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2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: Better than Toyota RAV4 Prime? [First Drive]

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When I announced I would be driving the 2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV on social media, I was immediately beset with a singular question: Is it better than the Toyota RAV4 Prime.

The answer: No. And yes.

Let’s be clear: I really like the 2023 Outlander PHEV. Mitsubishi did an amazing job with the technology and interior appointments. And any day you get to go play in mud to see how the S-AWC keeps you from getting stuck is a good day.

But, strictly speaking, in terms of fuel efficiency, the RAV4 Prime is a better plug-in hybrid. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot of good things on the Outlander PHEV that make it worth considering over the RAV4 Prime.

All-electric range

All-electric range and fuel efficiency aren’t those things. Don’t get me wrong, the 2023 Outlander PHEV is no slouch with an all-electric range of 38 miles. That’s more than enough range for me – and most people – to do daily driving. Then it has the added punch of a larger fuel tank, which brings total range to 420 miles with a full charge and a single tank of gas.

However, electric range and fuel efficiency do lag behind the Toyota plug-in. The Outlander PHEV gets 64 MPGe with the PHEV powertrain, but the gas-only fuel economy is a meager 26 MPG. In addition to 42 miles of electric range, the RAV4 Prime has 94 MPGe and 38 MPG.

On numbers alone, that might send you to the RAV4 Prime waiting list without passing Go. But I’m going to tell you to collect that $200 and continue reading. It’s not that simple.

How the Outlander PHEV wins the range war

There are a few features the 2023 Outlander PHEV has the RAV4 Prime does not. First, Outlander offers near one-pedal driving with selectable braking regeneration ranging from zero all the way up to five – in addition to the innovative pedal button, which (for lack of a better phrase) cranks it up to 11.

RAV4 Prime doesn’t have that option.

Then there’s the EV button, which is so much more than just forcing the vehicle into EV mode. It allows you to select the engine/motor functions. So, in addition to the EV mode and a normal mode that lets the vehicle prioritize what it thinks is most efficient, there is also a “charge” and “save” option. This will allow you to charge the vehicle while sitting at idle or driving, and then you can choose to save the charge for city driving or stop-and-go traffic.

I played around with the charge function a bit on our day-long drive, and I found that you could get a decent amount of charge on the highway within minutes. In other PHEVs that have this feature, it takes hours.

Finally, and this is kind of chin scratcher, the Outlander PHEV offers both regular 240-volt charging (think at-home Level 2 charging) and DC Fast charge via the CHAdeMO network. The idea of fast-charge capability on a PHEV is a bit weird, and then when you combine with CHAdeMO, which is not the U.S. standard, and, well, hmmm. But you have to keep in mind, the Outlander PHEV is big in Japan, and CHAdeMO is the charging standard there. And while these chargers are dwindling in the U.S., they’re still available because Nissan Leaf.

So, if you don’t mind spending a couple dollars and CHAdeMO is convenient to you (Electrify America stations usually have at least one CHAdeMO charger), you could probably stay in EV mode a lot longer than the RAV4 Prime, and therefore get much better fuel economy in the long run.

2023 Outlander PHEV

Power

This one is more clear-cut. The RAV4 Prime delivers a combined output of 302 horsepower, and it has the distinction of being the fastest four-door vehicle in the Toyota lineup. In fact, I’d say the off-the-line start and passing maneuvers in this SUV are downright gleeful with the instantaneous torque and light-weight feel of the vehicle.

In contrast, the 2023 Outlander PHEV feels a bit sluggish and heavy. I kept the vehicle in “Eco” mode most of the drive, and punching the accelerator was like pressing my foot into mud with an acceleration to match. “Power” and “Tarmac” modes provided a little more acceleration enjoyment, but they were still no match for the zippy RAV4 Prime.

A point in the Outlander PHEV’s favor, however, is in the ride-and-handling arena. The Mitsubishi SUV feels more planted, and a couple laps on a rain-sodden track in Tennessee weren’t quite gleeful, but they were most definitely fun. While we didn’t get up much past 50 MPH, that was plenty fast to see the vehicle didn’t feel tippy and or have a lot of aggressive body roll.

Tech stuff in 2023 Outlander PHEV

One of the benefits of having a completely new model in 2023 is taking advantage of the latest and greatest technology. The Outlander PHEV comes with bright digital screens, wireless Apple CarPlay, available massaging front seats, seven drive modes, three-zone automatic climate control, USB-C and USB-A ports, a 1500-watt AC outlet in the trunk, reverse automatic braking and a Bose premium audio system.

The RAV4 Prime, which came out in 2020 as a 2021 model, seems dated in comparison. The biggest thing I’m missing here: the new infotainment system that has been rolling out in other Toyota vehicles such as the Tundra full-size truck and Crown lifted sedan.

A question of reliability

In addition to the RAV4 Prime vs Outlander PHEV question on social media, I also saw a number of comments questioning the reliability Mitsubishi in general and the Outlander PHEV specifically. So, I figured this was worth a quick mention.

Though the PHEV model hasn’t been ranked by the Consumer Reports, the gas Outlander gets a higher predictive reliability score than the RAV4. When we dig into consumer complaints and recalls, we can see the Outlander PHEV gets very few dings. There is one (yes 1) complaint on the 2020 model, and there hasn’t been a recall on the plug-in model since 2019 – and those recalls were innocuous.

So, if you’re worried about reliability of this vehicle, don’t. It’s no less reliable than the RAV4 Prime, which has had three recalls in the last two years.

2023 Outlander PHEV

And then there’s a third row

The petite third row on the 2023 Outlander PHEV is almost laughable when you first look at it. Popped up out of the rear cargo floor, it presses up against the second row with an inch of space in front of the seat bottom. Not even a small child could fit back there without sitting in a pretzel pose.

But with some negotiation skills, you can talk the second-row passengers into sliding their seats forward to give decent if not generous knee room to the third row. This will be a delicate balance because if you slide the seat forward too much, the second-row passenger has no legroom. But it is possible to accommodate seven passengers with a little compromise.

The bottom line on the 2023 Outlander PHEV

Is the 2023 Outlander PHEV a hands-down winner in the Mitsubishi vs. Toyota competition? No. Is it a worthy competitor? Heck yes.

One person asked me if it would be worth buying an Outlander PHEV instead of waiting (and waiting … and waiting …) for a RAV4 Prime, and I’ll give an unequivocal yes. In addition to an excellent warranty, attractive interior styling, well-done fit and finish and up-level tech, the 2023 Outlander PHEV has decent ride and handling. And if you actually treat it like a PHEV and, you know, plug it in every night, real fuel economy will only come into play for extended road trips, not the daily drive.

The 2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV went on sale in November 2022. The base price is $41,190, which (for the record) is $445 less than the RAV4 Prime.

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Jill Ciminillo

Jill Ciminillo is the Managing Editor for Pickup Truck + SUV Talk as well as a Chicago-based automotive writer, YouTube personality and podcast host, with her articles and videos appearing in outlets throughout the U.S. Additionally, she co-hosts a weekly radio show on car stuff for a local Chicago station. Previously, Jill has been the automotive editor for both newspaper and broadcast media conglomerates. She is also a past president for the Midwest Automotive Media Association and has the distinction of being the first female president for that organization. Jill is also currently a juror for the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year (NACTOY).

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1 Comment

  1. Andrew May December 15, 2022

    I am curious about the impact of the.heat pump with the Outlander on winter performance especially when heat snd defrost.needed.

    Reply

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