TESTED: Mitsubishi Xpander is practical and looks sharp, but the engine lets it down
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REVIEW: Mitsubishi Xpander 1.5 auto
Pretoria - It’s not a segment that has people sit up and take notice but the seven-seater MPV market is surprisingly active. As people movers you see them running around in urban areas, mostly Toyota Avanzas and Suzuki Ertigas that get your hackles up when they put their hazard lights on and stop wherever they feel like it.
Also vying for attention are the Honda BR-V and for what it’s worth the Datsun Go+ and Renault Triber.
Enter the Mitsubishi Xpander which is the Japanese carmaker’s alternative in the segment and also the cheapest offering in their local line-up. Interestingly Mitsubishi now only have SUVs and crossovers on sale, capitalising on the global trend that’s seeing the demise of traditional sedans.
Generally the design of people-carrier type transport is rather bland as function over form necessitates using as much space as possible for the interior. However the front and rear of the Mitsubishi Xpander are easily recognisable if you’re familiar with the Pajero Sport, with the manufacturer applying their “dynamic shield” in this application to make it stand out from the usual fare with typical Japanese angles and sharp corners with LED lights giving it more of an SUV look than an MPV.
It stands on attractive 16-inch alloys but I couldn’t help wondering if a higher profile tyre would have rounded it off better because they do look too small for the wheel well.
The interior doesn’t exactly stand out despite Mitsubishi’s principle of “Omotenashi” which essentially means attention to detail and anticipating the needs of their guests.
There’s lots of hard plastic with faux stitching across the dashboard and door panels to emulate a leather stitching pattern to give it an upmarket impression.
Overall though it's solidly put together and is likely to withstand the rigours of the daily school run, although even a soft touch material covering the steering wheel would have lifted the tone of the interior.
The fabric seats are comfortable and there’s enough space for rear passengers and the third row would be fine for short stints but otherwise it’s best for toddlers. The analogue dials with a centre digital screen between the two tells all you need to know and the touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth and voice control is easy to operate albeit slightly dated.
It took me a while to find the USB port, eventually tracing it to the glovebox where it’s attached to a cable which doesn’t exactly fit the mold of a modern car and interior.
As you would expect from a seven-seater there are a variety of seat configurations with a 60/40 second and third row split while the rear seats can be folded completely flat. There’s ventilation for the rear passengers as well for those long summer drives.
There are two variations in South Africa, both fitted with a 1.5-litre normally aspirated engine that pushes out 77kW and 141Nm coupled to either a five-speed manual ‘box (with 15-inch wheels) and the one on test fitted with a four-speed automatic transmission. Both power the front wheels.
Despite its exterior and solid interior, it’s here that the Xpander falls somewhat short. The engine runs out of steam very quickly, not helped by the autobox, especially during highway driving with four adults. It feels almost asthmatic as it tries to find the right gear to keep up with traffic. Flooring the accelerator and changing from “D” to “2” or “L” helps somewhat but it sounds like the engine wants to climb out the bay, which is unfortunate for a vehicle specifically designed to carry people.
It’s slightly better in urban settings, allowing you to potter along in the traffic, but don’t think you’re going to quickly take a gap to improve your position in the queue.
Once I had resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to be getting anywhere fast, I let the car amble along unstrained which returned consumption figures of 7.3l/100km after a week, which I suppose with petrol prices ever increasing to the point of hysterical has a definite advantage.
Safety wise you’re taken care of by dual front airbags, ABS and electronic brake force distribution as well as ISOFIX child seat anchors. The Xpander has a front end impact-absorbing structure as well as what Mitsubishi calls advanced all-direction collision reinforced impact safety evolution (RISE) body construction with side impact bars.
Overall the Mitsubishi Xpander is not a bad package at all as long as you aren’t in a hurry and adapt your driving style accordingly because the engine and transmission combination does let it down.
Xpander 1.5L M/T: R299 995
Xpander 1.5L A/T: R319 995
SPECS: Mitsubishi Xpander 1.5 auto
Price: R319 995
Engine: 1.5-litre, 4-cyl, petrol
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel drive
Power: 77kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 141Nm @ 4000rpm
Fuel use: 7.0 l/100km (claimed)
Fuel use: 7.3 l/100km (tested)
Towing capacity: 550kg (braked)
Boot space: Up to 1608 litres
Warranty: 3-year/100 000km
Service plan: 2-year/30 000km