First drive: Mitsubishi L200

Date: Friday, July 31, 2015   |   Author: James Dallas

We drive Mitsubishi's new L200 pick-up.

Mitsubishi has a long and illustrious history in the pick-up sector, spanning four model generations and 33 years in the UK alone.

With the creation of lifestyle models packed with styling and features designed to build brand desirability for retail customers without sacrificing the trucks’ workhorse credentials, the manufacturer has done more than any other to shape the market as we know it today.

However, when the L200 Series 5 arrives in showrooms in September (initially, at least, only in double cab guise) it will be joining a sector about to get far more crowded than the one its predecessors helped to establish.

Apart from new models coming from the established players such as Nissan with its Navara and Toyota with its Hilux as well as the facelifted Ranger Ford has got in the pipeline, Renault and Mercedes (in partnership with Nissan) and Fiat Professional (with Mitsubishi itself) are preparing to debut pick-up models. And that’s not to mention the youthful Ssangyong Korando Sports, the VW Amarok, Isuzu D-max or the Great Wall Steed.

But Mitsubishi is confident it has the best all-round package on offer. It is launching the new L200 under the immodest strapline: ‘Showing the world how it’s done’, which UK boss Lance Bradley admits is “a bit big headed”, but he then lists a series of categories in which he claims the Series 5 is class leading – these include performance, carrying capacity, 4WD ability, driving refinement, styling, body and chassis strength, manoeuvrability and crucially, emissions and fuel efficiency.

“It’s almost impossible to make the heavy trucks of our competitors as efficient as the L200,” he says.
Bradley claims the L200’s official fuel economy of 42.8mpg is a comfortable 11% better than the best of the rest – the Isuzu D-max’s 38.7mpg – and a massive 47% better than the thirstiest of the bunch, the Nissan Navara, which turns in an official 33.6mpg on the combined cycle.

The L200 has official CO2 emissions starting from 169g/km, which compares to the 192g/km of the D-max.

This is important, Bradley stresses, because it safeguards customers against the emissions-based tax regime for light commercial vehicles that he is convinced the Government is looking to introduce.

Mitsubishi claims the Series 4 L200 has outsold all other pick-ups in the decade since its launch in 2006. The manufacturer cites growth of 23% in 2013 to 5527 versus market growth of 20%, followed by an increase of 17% last year to 6488 – 2% ahead of the market overall.

But the L200 had to settle for second place in the pick-up sales chart in 2014 behind the Toyota Hilux on 8318 units, according to the SMMT.

Bradley, however, remains unfazed by the heating up of competition in a sector that Mitsubishi once dominated to such an extent that it claims to have captured 70% of retail sales with the Series 3 L200 back in 2003 – notching up 12,000 sales in the process.

“With a market sector like pick-up growing so steadily we’ve always known it would be only a matter of time before more competitors joined in,” Bradley tells What Van?

“Often more competition means more noise around the segment and so greater awareness. When you have the best product and the best dealer network for selling pick-ups, which we believe we do, as well as 33 years experience of selling pick-ups in the UK, that additional noise is a good thing.”

Bradley expects the brand’s segment share to grow following the launch of the Series 5 but says this is less important than the “critical measure” of maintaining strong sales volumes.

He believes new entrants will help the pick-up sector grow over time, possibly reducing the L200’s market share in the process, but not its sales numbers.

Bradley reckons the arrival of the Series 5 L200 could see it overtake the Hilux but insists: “It’s not one of our KPIs,” (key performance indicators).

“Toyota seems to focus very heavily on the larger fleet element of the pick-up market, which tends to require significantly higher discounts,” he claims.

While he admits Mitsubishi does participate in large fleet business itself, he adds: “Our focus is more on the retail and small business part of the market. We have consistently beaten Toyota in the retail/small business part of the market and indeed, usually lead that part of the market.”

Style Guide

The styling of the Series 5 is not radically different to its predecessor. It remains a sleeker beast than any other pick-up model on the market but has gathered considerably more chrome on the front end.

The new model retains the so-called ‘J-line’ design that smoothly integrates the load bed with the cab and gives the L200 a more cohesive appearance than some of its rivals where the cargo and passenger carrying sections give the impression they have been bolted together with little consideration to aesthetics.

The ‘J-line’ on the Series 5 is more pronounced than on the Series 4 and, according to Mitsubishi, it maximizes interior space in the double cab.

Having sat in the rear seats, we can confirm there is plenty of leg room, but would not recommend sitting in the middle rear seat for any length of time flanked by passengers either side because it’s a squeeze and the ride is bumpy with no load on board.

The front of the truck boasts the brand’s three diamond logo in the centre of the grille with headlamps incorporating LED daytime running lights and Bi-Xenon projectors either side above a meaty-looking bumper.

The back end of the load bed gets new wrap-around combination lamps and a rear step in the bumper to ease access to the load bay.

Chromed tube side bars also provide full-length steps to help entrance into the cabin.

Powertrain

Mitsubishi has replaced the 2.5-litre engine in the Series 4 with a new common-rail direct fuel injection 2.4-litre unit with outputs of 151hp in the entry-level 4Life and 178hp in the Titan, Warrior and Barbarian derivatives.

The manufacturer claims it is the first to use an aluminium, rather than a steel, engine block, which has reduced weight by 30kg and facilitated the aforementioned class-leading fuel economy, which has resulted in a claimed 20% improvement over the Series 4 model.

The engine comes wedded to a six-speed manual gearbox as standard but five-speed automatic transmission is also on offer with paddle shifters mounted on the steering column – a first in the pick-up sector, according to Mitsubishi.

Strength in depth

The manufacturer has stiffened the new L200’s chassis with new bracing and more high-strength steel and says torsional rigidity has increased by up to 7% to contribute to better handling and stability and less interior noise and vibration. Ground clearance is 205mm.

The Series 5 retains the 5.9m turning radius of the previous model but steering can now go from lock to lock in 3.8 turns compared to 4.3 before.

This dexterity compares favourably to chunkier rivals that have turning circles going from 6.1m for the Isuzu D-max to 6.6m for the Nissan Navara.

The new L200’s cargo bed is 1470mm long, 1470mm wide and has a depth of 475mm, which is a 15mm increase on the previous generation. Vertical grooves on the bed interior enable partitioning of the cargo area to prevent smaller items from moving around in transit.

By way of comparison, all the L200’s rivals have a longer and wider, though not necessarily deeper, load bed; the VW Amarok has a 1555mm load length, width of up to 1620mm and depth of 508mm, the Isuzu D-max double cab offers 1485mm, 1530mm and 465mm, the Ford Ranger 1549mm, 1560mm and 511mm and the Nissan Navara 1511mm, 1560mm and 457mm.

The double cab Series 5’s payload capacity of 1045kg also falls short of some of its competitors (the Navara double cab can handle 1250kg, for example) but this does not tell the whole story, according to Mitsubishi. The manufacturer claims the truck’s combined carrying and towing capacity of 4090 kg outshines the Isuzu D-max (4013kg), the Toyota Hilux (3860kg) and the Volkswagen Amarok (3857kg).

The L200 Series 5 comes with two 4WD systems: The entry-level 4Life gets Easy Select, which offers high and low ratio settings for off-road terrain but should be switched to 2WD once on-road, where power is directed to the rear wheels.

The Titan, Warrior and Barbarian specifications get the more sophisticated Super Select system that allows on-road driving in both 2WD and 4WD modes and can be switched from two to four wheel drive at speeds of up to 62mph.

Mitsubishi’s engineers have altered the centre differential split between the front and rear wheels from 50/50 on the Series 4 model to 60/40 rear/front on the Series 5 model. This helps to reduce understeer, improves traction when accelerating and provides more stability when towing, according to the Japanese manufacturer.

Cabin Comfort

The cab, which comes in a tasteful black and grey colour scheme, now offers more head and shoulder room in the front and more leg room in the rear than before, and the interior length of 1745mm is longer than the next-best 1710mm of the Isuzu D-max.

The Warrior and Barbarian trims both get leather finishing and seating.

The steering column on all versions is adjustable for rake and reach and there is decent stowage provision, including space for litre water bottles in the doors and a useful, discreet storage space underneath the rear bench seat.

Nice touches include a convenience hook on the front seat head restraint for hanging small shopping bags and a space on the centre console for holding a phone or wallet.

We got behind the wheel of the L200 Series 5 in Warrior specification with a six-speed manual gearbox and had the opportunity to drive the vehicle both off and on-road.

Off-road it coped competently in extremely wet and muddy conditions with steep inclines, sharp descents and traversed shallow rivers with ease. An anti-stall system means the L200 can negotiate tricky ascents without any input on the accelerator from the driver.

The L200 relies on excellent engine braking and a short first gear for tight control in rugged terrain rather than the electronic hill descent control used in many 4WD models. A locked centre differential setting and low-range mode are particularly suitable for heavy-duty driving conditions.

Once back on the tarmac the Warrior is a smooth operator with plenty of power coming from the 178hp drivetrain, which works smoothly in conjunction with the snappy six-speed transmission and reaches its peak at 3500rpm. The handling is impressively composed for a pick-up truck with barely any body roll when cornering on country roads or negotiating roundabouts in and around towns.

The steering is precise and fairly light, which takes the strain out of covering long distances on winding roads and one never feels it is a battle to get the truck to go where you want it to.  The pick-up’s civilized on-road manners are also helped by smooth clutch and accelerator controls as well as reassuringly predictable and powerful brakes.

In addition, the circular dial in the centre console makes it a simple task to switch from 2WD to 4WD if the going gets tough.

Without a load in the back the ride quality of the new L200 is true to pick-up type – that is to say it can get very bouncy over potholes and rough surfaces. But it is, after all, a vehicle with leaf springs and suspension that’s built to support heavy loads.

On better roads it’s fine and although there is some engine noise in the cabin, it is no impediment to conversation, particularly when cruising implacably at motorway speeds.

On our test drive, consisting of a wide range of driving conditions, the L200 returned just under 31mpg, according to the reading on the dashboard trip computer, a respectable figure but well short of the 42.8mpg Mitsubishi claims can give the pick-up a range of almost 700 miles on a tank of fuel.

Grab handles for all doors ease entry into the cabin and provide something to hold when the going gets particularly bumpy off-road.

Standard kit levels across the line-up are impressive, with cruise control, 16-inch alloys, manual air-conditioning, Bluetooth  and safety equipment such as hill start assist and traction control included on the £19,749 4Life model. Step up to the £20,749 Titan and the alloys go to 17-inches, the air-con becomes dual-zone and you get DAB radio and a lane departure warning.

The £23,049 Warrior adds heated seats for both front occupants and electric adjustment for the driver’s seat, sat-nav, and a reversing camera – always useful on a pick-up where the rear view is not comprehensive.

The Barbarian (£23,799), offers mainly cosmetic upgrades on the Warrior; more chrome, leather trimmings and door handle covers.

The classy new L200 has laid down the gauntlet by once more raising the bar. It is now up to its rivals to respond.

Price (ex VAT)                                          £23,049
Price range (ex VAT)                  £19,749-£25,199
Insurance group                               group 9 (est.)
Warranty                                       5yrs/62,500mls
Service intervals                                   12,500mls
Load length                                             1470mm
Load width                                               1470mm
Load bay height                                         475mm
Gross payload                                            1045kg
Engine size/power                            2442cc/178hp
On sale                                              September   
Combined fuel economy                           42.8mpg
CO2                                                           173g/km

Verdict


The new L200 is a practical load lugger and capable both on and off-road. It jumps to the front of the pick-up field for now but the competition is about to hot up with more models coming soon.

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