Top-selling plug-in SUV gets major revisions to styling and suspension as Mitsubishi bids to keep its market advantage

Mitsubishi’s Outlander plug-in hybrid has become such a hit in the UK since its introduction two years ago that it currently accounts for a staggering 50 per cent of sales in the EV and PHEV sector, selling even better than in Japan.

It has brought Mitsubishi a prominence it hasn’t had for decades, and the desire to keep this - and underscore its future position as a producer of green SUVs - are drivers for a comprehensive series of Outlander updates for 2016, to both looks and performance.

Major fascia revisions intend to make the cabin ‘more European’, with the interior now simpler, classier and more upmarket than before

The secret of the PHEV’s success so far is that it is currently the market’s only plug-in hybrid SUV, which means it qualifies for the government’s £5000 'encouragement' subsidy to buyers of electric cars, and the importer sells it at the same price as the regular Outlander diesel. Best of all, the PHEV’s fuel economy and CO2 figures mean it attracts a BIK tax rate of just 5 per cent, a very attractive deal.

Even for a 40 per cent tax payer, the tax requirement can be as low as £685 a year. On the move, there’s a further saving in the fact that an owner can charge the PHEV’s batteries either overnight or at fast chargers on motorways, adding a real-world 25 miles of cheap electric travel to the journey each time.

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For this facelift, there’s a new ‘Dynamic Shield’ frontal treatment that’s said to foreshadow a similar look on future Mitsubishi SUVs. It brings LED daytime running lights, a 3D grille, new bumpers and a mildly different tail treatment. The bumpers also add 40mm to the overall length, making the new Outlander look lower and sleeker than before.

Major fascia revisions make the cabin look simpler and classier. There are no changes to interior space, which is generous but not quite class-leading. The seats are comfortable and the fixtures and fittings have a pleasant durability about them.

There are six trim levels to peruse through and an additional two gearing up the Outlander PHEV to be a workhorseThe most basic GX3h equipment list is impressive, with dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors, keyless entry and cruise control, while the GX3-h+ adds heated front seats and the ability to pre-heat the Outlander. The GX4h includes LED headlights, DAB radio, leather seats, a heated steering wheel, a 7in touchscreen infotainment with sat nav and Bluetooth, and a 360deg camera, while the GX4hs adds front and rear parking sensors and additional safety features.

The range-topping GX5h includes a wealth of additional luxuries for the rear passengers including heated seats and twin USB ports, and an Alpine stereo and premium Nappa leather interior, while GX5hs adds all Mitsubishi's mitigation safety features present on the lower spec GX4hs.

As for the GX3h and GX3h+ 4Work Commercial versions, they include cruise control, keyless entry, Bluetooth, rear parking sensors and thick rubber load mats, while the latter comes with the luxury of heated seats and an electric pre-heater.

The Outlander PHEV's powertrain may sound exotic - a conventional 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine works according to a computerised regime with two battery-driven electric motors, one front and one rear - but driving the car is easy.

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For maximum performance, all three power sources work together, and for 2016 the PHEV’s step-off from rest has been improved, a previous point of criticism. The 0-25mph time has been cut by a full two seconds, instantly recognisable in a feeling of liveliness.

The on-board engine management system decides how and when the electric motors should contribute to your progress, or convert themselves into generators to replenish the battery when the car is braking or its battery charge is low.

You can decide, via console switches, when to recharge the batteries, when to use electric drive only and when to ensure all four wheels are driven. At a cruise on the motorway, most of the propulsion comes from the petrol engine, which clutches itself into the drive system instead of being a mere generator, as it is at most other times.

The suspension has been given a comprehensive rethink, with strengthening added to the front and rear subframes, while the spring and damper rates have been recalibrated all round. The result is a flatter, slightly tauter and generally more European ride than before, although the Outlander is still rather noisy over sharp bumps in a way that its best rivals aren’t. However, the steering is excellent - well weighted and communicative - and the chassis grips well in corners, with little body roll.

The Outlander PHEV looks a good proposition, although it’s arguable that a modern diesel could equal and possibly beat its range and fuel consumption.

However, the ownership factors are particularly impressive: it carries a five-year warranty, Mitsubishis have a good reputation for reliability and the tax advantages, especially for company car drivers, are hard to overlook. Given that it’s also a decent drive, it looks a wise buy.

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Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV First drives