Test Drive

‘Express’ing itself down under

Mitsubishi-Express test drive

It’s taken nearly a decade, but Mitsubishi is back in the game, this time with a French solution. It’s the first fruits of the Renault/Mitsubishi alliance that have fallen from the tree and it’s arriving in Aussie dealerships.

More than a few years ago I was at a meeting of the WA Chamber of Automotive Industries (now the FCAI). I had to be there – I was the treasurer. After the business finished, the dealers were talking about their last month. One asked the Parkside Mitsubishi dealer what his biggest volume model was. “The Express van,” he said without hesitation.

The Express van was then a white box and not much more. “How many,” was the next question. “Around 30,” he replied. Dead silence. “Did you score a big fleet or something?”

“No, it was a bit slow actually. We’re averaging 35-40 each month – can’t keep them in stock. They come in – and go straight out,” he said with a smirk. The other dealers slunk away, green with envy and muttering, “bastard…” That was a time when passenger cars reigned supreme, with no hint of the SUV scourge about to arrive.

Mitsubishi’s white box was simply the cheapest, most practical solution to van operators, tradies and others, and all the dealers made hay. Then people started to realise that they really need their knees, and any kind of front-end bingle was very bad news.

Mitsubishi-Express-test-drive-2

The van market is a growing sector of the light commercial scene, boosted by an explosion in online shopping, and European vans are stealing chunks of the market as operators try the products and get a feel for the car-like comfort that is out of reach to a truck, where the driver sits on top of the front wheels.

The new Mitsubishi Express is a Renault Trafic with a spec optimised to the local market, unique front grille, bonnet and badging, plus ‘old tech’ halogen headlights instead of its stablemate’s LEDs.

In direct competition the two ranges are very close, as Mitsubishi has decided to keep the range as simple as possible. There are two engine/transmission packages, and each is available in either short or long wheelbases.

The smaller 1.6-litre twin-turbo diesel delivers 103kW and 340Nm and uses a 6-speed manual, while the 2.0-litre single turbo engine and 6-speed dual-clutch AMT offers 125kW and 380Nm. Both drive the front wheels.

It’s working credentials are impeccable – rear barn doors, sliding doors each side, 3-seats across the front and a slew of electronic safety gear straight out of the French factory.

Mitsubishi’s intuitive technology package (MiTECH) bundles stability control, roll over mitigation, emergency brake assist and stop signal, hill start assist and electronic brakeforce distribution. On the auto there’s also a rear camera displaying in the rear-view mirror, rain sensing wipers and auto headlights.

My drive highlighted the most attractive feature of the new Express – this thing is lively! Almost all traffic light sprints are done and dusted within 30 metres, and in that space, even on three quarter throttle the Express will punch through four gears and be well ahead of the traffic. Unless you’ve tied your stuff down, it’ll all have slid down the back too.

Times for 0-100km/h aren’t important here, it’s how the drive feels to the employee in the seat most of the day. In the case of the 2.0-litre unit, they’ll be very happy campers indeed.

Express is aimed directly at the inner city and metro area delivery market where multiple parcel runs will be done quickly and economically, but the cargo area is flat sided to maximise useable cubic space and a pallet will fit between the wheel-arches.

Both engines are available in each wheelbase. Prices range from $38,490 to $44,490, depending on how big your stuff is. Payload starts at 1200kgs and the Express will tow between 1630 and 2000kgs depending on the model. You can fit 5.2cu. metres in the short wheelbase, and 6.0cu. metres in the long. Once again depending on the model, it burns between 6.2 and 7.3 litres/100kms.

Rear coil springs on trailing arms make for a ride less choppy than many others, and the steering is tuned for precision. Turning circle is a neat 11.8 metres for the SWB and 13.2 for the longer van. There are no plans for crew cab or cab-chassis variants at this stage, but the Mitsubishi people didn’t slam the door on that when I spoke to them.

Warranty is five years with 100,000kms. The Renault is three years with unlimited kms. Pricing is close but favours the Express. Success is going to come down to the dealer network. In WA it’s one Renault Pro+ dealer vs 19 Mitsubishi dealers. Guess who’s going to win.

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