This month in our Hands-On-Tech (HOT) reporting series*, we put the 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV’s system to the test. Taking you through the top-spec connectivity features offered by manufacturers in detail, this HOT report series looks to benchmark the connectivity functionality of each manufacturer based on various test criteria. Its hybridised powertrain has put the Outlander PHEV some five years ahead of its peers, yet elements of the in-cabin connectivity—awkwardly called Smartphone Link Display Audio (no acronym)—feel like a throwback to the eighties, much like its name. 

There’s an undeniable simplicity to the Outlander PHEV display screen, but unlike the Ford system, the Smartphone Link Display Audio fails to maintain the same modern elegance, with primary colours set against a very dark background. 

Mitsubishi has colour-coded the icons depending on whether they serve the radio, telephony, alternative audio sources or electric charging-related features. The square design of the icons is clearly heavily influenced by Apple, though the integration of CarPlay—incorporating the CarPlay button alongside Mitsubishi’s own icons highlights just how dated the design is.

The capacitive screen doesn’t respond well to leather or wool gloved fingers. Swipe is a little laggy but not overly so. As there isn’t any sat-nav provision on this trim level, there’s no need for pinch and zoom.

The menu options aren’t a particularly intuitive group of choices, for example, allowing the driver to choose between turning the auto headlights on and off digitally (though you can do this on the indicator stick). Combined with neon purple illuminated graphics, it’s all a bit mid-80s Prince. This is not the only feature that has multiple choices. The air-con can also be managed in a number of ways; physically, digitally and timed. A strange selection of features function this way and these particular options have an ‘explanation’ button by them—helpful for usability, possibly the only positive thing to say about this nesting design. Frankly, the tabs along the top and scroll arrows make the display look incredibly busy, thus creating a need for such ‘explanation’ buttons. 

The Outlander PHEV’s Alpine premium upgrade offers an impressive audio experience. However, the level configuration options are incredibly basic. We’re talking Casio Keyboard presets; ‘rock, hip hop, jazz, normal, pop’.  The settings allow very little personalised configuration, though whether you want the artwork displayed seemed to be high on the list of priorities—this is probably due to the fact Gracenote, the software that produces this effect, is a licensed product. Plus, it looks pretty. It doesn’t, however, make the Outlander’s general display appearance look any less dated. 

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The Outlander’s volume control is soft touch + and – keys to the right of the display screen and a rocker switch on the steering wheel. It’s not the best design we’ve seen, but it is in-keeping with Mitsubishi’s very flat fascia design—nothing is prominent. 

One thing that did strike us about the switchgear was the amount of centre console real-estate given to the warning button, eco mode toggle and door-open indicator. Though it seems excessive from a design perspective, it doesn’t impede any of the other functions.

Electric charging and companion app
The 7kWh port charges in roughly four hours giving enough charge to cover 33 miles, or 24 miles in AWD mode. The PHEV element of the Outlander means the petrol engine will only kick in when the battery is lacking enough power to deliver what the driver requests. The Mitsubishi tech from this perspective is truly excellent. 

The connectivity features allow the driver to monitor the short- and long-term charging history and evaluate it against the cost of the electricity to charge in four different currencies. 

Mitsubishi has configured the Outlander’s system so that the climate control and the charging can be managed on a timed basis, remotely from the second iteration of the Mitsubishi Outlander companion app. The app advises that it will shorten the pre-conditioning if the drive battery is low and states that the remote climate control should not be used when parked to keep pets cool, unlike the Tesla Model S system. 

The remote was pretty frustrating to set up, however, since there is a convoluted way of engaging vehicle with the phone. Seven attempts later, rather aggressively pulling USB cables out to start all over again multiple times, we fumed with irritation, but eventually managed to connect, noting the registration can only happen when the system is not connected to anything else. 

There is a charge mode and a save mode to better manage the battery power. If there is a concern that there is not enough juice in the battery (for acceleration up a hill, for example), the engine can be switched on manually to generate more power. This is a neat touch, needless to say wholly necessary, yet the function works very smoothly. 

Voice Control and telephony
The voice control in the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV sounds very robotic and it’s not a particularly natural system to use. However, you can set up voice tags for your favourite contacts, making it easier to contact them. 

With some 16-20 preprogrammed instructions, we scored the voice control on the Mitsubishi Outlander one out of five for natural use, where there was very little or no understanding unless the programmed commands were used. However, when those commands were used, the system deserved four out of five for accuracy. 

The voice control worked particularly smoothly when making a call. The import of the contacts on the telephony feature was simple and straightforward, scoring four out of five for both ease-of-use and clarity of call. 

Though the app eventually connects via Wifi to the system for remote control functions and a handset will connect without issue to the Bluetooth for telephony and media use, there is very little provision for connectivity outside of a tethered connection with the handset that then launches the Auto or CarPlay mirroring apps. 

Surprisingly, there was no proprietary navigation system in the Outlander PHEV. The system relied solely on smartphone integration. In other trim levels, a navigation option is available but has no pinch and zoom, suggesting Mitsubishi is looking to phase this out. Given this vehicle has electric capabilities, it would have been useful to integrate the Zap-map app, a tool which shows EV charging points, including provider, cost and availability in real-time. 

In terms of ADAS features, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has adaptive cruise control, which adapted smoothly and caused no concern. Coupled with the usual sensors—blind spot detection, rear cross traffic detection, lane depart warning and lane keep assist, the Outlander’s “multi-around” monitor offers a very clear 360-degree parking camera, with a split screen to show a birds-eye view and a graphic to show what distances the sensors are detecting. 

On the basis of the powertrain alone, it’s hard to knock the Outlander PHEV, but we’re not here to assess its driving performance. When it comes to in-cabin connectivity and advanced driver systems, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV offers something of a mixed bag. There’s heavy reliance on Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on the higher spec trims and this ensures some pace is kept with an ever-shifting tech world. Integrating reliable sensors and the multi-around monitor are also plus points. However, Mitsubishi would be better placed to make the design elements and nesting of the proprietary system as minimal as possible—sorry folks, but this might mean putting away the crayons. 

*This article is an extract from a report that first appeared in our QUBE service. The QUBE article is accompanied by a comprehensive data sheet with our full evaluation of the Mitsubishi’s connectivity and HMI. 

Other summary articles published on just-auto in the ‘Hands-On Tech’ series