Finding a van that directly rivals Mitsubishi's Outlander PHEV 4Work is impossible. There isn't one.
PHEV stands for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle and Outlander is the only light commercial to have this technology factory-fitted on sale today in the UK.
Using the same platform as the diesel Outlander and sharing its 4x4 capability, the PHEV features a 2.0-litre petrol engine plus a traction battery that drives two permanent-magnet synchronous electric motors; one at the front of the vehicle, and one at the back.
Rely solely on the lithium-ion battery mounted under the load floor and you will enjoy a range of approximately 32.5 miles says Mitsubishi. When the amount of charge in the battery starts to fall significantly or when more power is needed the engine cuts in and in effect acts as a generator, supplying juice to the electric motors.
At motorway speeds the engine does most of the work with the motors jumping in to provide a bit more boost if the driver is overtaking or climbing a steep hill. Electric motors deliver maximum torque instantly.
The battery can be switched to charge mode which allows electricity to be generated by the engine and stored in the traction battery either when stationary or on the move. Save mode maintains the level of charge in the battery while you are driving.
Regeneration when you brake puts some charge back into the battery, but to return it to full strength you will need to plug your vehicle into a charging point.
By using battery power as much as possible with the engine only kicking in occasionally you will produce minimal emissions and enjoy extraordinarily-low fuel consumption; especially if you hit the ECO button on the dashboard.
Mitsubishi quotes an astonishing official figure of 148mpg on the combined cycle with CO2 emissions set at 44g/km.
While that might be achievable under certain tightly-defined circumstances, in practice most van drivers are likely to return a lot less than that. We achieved closer to an average 49mpg lightly-laden on a mixed route that included a lot of pottering around trading estates as well as extended motorway runs.
The Twin Motor 4WD system uses the front motor and/or engine to deliver power to the front wheels and the rear motor to deliver power to the back wheels. Go for Normal Mode if you are, say, going down an icy country lane and need a bit more grip but switch to Lock Mode if you are crossing a muddy, deeply-rutted paddock.
In our view the closest competitors to the PHEV 4Work are battery-only vans such as Nissan's e-NV200 and Renault's Kangoo Van Z.E.
Admittedly the lack of an engine means that they suffer from range limitations. On the other hand it means that under no circumstances will they pump out CO2 or pollutants.
All three vehicles have one thing in common however. They qualify for a Plug-in Van Grant from the government's Office for Low Emission Vehicles which cuts the cost of buying one by 20% up to a maximum £8,000.
In the case of our test vehicle this means a grant of £6,904.80 based on a list price of £34,524 including VAT.
Purchasers can also claim a 100% first-year capital allowance and exemption from the London Congestion Charge. However while the battery vans are zero-rated so far as Vehicle Excise Duty is concerned, the PHEV attracts a flat commercial vehicle VED rate of £225.
Overlander is also marketed with a straightforward 147hp 2.3-litre diesel engine.
Access to the 1.6m3 load area is by means of a side-hinged door on both the offside and nearside and through a rear hatch with a wash/wipe system and a heated window. Our test vehicle sported a metal grille on the inside of the glass to frustrate thieves.
Both the hinged doors are opaque and the cargo bay's sides are well-protected from minor scratches and scrapes by plastic mouldings and carpet.
A lip at the cab end of the solidly-constructed, purpose-built cargo floor will hopefully go some way towards preventing unsecured goods from sliding forwards and hitting the driver and passenger.
Not that there is a lot to secure them to. A legacy of the car the Outlander van is based on, four tie-down points are provided but are better suited to keeping a luggage net in place rather than anything substantial.
The load tray's thick, tailored anti-slip rubber mat should help stop some items shifting too far, but we would rather see some hefty tie-down rings installed; and a bulkhead.
Good to see that there is a hidden compartment under the load bed which can be used to conceal power tools and other items you would not want to lose. You can access it by opening either one of the side doors.
Both Kangoo Van Z.E and e-NV200 are more convincing cargo carriers than Outlander PHEV assuming you can live with their range limitations. They boast more space - 3.0m3 and 4.2m3 respectively compared with a modest 1.6cu m - and a higher gross payload.
The Renault can handle 650kg while the Nissan can cope with a touch over 700kg compared with just 500kg for the Mitsubishi (the diesel Overlander can shift 705kg).
They offer a significantly lower loading height too, with e-NV200's set at around 520mm and the Z.E's at 609mm. Outlander PHEV's is a somewhat steeper 740mm thanks to the 190mm of ground clearance provided to aid the effectiveness of its four-wheel-drive system.
Cab and equipment
While the styling of Outlander PHEV's cab interior could not be classed as inspiring there is no doubt that it offers all the basics.
Oddment stowage facilities include bins in each of the doors with a moulding that can grasp a soft drink can and a deep lidded box between the two seats with a separate, removable tray just under the lid.
A roomy lidded glove-box is fitted, you will find a capacious cubby-hole at the bottom of the dashboard and two cup-holders are provided as well.
Thankfully each one is large enough to hold a proper mug of tea: most cup-holders in vans cannot.
The driver's seat is height-adjustable as is the steering column.
Good to see that climate control is standard and gives driver and passenger the ability to adjust the temperature to their individual requirements. It forms part of an equipment package that includes an MP3-compatible radio/CD player with remote controls on the leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth compatibility, electric windows and electrically-adjustable and heated fold-away mirrors
Externally 4Work gets colour-keyed bumpers, door handles and mirror casings.
Spend almost £4,000 more and go for the GX4h 4Work and you will enjoy some useful extras. The package includes a reversing camera, a power-operated tailgate and a remote control app that allows you to manage the van's charging schedule and interior temperature from your smartphone.
Cough up another £1,750 and step up to the GX4hs 4Work and you additionally benefit from a lane-departure warning system, adaptive cruise control and forward collision mitigation. It helps you avoid colliding with the vehicle ahead and will hopefully reduce impact damage should you hit it.
The petrol engine pumps out 119hp while the electric motors can generate up to a maximum 60kW apiece.
The 12kWh battery can be fully recharged from a standard domestic supply in around five hours says Mitsubishi. If you have got access to a rapid charger then you can get 80% of the maximum capacity back in just 30 minutes it adds.
The plug-in points are under a flap on the offside of the body towards the rear with the petrol filler point on the nearside. You'll find the 5m-long domestic charging cable in a lidded compartment in the cargo bed near the back door.
Kangoo Z.E and e-NV200 have 44kW and 80kW on tap respectively. Unless you can plug into a rapid charger their batteries will take longer to replenish than Outlander PHEV's but they are of course the only sources of power for the vehicles concerned.
Chassis and steering
The suspension employs MacPherson struts at the front while a multilink system with trailing arms helps support the vehicle at the back. Our van's 18ins alloy wheels were shod with Toyo R37 225/55 R18 tyres.
Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering delivers a 10.6m minimum turning circle.
Keyless entry and operation is a standard feature so to get going all you need to do is plant your foot firmly on the brake pedal and press the starter button. Slot the transmission lever into either D for Drive or R for Reverse, and off you go.
With plenty of performance on tap, Outlander PHEV rides and handles well and goes about its business comparatively quietly even when the petrol engine kicks in; which it does seamlessly. When you are on battery power all you can hear is the muted slapping of the tyres against the highway.
Be careful when you are manoeuvring at low speeds though and use the lightest of touches on the throttle pedal. With maximum torque instantly available from the electric motors there is always the danger that you will go hurtling forwards or backwards unexpectedly; and bump into something.
One of the big risks of driving an Outlander PHEV is that you will become mesmerised by the dashboard gauges. Two in the middle show how much range you have got left using battery power and petrol power while the one next to them shows the extent to which the battery is being recharged by regeneration.
You can use the selector lever to alter the level of regeneration you require. Three different strength settings can be chosen, increasing to five if you employ the paddles on each side of the steering column; and do not be afraid.
Even on the maximum setting you will not stand the van on its nose the next time you lift off the accelerator and press the brake pedal.
Buying and running
Because Outlander PHEV has a petrol engine you do not enjoy the same level of maintenance savings as you do with a pure electric van. Service intervals are set at 12,500 miles or 12 months - whichever arrives sooner.
A three-year unlimited mileage warranty supported by a UK and European emergency roadside rescue and recovery service that also runs for three years is provided while the body is protected by a 12-year anti-corrosion perforation warranty.
Slightly different warranty arrangements cover the electric propulsion system's components however. No mileage limit is imposed in years one to two but a 62,500 mile restriction is imposed in years three to five.
4Work lacks side rubbing strips alas and that leaves it vulnerable to all the little scrapes and scratches that can afflict light commercials. In our case that seemed a particular pity given that our demonstrator was finished in metallic blue paint for an extra £416 - all prices quoted exclude VAT.
Disc brakes - ventilated at the front, solid at the back - are fitted all round. They are supported by a safety package that embraces ABS, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Active Stability Control, Traction Control, Brake Assist and Hill Start Assist.
Driver and passenger airbags - the driver gets a knee airbag too - and side and curtain airbags are fitted in case the worst comes to the worst while reversing sensors should help prevent injuries to unwary pedestrians and damage to your vehicle.
A Thatcham Category 1 alarm is installed while front fog lights, cruise control, a speed limiter and rain-sensitive wipers are all included in the deal.
A unique package and Mitsubishi should be applauded for developing it. However it is one we would rather see applied to a Ford Transit or a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter rather than a niche product.
Mitsubishi Outlander 2.0 PHEV GX3h 4Work Auto
Price (ex VAT) - £28,770 *
Price range (ex VAT) - £28,770-£34,395 *
Gross payload -500kg
Load length -1780mm
Load width - (min/max) 930mm/1320mm
Load bay height - 1040mm
Load volume -1.6cu/m
Loading height -740mm
Rear door aperture -1041mm x 863mm
Side door aperture - 740mm x 1110mm
Gross vehicle weight - 2310kg
Braked trailer towing weight -1500kg
Residual value -14.2% *
Cost per mile – 39.2p **
Engine size/power - 1,998cc, 119hp @ 4,500rpm (petrol), two 60Kw electric motors
Torque -190Nm @ 4,500rpm, 137Nm and 195Nm from the electric motors
Gearbox - auto
Fuel economy - 148mpg
Fuel tank - 45 litres
CO2 - 44g/km
Warranty -3yrs/unlimited mileage, 5yrs/62,500 miles on all EV components
Service intervals -1yr/12,500 miles
Insurance group – 17E
Price as tested – £29,720
Metallic paint - £416
Tow-bar - £335
Rear window grille - £199
* excluding Plug-in Van Grant and including purchase price of traction batteries
** after 48 months/20,000 miles p.a - source - KWIKcarcost
So far as light commercials are concerned the best-known Mitsubishi 4x4 is undoubtedly the near-ubiquitous L200 pick-up. However it is not the only one.
You can order Shogun as a 4x4 van and acquire an all-wheel-drive Outlander light commercial too. Over 950,000 Outlander 4x4s have been delivered since the model initially debuted in Japan in 2001 as the Airtrek.
Intended for mild off-road use and to get you up icy roads rather than yomping across demanding terrain, Outlander appeared in its second incarnation in 2005 but not solely with a Mitsubishi badge. Rebadged versions were introduced by Peugeot and Citroen and sold respectively as the 4007 and the C-Crosser.
The latest version debuted at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show with the PHEV variant appearing at the Paris Motor Show in the same year. The van PHEV made its first public appearance in the UK at the CENEX 2014 Low Carbon Vehicle Event last September.