Put a tax-friendly L200 pickup into your motoring life!
Tough, unrelenting and largely unbreakable, reports Iain Robertson, are all descriptive terms that can be applied to Mitsubishi’s outstanding L200 truck, as he tackles rally stage, road sections and load configurations to test its mettle to the max.
In search of ‘The Great Outdoors’, most of which is within exceptionally easy reach, the growth of the pickup truck segment of the new car scene in the UK is entirely related to both US and Antipodean developments of the past seventy years at least. While businesses will invariably seek suitable transport to meet their specific needs (let’s face it, a family hatchback is hardly best suited to working building sites, farmyards, forestry, or outlying areas), it is the growth of the leisure scene that has boosted truck sales.
Had it not been for the ‘hicks’ in redneck middle America, or the sheep farmers of the Aussie outback, recognising that their families could have easier access to the creek, or billabong, in a 4×4 truck, this class of vehicle would have remained little more than a local peculiarity. Instead, all manner of essential and non-essential services, such as RNLI, Coastguard, the power companies, as well as surf, bicycle and ski shops, would find their regular tasks were much more gruelling. The spill into private ownership was inevitable, as an increasing number of Japanese manufacturers started to produce more compact alternatives.
For Mitsubishi, possessing a remarkable 40 years of heritage, most of which have been spent on, or close to, the top of the heap, when compared with the rest of the pickup truck contenders, any replacement is sure to garner close attention. However, Mitsubishi is not stupid; while in a better financial state today than it has been for a few years, allied to a perception of ‘if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it’, what you see in this latest iteration is, in truth, little more than a judicious reskin, within much of which remains an upgraded but unaltered cabin.
Introducing the ‘Dynamic Shield’ front-end to the L200, which has already been extolled by various other models in the company’s line-up, the new truck certainly possesses a more aggressive and beefier appearance. Positioning the LED headlamps (standard on Warrior and above trims) higher up has a significant benefit, when wading, or avoiding parking damage. The higher bonnet line actually helps a lot, when tackling an off-road ground, as it is easier to discern the vehicle’s corners, thus aiding manoeuvrability.
It is worth highlighting that due to a UK road tax anomaly in the late-1980s, which became clearer and was advantaged more over the following decade, the corporate sector started showing greater interest in pickups. They were not as fast depreciating as most cars and they did not attract the ‘new’ Benefit-in-Kind tax, which made them (in crew-cab, four-door form) even better value for money than the typical SUV, albeit with a load deck out back. Sales rocketed. Needless to say, the Exchequer soon redressed the balance, after much shilly-shallying, and the rules related to pickup truck ‘ownership’ were tightened. Yet, as long as the deck is still capable of muscling a minimum one tonne payload, the advantages remain.
Now, more than ever, the L200’s close relationship with the Shogun Sport, which shares its chassis, becomes obvious. Perhaps more importantly to the ‘company car set’, the four-door version now features a 1.08-tonne load deck carrying capacity, which means that it can be treated as ‘plant’ and neither taxed, nor accounted for, as a car. Its 3.5-tonne towing capability is as before.
As to L200’s more chiselled looks, it seems that the market wants more of the sharp edges and less of the rounded, softer appearance of the previous generation pickup. When you look at either the latest Ford Ranger, or Toyota Hilux, the message becomes abundantly clear; they are square-rigged high riders, with oodles of off-road addenda, even though (like most SUVs) they never venture into the boondocks. Of course, chunkier styling also demands chunkier engineering but, in Mitsubishi’s case, the engine loses 100cc (now, 2.3-litre capacity) and develops marginally less torque and a modest 150bhp. Yet, when specified with a slick new 6-speed automatic transmission (manual is still standard), disarmingly smooth progress ensues and owners may notice the additional fuel flap, which is designated for topping-up the AdBlue tank, to ensure a lower CO2 rating. Now combined with ‘stop:start’ technology, the auto-box can return 29.1mpg, while the 6-speed manual is good for 32.1mpg (WLTP figures).
Significant improvements have been wrought on the truck’s brakes (bigger, progressive and more powerful) and its suspension, which features larger diameter rear dampers that improve the ride quality and remove a lot of the disturbing choppiness of the previous version. The upgrades have allowed Mitsubishi to enhance levels of connectivity and also the raft of driver aids that now includes forward collision mitigation, autonomous braking, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert. The top-spec Barbarian benefits from a hide-clad interior and a 360-degree camera system. The result is all very civilised and the changes address, at long last, some of the more utilitarian aspects of the L200.
Driven with hooligan gusto on a closed rally stage, to test its rigidity and build integrity (I promise!), the L200 felt more like a World Rally Car than a utility but its on-road performance is equally impressive. Look, it is not going to break any land speed records but it can despatch the 0-60mph benchmark in a smidgen over 13s and charge on to a maximum speed nudging 110mph…believe me, you are unlikely to venture into that zone too frequently. The new L200 now feels little different to the Shogun Sport, which should come as no surprise. A tight turning circle and vastly improved driving dynamics will lead assuredly to top-dog status for the new L200, despite its length, which makes the decreasing dimensions of most public parking spaces a marginally worrying consideration, especially for the weekend shopping trip.
It helps that the L200 already possesses an indefatigable image. In its latest form, Mitsubishi has honed every aspect to perfection, to make it THE pickup truck in which it is worth making the investment. Prices start at £21,515, rising to £32,200, for the all-singing-and-dancing Barbarian model.