The Mitsubishi PX-MiEV, a mid-sized SUV plug-in hybrid, initially debuted at the 2009 Tokyo Motor Show. The vehicle’s lithium ion battery pack stores enough energy to provide about 30 miles of all-electric driving. When the batteries are depleted, a 1.6-liter 114-horsepower four-cylinder engine kicks on to either charge the battery or provide power to the wheels.

The system can determine which of the three configurations—pure electric, engine-to-battery charging, or engine-to-wheels power—offers the most efficiency for any particular driving condition. The advantage to this level of flexibility is not only efficiency, but also safety. If road conditions get slick, the PX-iMiEV can use its two electric motors to dole out torque both front-to-rear and side-to-side to provide maximum four-wheel-drive stability. Each electric motor generates 60 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque.

PX-MiEV has clean sleek lines, although the front bumper-grille is a bit overdone and awkward. That’s a small price to pay for a fully capable SUV that can achieve about 120 mpg. (Of course, that number doesn’t include a fair chunk of the vehicle’s energy that comes from electricity rather than gasoline.)

Mitsubishi is aiming for a production version to be released around 2013. Way too early for pricing info.

High-Tech Gizmos

Like most high-tech concept vehicles, the PX-MiEV is loaded with James Bond features. Cameras mounted around the vehicle, giving the driver an enhanced view for navigating tight spaces. A horseshoe-shaped steering wheel provides a bevy of buttons to provide maximum control for audio, navigation and other vehicle systems—all without taking your hands off the wheel. Additional touch screens are located in front and rear. Reflective paint and window coatings keep interior temperatures down to reduce energy usage.

Mitsubishi also says that an on-board receiver will pick up signals transmitted by roadside optical beacons and warns the driver to take extra care when other vehicles or pedestrians have been detected.

Mitsubishi’s climate control system takes the high-tech concept a bit further—and beyond the pale of believability. The upholstery is equipped with the ability to deactivate odors, allergens and bacteria. But odors can also be activated if a camera mounted to monitor the driver’s eye movements detects drowsiness. In other words, if you’re falling sleep, the car will set off audible, visual and vibration warnings, as well as a “distinctive fragrance.”

This feature makes the PX-MiEV seem like a joke, but the ability for plug-in hybrid technology to reduce an SUV’s petroleum use below the level of today’s subcompacts is quite serious. Let’s hope that Mitsubishi casts aside the nonsense, and delivers on the promise of this plug-in hybrid SUV concept.