment, Toyota's Prius has retained its appeal amongst family buyers wanting to make an environmental statement - and sharpens those credentials in this much improved fourth generation guise. It still faces challenges from a raft of other hybrid cars and plug-in hybrids, as well as top electric cars and highly efficient diesel powered cars but arguably, the only ones that really come close to the quality and refinement of this MK4 model Prius are the other hybrids in the Toyota and Lexus ranges.
This car's use of the company's new modular 'Global Architecture' has enabled it to set a fresh benchmark for high-quality, low-cost family hybrid car motoring. Lower, wider and longer than previous generations, the design now features improved handling and space - though there's a price to pay for that. The business customers that Toyota is increasingly seeking here should be receptive to this though, and better-heeled family buyers will want to try one too. As ever, it seems, when it comes to being there as one of the best hybrid cars, there still is nothing quite like a Prius.Click here to find out more about our Toyota Prius Review range