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Tillamook Road Trip in a PHEV

by Ron CoganJanuary 3, 2022
Sometimes you just need to get out on the road…even during a pandemic. We figured the safest way was to head off on our own in a Mitsubishi Plug-In Hybrid, immersing ourselves in the natural world along the Oregon Coast.

Green Car Journal editors  had the opportunity to live with Mitsubishi’s third-generation Outlander PHEV over the course of two full years, the longest test conducted by the magazine. The experience was satisfying with this vehicle meeting every possible need. Our preference at all times was to drive on zero emission electric power whenever practical and this plug-in SUV allowed us to do that, since our daily drives were almost always within its 22 mile battery electric range. If we were consistent with plugging in overnight, which was the case unless another test car required a charge, then our drives around town were inevitably on electric power.

On those occasions when we drove beyond the Outlander PHEV’s electric range, we did so without thinking about it because the experience is seamless. There are no decisions to be made, other than start, shift into ‘drive,’ and head on out. During these drives, the switchover to combustion or hybrid power happened behind the scenes without any real indication it was taking place.

With that in mind, we headed out on an adventure from our base in California to the Oregon Coast. We’ve enjoyed the coastline in California for years, from Southern California’s Coronado Beach in San Diego and Newport Beach in Orange County to the environs of lesser known but delightful areas like the Central Coast’s Avila Beach, or the funky throwback beach town of Cayucas. Still, there’s just something about the rugged Oregon coast that calls to us. It offers dramatic and unspoiled coastal vistas that are compelling in a different way than the perennially sun-drenched, surfs-up beaches found in much of California. So, we packed up our Outlander PHEV tester and headed northbound on US 101.

Our northernmost area of interest was Tillamook, Oregon, the beginning of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge that protects some 1,800 rocks, reefs, and small islands over a thousand acres of coastline, running from Tillamook Head to the California border. Also calling us to the area was our appreciation of Tillamook cheeses and ice creams, so of course a visit at Tillamook Creamery was on our road trip agenda.

From our headquarters in San Luis Obispo, California, the trip to Tillamook is a direct drive of some 14 hours and nearly 900 miles. But being a road trip, that was just part of our unfolding story. There were many stops along the way and loads of opportunities for new experiences during our meandering, week-long journey. Our first overnight was in Ashland, Oregon, just north of the California border and about a nine hour drive from our starting point. A quaint city of 21,000 located at the southern edge of the Rogue Valley, Ashland has a college town feel with its Southern Oregon University and is home to the annual Shakespeare Festival.

Northward we headed, driving for some six hours before arriving at the century-old Tillamook Cheese Factory. At the time of our visit, Tillamook offered visitors self-guided tours, food and ice cream take-out service, and shopping for souvenirs and cheeses at its market gift shop. At the end of our visit, we left with collectible Tillamook-branded bowls and heaping portions of ice cream…offering the perfect break before continuing our Tillamook Road Trip.

After that it was a leisurely drive south along the scenic Oregon coast as we headed back toward California, with no particular plan in mind other than drive, stop to see interesting things, and stay at random hotels along the way. Our drive took us past Lincoln City, a self-proclaimed kite capital of the world, and then on to Yaquina Bay and Newport, Oregon, a city known for its Dungeness crab and home port to one of Oregon’s largest fishing fleets. Also located here is the Oregon Coast Aquarium where Keiko, killer whale star of the 1993 movie Free Willy, was rehabilitated before being relocated to Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland, and eventually released to freedom.

After an overnight in the coastal town of Florence near the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, our drive took us through Coos Bay and then a quick stop in the town of Bandon, population 3,066. Bandon is the heart of Oregon’s cranberry production and home of the annual Cranberry Festival. A bit of sightseeing in Old Town found us appreciating Nora the Salman, a large sculpture made of plastic debris reclaimed from the sea by the group Washed Ashore. Apparently, Nora gets around, as she journeyed cross-country several years ago to the United Nations’ Ocean Conference in New York in support of the Clean Seas Campaign.

While in Bandon, we paid a visit to the small Face Rock Creamery, located at the original site of the Bandon Cheese Factory that thrived when cheesemaking was an important part of the local economy, and before Bandon became a brand of Tillamook Creamery. Here, you can watch craft cheesemaking in process and grab a meal for the road from the Face Rock deli if you’re so inclined. We were.

The drive south continued along Oregon’s Highway 101 Coastal Route that passes nearby Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, which offers some pretty spectacular vistas. Next up was Port Orford for a photo op with a T-Rex. Really. Here we found Prehistoric Gardens, a must-see roadside attraction since its beginnings in 1955, situated in a rainforest replete with 23 life-size dinosaurs. Afterward it was a short drive to scenic Gold Beach where the Rogue River meets the Pacific Ocean, our last stop before reaching California. As with any road trip, there’s always the chance of unexpected surprises. Another of ours was about three hours later as we stopped to appreciate a herd of Roosevelt elk in the California Redwood National Forest off Highway 101, on our way to Arcata and an overnight there.

Our final road trip stayover was a long-time favorite, California’s Monterey Peninsula. There is so much to see here it really requires more than a day, so we accommodated that with several nights at the Monterey Plaza Hotel while we explored Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Pacific Grove. Among the top experiences here are strolling along Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf, enjoying the many seafood restaurants in the area, and of course a drive along the area’s spectacular 17 Mile Drive that winds its way along amazing ocean vistas on its way to Pebble Beach. At the end of our time here it was just a 2 1/2 hour drive back to our Central Coast home.

Our Tillamook Road Trip was everything we had hoped it to be, with fascinating stops along the way in the comfort of our Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV test car. We enjoyed this SUV’s accommodating ride, dependable performance, and confidence delivered by its sophisticated series-parallel hybrid system that allowed driving non-stop over great distances whenever needed, and charging up for times of all-electric driving when convenient. There was plenty of room inside for stowing all the gear and trappings of a road trip, and we enjoyed the array of features offered by the Outlander, from its heated steering wheel and seats on chilly mornings, to its handy navigation and many driver assist systems that make driving easier, like adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning, multi-view camera system, and automatic high beams.

While driving conditions during our trip were favorable and we ventured off road only briefly, it was confidence inspiring to know that Mitsubishi’s advanced S-AWC (Super All Wheel Control) system was there at the ready. The Outlander was fully equipped to provide whatever was needed on the road, a vehicle for all seasons and all reasons, as well. That makes us eager to try out the new-generation Outlander PHEV on another road trip when it hits our shores later in 2022.