Photos courtesy of Mitsubishi and by Michael Bettencourt

The warning came fast and clear: this Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid we were about to sample is a current European model, while the one that’s scheduled for North America in 12 to 18 months will look very different from the one above. Even still, they’re close enough to what’s coming that Mitsubishi Canada went out and actually bought these two models to use for early dealer and internal technician training, as well as for demos for fleet sales. All for a vehicle not planned to arrive on Canadian shores until late 2015 or early 2016.

Update: Between writing this review and time of publication Mitsubishi has released official photos of the Outlander PHEV Concept-S set to debut at the Paris auto show in early October, and it looks to be a clear indication of what the production version will look like when it lands on these shores. The Opel Ampera-like front end will take on an aggressive scowl with modern LED headlights and catfish-esque lower bumper treatment, with higher-end trim and finishes inside. Both interior and exterior upgrades appear ready for production models, though some toning down (aka cost-cutting) will likely tone down what becomes available at dealers, Mitsu saying somewhat cryptically that “it’s a concept model presenting a special design package for the production Outlander PHEV.”

So why all this unusual attention and advance planning for a vehicle still so far away? Two reasons: 1) it’s very likely the most advanced vehicle Mitsubishi Motors has ever brought into Canada, with a large-for-a-PHEV 12-kWh lithium-ion battery, as well as a 2.0-litre internal combustion engine that takes over from the silent all-electric motor once the battery runs out of juice; 2) it has become the bestselling PHEV in Europe, and with growing sales for compact crossovers as well as plug-in hybrids in North America and Canada, it sees more sales and brand interest potential for the Outlander PHEV than for its slow-selling i-MiEV all-electric city car.

Depending on when the Outlander PHEV actually arrives – its North American launch has been delayed a couple times already – Mitsubishi Canada figures it will still be the first plug-in compact crossover on the market. That may come as news to buyers of the Ford C-Max Energi, the plug-in version of the C-Max Hybrid that has been on sale since 2012, and the Outlander PHEV’s likely main market rival.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Concept-S2016 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Concept-S2016 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Concept-S interior
2016 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Concept-S, interior. Click image to enlarge

But later to the party means it brings nicer gifts, as the Outlander PHEV will trump the Energi’s first-to-market but inherently compromised offering in two key areas: more all-electric range (up to a claimed 52 km versus an EPA-rated 30 km for the Ford), plus a much larger cargo area. Mitsubishi hides the plug-in electric components mostly under the vehicle, with just a touch higher floor than the gas model. That’s a major improvement compared to the C-Max Energi, which chops cargo room significantly from the already tighter cargo bay of the C-Max Hybrid.

The Mitsubishi also brings another unique plug-in party trick: it will be the first plug-in hybrid (so far) that can be fast-charged in about 30 minutes. Assuming you’re not pulling into the charging station on electron ‘fumes,’ it offers a nearly full charge (80 percent) in that half hour, using the same CHAdeMO fast-charging standard also used on the Nissan Leaf and Mitsu’s i-MiEV.

Connect with