“Keep pushing,” said the instructor at the MIRA (Motor Industry Research Association) skidpan test circuit. “See if you can get it to drift.”
This was a first for me. I have been prompted to push a car into a drift on a circuit many times in the past but it was invariably something that had been built for the purpose like a Porsche or an Aston Martin. Never a pick-up.
But the new Mistubishi L200 pick-up is in something of a class of its own at present, as was further demonstrated when Euan Thorburn, the 28 year-old reigning Scottish rally champion took the wheel for some scorching laps around MIRA’s handling circuit. Slamming the 5.2 m of the L200’s overall length and its 1.78 m of width into tight turns, he effortlessly applied opposite lock and got the car sliding accurately. What was chiefly amazing about this performance was the relative absence of body-roll. The L200’s fully revised suspension system – including much enlarged shock absorbing body mounts and stiffer springs – together with enhanced torsional stiffness, allowed me to keep my seat securely in the passenger’s side without having to hang on to the grab handles or throw up over my shoes. A premium 4×4 like a Discovery or a Land-Cruiser could not have handled with more aplomb.
On MIRA’s off-road circuit, however, the L200 proved itself the near equal of those far more expensive and haughty mud-pluggers. You’d have to be on an expedition to the darkest extremes of the Amazon to encounter obstacles more demanding than this specially created course, with its fiendish, slopes and descents and its crocodile-infested pools (I’m making up the crocodiles). The switchable Super Select 4WD system on more expensive versions offers four modes – 2H, 4H, 4HLc and 4llc and al but the lowest can be selected on-the-move at speeds up to 100 kph. On earlier models of the L200, you had to grapple with an auxiliary gear lever to engage four-wheel drive in its lowest ratio. On the new car, you simply stop and turn the knob. This also engages a new Torsen-design centre differential that ensures both front and rear wheels are equally powered up. Then you’re ready to take on the Hindu Kush.
If we’re going to tackle that terrain together, however, I’d rather you drove the car out there and I’ll fly to Kabul to meet you. This is not solely because the route from Europe takes you through many of the most dangerous countries in the world but also because 3500 miles on the road in the L200 would shorten my life by more days than I can spare.
Mitsubishi likes to boast that the new L200 is as much at home on a motorway or on city streets as on a building site or climbing a mountain. An hour’s drive on public roads around MIRA brought that claim slightly into question.
It is perfectly true that the cabin in the new car is a more comfortable place to be. The redesigned seats, with thicker side bolsters and thigh support, are near car quality and the black and grey two-tone colour scheme is an improvement on the acres of black plastic that were the old L200’s idea of interior decoration. It is also true that , where you had to throw the gear-lever what felt like the length of a cricket pitch to change gear on the old car, the lever moves only a few inches to change gears on the five or six-speed manual gearboxes (an automatic is also available with steering-wheel mounted paddles but I wasn’t offered the chance to drive that).
But, despite a thick blanketing of heavy insulation and a new, more efficient, all-aluminium 2.5 litre engine, the cabin of the L200 still sounds more like an artic than a Prius. And, despite an increase in power to 178 bhp and 430 Nm of torque, it still accelerates more like a cement mixer than a road car. Mitsubishi justifiably point out that 0-62 in 10.4 seconds is faster than all other pick-ups in the L200’s class but that doesn’t make it bearable.
In any case, most of those rivals are themselves due for a relaunch very soon and may have more to say for themselves in terms of performance. The new L200 is only the first of a succession of pick-ups from the major manufacturers which will change the public perception of the category as a whole.
They will have to be exceptionally good-looking to rival the L200. There is a genuine aerodynamic stylishness about this Mitsubishi’s muscular and dynamic design. Spec and engine options continue to be differentiated with toe-curling names like Titan, Warrior and Barbarian but, mercifully, the lettering that spells out this naff nomenclature has been reduced in size so it only makes you look as if you’re trying to make up for a shortage of testosterone in small print.
I have always fancied an L200 and, now that I am trying to get a rural business under way, I might have need for one. Fortunately, I’ve got more than a year to make up my mind, by which time the new pick-ups from Nissan, Ford and Toyota should be with us.
For the time being, however, there’s no question that the L200 is the front-runner. I’d love one.
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