Mitsubishi's new MPV has an odd name and a polarizing design, but underneath the first impressions lies a magical car.
I don’t know what it says about me as a motoring writer, but the cars I really like don't do well in the market. I fantasize about owning a first-generation BMW X6, I prefer the Honda CR-Z over the Toyota 86, and I think the Nissan Juke is a triumph of design. All those models I mentioned have never been the bestsellers in their segment.
In a way, I prefer that my automotive taste goes against the grain, because it gives me hope that my cars of choice will depreciate quickly and end up in OLX as bargains.
When the Mitsubishi Xpander first appeared online, early reactions were apprehensive. It looks like an evolution of the current Montero Sport's look, but it takes the Dynamic Shield design language to a more extreme direction.
Like the aforementioned Juke, it's hard to tell if the Xpander's headlights are in the thin slits beside the shiny grille, or if they're inside the massive 'inlets' on either side of the license plate holder (In case you're still wondering, they're the latter).
Frankly, I liked it at first sight, which makes me wonder if the typical Filipino motorist--who likes the most vanilla designs--will accept it. One thing the Xpander does better than the Montero Sport, at least in the eyes of the general public, is that its taillights don't have the drooping teary effect of Mitsubishi's popular midsize SUV--although I also like that design element.
And then there's the name. Mitsubishi models historically have names that nestle nicely in the public consciousness. Lancer, Galant, Pajero, Mirage--they're easy to remember and make for good car club names.
'Xpander' sounds like the waistband of my pants after the holiday season. Let's try this: "Sakay tayo sa Xpander.”; "Yung Xpander ang susundo sa iyo."; "Nakita ni kumare yung Xpander ng mister mo sa Q Ave!" Hmm. Maybe we'll get used to it.
Is Mitsubishi's new MPV going to be a success? Will its looks and name win the motoring public over? Let's find out.
On a cold morning in Mitsubishi’s Okazaki facility in Japan, I finally met the Xpander for the first time. I was probably one of the first Filipinos to do so. I was with Mitsubishi Motors Philippines' media contingent for the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show, and this was our special side trip.
For the most part it looked like what we’ve seen in photos. In the metal the bold face doesn't look too extreme, not by 2017 standards anyway. As I snapped a few photos for the website, the design grew on me and the initial outlandishness melted away. Its size slots in between a Toyota Innova and an Avanza, although it's classified in the same subcompact MPV category as the latter.
I did feel that the designers 'chickened out' a bit with the rear. The taillights looked too timid and not in synch with the razorsharp face. But I liked the strong feature line that ran across the side though.
When it was my turn to drive, I happened to snag a manual transmission variant. I was a little disappointed, although I'm not sure why. Maybe I didn’t expect too much? But the Xpander won me over right away.
With a Japanese guide/chaperone beside me, I put the shifter into first gear and drove off. It's almost love at first drive! The clutch bit in the friendliest manner, and changing gears was almost heavenly. This wasn't a sports car's transmission; it's a bit more languid than that. I would have described it as enjoyable. This was something I wouldn’t mind using in EDSA traffic. Driving position was also good, and the tiller was nice to hold and handle.
I was apprehensive about the 1.5-liter gasoline powerplant as well, but it turned out my fears were unfounded. With 103hp and 141Nm, there’s enough power here--for two adults at least, one of which has been fed with a steady, unrelenting diet of sushi and convenience store snacks--for me to hit 140kph easily, and bank the Xpander on Mitsubishi's test track oval.
My first meet-and-drive with this anticipated MPV was a success. I was eager to try the Xpander in a more normal setting outside of a test track.
And now that day is here. About a month later I'm with the Top Gear team in Tagaytay shooting the Xpander for this cover shoot. We're lent a silver unit, the middle variant in the lineup. And this time we get an automatic variant.
Being enamored with the manual gearbox, I'm wary, again, of the new transmission--especially since it's the typical four-speed kind. But the Xpander wins me over. I don't know how Mitsubishi tuned this naturally aspirated 1.5-liter mill, but it doesn't feel slow.
Now I have a full crew and the undulating hills of Tagaytay to test the Xpander's power. Even with five of us and camera gear in the MPV, I have no trouble going around the area. There's still power left over to enjoy some spirited maneuvers in the little cul-de-sacs of the property we are shooting in.
In the steep climbs the Xpander downshifted and slowed down, but the engine didn't groan and wail. If you're still hung up about that perpetual going up to Baguio question, it's something you don't need to ask this MPV (and you need to let go of that age-old notion).
The challenge of any mass market model is offering the best value without looking like you cut too much corners. Inside the Xpander there's liberal use of plastics, but this is par for the course in this segment. The infotainment system is a revelation though. Judging by the high-resolution screen of the OEM unit, this is clearly a next-gen product.
The switches and knobs feel solid, and so does the overall build quality. A/C is strong and steady, although admittedly our shoot location doesn't really give it a challenge.
Cabin space is generous. A family of four would be ideal, leaving the third row folded and optimized for cargo. We weren't able to test the third row’s space, but we later did so during its official launch.
So is the Xpander good? To me, undoubtedly. I'm sure people will get over the name, those who are stressed about it anyway. What I'm wondering is the public will accept its aggressive look. I still like the Montero Sport's design overall because it followed through with an equally bold rear end, whereas I feel the Xpander softened a bit.
This is not our tito's Adventure, which bows out this year because of Euro 4 regulations, and the model the Xpander is sort of replacing. It's a new product, borne from a revitalized Mitsubishi, which, thanks to its newly minted alliance with Renault and Nissan, is now the biggest carmaker in the world. And as technology and features begin to be shared within that alliance, I won't be surprised if this model gets a lot better by the time the midlife upgrade arrives in three years.
With its looks, powertrain, space, and comfort, the Xpander will surely be a success. And that's regardless of what my internal car barometer says.