LET'S imagine car manufacturers could take to sea. For some of them, business is pretty plain sailing, others seem to hit stormy waters on a regular basis and one or two have hit the rocks and sunk without trace.
The Japanese company Mitsubishi has had to navigate some difficult channels in its 40 years of selling vehicles in the UK, although most of the time they could be seen to be riding on the crest of a wave.
They'd built a great reputation for some seriously-robust four-wheel-drives like the iconic Shogun, the L200 pickup and the fearsomely fast Lancer Evolution, which with success in world rallying, subsequently evolved into various versions under the Evo name.
Sadly that is no longer available in the UK and pre-Brexit the company suffered badly from the strength of the Pound and the weakness of the Yen which at one point meant it was actually losing money on every car it brought to the UK.
Uncertain conditions could be lying over the horizon but for the moment, things are looking bright and much of the credit for that goes to the Outlander SUV, and more specifically the hybrid plug-in PHEV version.
It's now the best-selling plug-in passenger car in the UK with around 30,000 on our roads and responsible for 16% of the segment ahead of its nearest rival, the Nissan Leaf.
Both it and its diesel-powered big brother have been revised and updated to make them more economical and cleaner so the time was right to give them both the once-over.
Beginning with the PHEV, it was the first car to be engineered from the ground up to incorporate both an internal combustion engine and plug-in hybrid technology. The engineers have perfected that technology to improve its range – it's claimed it can now run for 33 miles on pure electric power (although I got little more than about 25 miles on a full charge) – and it's the only hybrid which can be plugged into a rapid charger. They are becoming more widely available and it takes only 25 minutes to boost the battery back up to 80% capacity.
The claimed official fuel economy is put at 166mpg but the unique element of the PHEV is that it's the only plug-in hybrid with driver-adjustable levels of regenerative braking. Using paddles on the steering column, you can increase or decrease the amount of braking power and send a charge to the batteries.
Once you get the hang of it, you can complete a journey without hardly ever having to use the footbrake and at the same time keep the battery power up and extend the range. Not only does that reduce the use of expensive petrol, it also saves on brake wear and servicing costs.
Power comes from a two-litre petrol engine, coupled with two small electric motors, one for each axle. The PHEV is the only four–wheel-drive to have such a set-up and capable of being driven on purely electric power in 4x4 mode.
It's also competitively priced, costing less than the other plug-in SUVs like the Volvo XC60 T8 Twin Engine and Audi Q7 e-tron which sit in a higher class. Instead, the Outlander PHEV offers plug-in hybrid technology for the price of conventional large family SUV, like the Skoda Kodiaq, Volkswagen Tiguan or Nissan X-Trail.
On the negative side, there's been a cut in the government grant (down from £5,000 to £2,500) and changes to road tax rates mean that while it was exempt before it's now liable for £130 a year VED.
It is roomy and comfortable but not as versatile as the conventional model, because accommodating the batteries means there's no seven-seat option.
The diesel version has also been improved to keep up in the SUV crossover market, which sees many new arrivals touting for business.
It's got some discreet styling changes including a shark fin antenna on the roof and the new family front face with LED headlamps, a redesigned radiator grille and front bumper, fog bezel and wings. There are dramatic daytime running lights and smart 18-inch alloy wheels.
Seven seats are standard, except for the entry level model, and with the second and third row of seats folded, it can swallow a couple of mountain bikes whole, yet its exterior dimensions are smaller than most family estate cars.
The central console screen has been refreshed to reduce the number of hard keys and introduce some subtle colour changes to make the system feel much more upmarket.
The new Outlander also has the latest version of Mitsubishi's renowned all-wheel-drive technology, with an on-demand 4WD system which improves stability, traction, fuel economy and emissions, with what's called 'Yaw Rate Feedback Control', to judge the vehicle's cornering movements accurately for sharper and more responsive steering.
Mitsubishi certainly have the wind in their sails with the Outlander whether you embrace the latest plug-in technology or want to stick with a traditional oil-burner.
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