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Sales of alternative fuel vehicles (AFV) are booming at the moment. Figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show that during the first half of 2015, demand for AFVs surged 70 per cent over the same period last year.

That increase is led mostly by demand for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV). And this, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, is the best-selling.

Why so popular? Market conditions, essentially. SUVs are replacing ‘traditional’ hatchbacks and estates as the family car of choice, and the Outlander is the only sensibly priced, family size plug-in hybrid SUV available.

But does being the default choice make it a good choice? Not necessarily. You see, the Outlander has been around in one form another since 2006 and it really is starting to feel its age. The styling is very upright and boxy, inside and out; a Nissan X-Trail is much more interesting to look at and sit in.

It doesn’t feel like a quality item, either. The plastics are scratchy and the doors shut with a clang, not a clunk. There is a huge amount of space, though, and it is the only car I’ve ever come across with a slot for the keyless start fob.

It’s also worth pointing out the Outlander is the only plug-in with useable towing capacity, rated at 1,500kg.

To drive, the Outlander is almost completely numb. Very easy to operate once you get used to the kirks of the hybrid system, and mostly perfectly comfortable. The damping feels unresolved on occasion, for instance coming off large speed humps (there are millions where I live), when the suspension comes down with an audible bang, the shock transmitted through the chassis.

That chassis serves up plenty of grip but little feel. It’s not a car that encourages keen driving, but given the genteel demeanour that’s no big deal. The four-wheel-drive mode (the engine powers the fronts, electric motors at both ends) turns the Outlander into a surprisingly effective off-roader.

The drivetrain is an equally mixed big. The hybrid system is very well integrated and offers a multitude of driving modes. I concluded almost immediately the best configuration was to set the battery to charge, the system constantly feeding power back to it. To assist, I set maximum braking energy regeneration, which produces a pronounced braking effect from even the smallest lift off the throttle, putting energy back into the battery. And you can amuse yourself trying to use the foot brake as little as possible. Then you leave the computers to work out how best to shuttle the resources around.

Out on the open road, those settings produce a quite serene drive. The 2.0-litre petrol engine cuts in and out imperceptibly and there is plenty of performance regardless of which power source is providing propulsion. It is very effective at generating charge while on the move. A drive of 40 or 50 miles across country should generate enough to power to get through the next town on electric power alone. Mitsubishi claims an electric-only range of around 40 miles and that seems plausible.

That ‘cross country’ caveat is important. If you need to charge the batteries on the move, it only really works on A and B roads, with lots of speed variation and braking zones. Town and motorway driving doesn’t generally involve enough braking for the regen to work, and setting the system to charge just puts extra drag on the engine.

And that engine is the weak link. Working alone, it is just a relatively low-powered motor working hard to drag nearly two tons along. Consequently, fuel consumption on petrol power alone rarely betters 25mpg.

A neighbour of ours at OM Towers actually owns an Outlander PHEV (I think it replaced a Chrysler Voyager). He needs the space, rarely travels long distances, has a short commute and can plug it in at home or work.

If your circumstances match his, then there is a solid case for the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. If there were any competition, its age and lacklustre driving experience would count against. But at the moment it’s the only option.

Deciding which car to buy is a process of matching a car’s abilities against your specific needs. If you are interested in the Outlander PHEV, that process needs thinking through very carefully.

Mitsubishi Outlander 2.0 PHEV GX4H

Price: £32,954 (after £5,000 government grant)

Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder petrol; two electric motors

Power/Toque: 201bhp (combined); 140lb/ft (engine

Economy/Emissions: 148.7mpg; 44g/km

0-62mph: 11.0 seconds

Top speed: 106mph

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By Only Motors

On Test: Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Performance63%
Handling & Ride57%
Design42%
Space & Safety87%
Value for Money56%
Gadgets72%
The Positives
  • Effective hybrid system
  • Easy to drive
  • Masses of space
The Negatives
  • Thirsty petrol engine
  • Numb handling
  • Feels very old
63%Overall Score
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