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Driven: Mitsubishi L200 Barbarian. Image by Mitsubishi.

Driven: Mitsubishi L200 Barbarian
The L200 is another pick-up that makes you question the need for an SUV.

   



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Driven: Mitsubishi L200 Barbarian

4 4 4 4 4

Good points: Great looks, improved interior quality, largely smooth ride, strong drivetrain

Not so good: Ride deteriorates badly on poorer roads

Key Facts

Model tested: Mitsubishi L200 Barbarian
Price: L200 from 19,749 as CV (exc. VAT); L200 Barbarian manual from 28,558.80 (inc. VAT as passenger vehicle), 31,544.74 as tested
Engine: 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: all-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: four-door pick-up truck
CO2 emissions: 173g/km
Combined economy: 42.8mpg
Top speed: 111mph
0-62mph: 10.4 seconds
Power: 180hp at 3,500rpm
Torque: 430Nm at 2,500rpm

Our view:

If any model can be thanked for the increased popularity of the pick-up in modern-day Britain, it's surely the Mitsubishi L200. It wasn't the first, not by a long way; Toyota beat it to the punch in this country with the Hilux. It wasn't even very good for its first two generations, these versions spanning a huge timeframe from 1978 to 1996. But the Series 3 L200, built from 1996 to 2006, was the pivotal moment.

Mitsubishi's stroke of genius was to elevate the pick-up from mere commercial vehicle (CV) utilitarianism into something a little more desirable, simply by splashing some 'lifestyle' options on the double-cab version and then giving it rugged trim names, like 'Animal' and 'Warrior'. It spoke to private-owner customers and said: "Listen, you don't have to have a standard 4x4 with a boot. You could have a flat-bed instead. And maybe even some roof lights."

Bam. Exports of this L200 vaulted to in excess of 700,000 units and the UK was a key market. Other manufacturers soon saw Mitsubishi was onto a good thing and followed suit, with glitzy pick-ups like the Toyota Hilux Invincible and Nissan Navara Outlaw joining the fray. But it was that smoothed-off, civilised Mitsubishi that ensured the pick-up truck in general wormed its way into the consciousness of the car-buying public.

We say civilised. It was in the looks department, but it remained an agricultural piece of kit underneath, with leaf-spring rear suspension and a dynamic focus on carrying one-tonne pallets in the load bed first and foremost, rather than its ability to flatten out lumps and bumps on the M42. It didn't harm its sales, though, and nor did the L200's enduring popularity cease as it morphed into the Series 4 in 2006. Apparently, according to Mitsubishi, the Mk4 has outsold all other pick-ups during its nine-year life.

So now we're at Series 5, but there's a wider choice for the pick-up loving public these days. Not only is the Hilux still going, the Nissan Navara has now changed the game by running multilink rear suspension to take ride comfort to a new level. Premium brand Volkswagen has weighed in with the excellent Amarok and Ford has worked wonders on its Ranger.

Mitsubishi's tactic with the L200 Series 5 has been to ramp up the quality levels, citing 330 detail changes from the old Series 4. In a super-cool trim line-up of Titan, Warrior, Barbarian and, er... 4Life, it's the range-topping Barbarian we're testing here which will tempt vacillating types from circa-30,000 SUVs, thanks to its comprehensive list of standard equipment. Aside from its practical considerations - a max payload of 1,045kg, braked towing capacity of 3,100kg, shift-on-the-fly all-wheel drive (up to 62mph) with a centre-diff lock, and approach, departure and ramp breakover figures of 30, 22 and 24 degrees respectively - it comes with HID headlamps with LED running lamps, satnav, a rear-view camera, keyless entry and go, cruise control, dual-zone climate, lane departure warning, a DAB sound system and USB connectivity, plus leather trim.

And it looks marvellous. On the outside, it's an evolution of the Series 4 but it's about the most stand-out design of any modern pick-up, mainly thanks to the J-line curving round at the back of the cab. This has a practical purpose, as it allows the rear seat backs to be less upright, their 25-degree inclination making the cabin more comfortable for five people. Handsome as the big Mitsu is externally, the interior has often let it down. Not this time. This is Mitsubishi's best effort yet in a 4x4. It's amazing what some piano black trim and a bit of silver-effect plastic can do.

Details remain which are dated, such as that LCD display between the dials, the big rocker switches for the heated seats and more blue, 1980s digital numerals for the climate control, but at least said displays are easy to read at a glance. And we love the Barbarian-branded glowing sill plates on entry, the beautiful and supremely comfortable watchstrap leather seats with more Barbarian branding, and the attractive multifunction steering wheel. The satnav and infotainment touchscreen isn't too bad either, although it can be a little fiddly to use on the move.

There's nothing fiddly about the L200's road presence. At 5,285mm long and 1,780mm high, this thing's gigantic. Stash it in a supermarket car park and it has the ability to make Range Rovers look puny, while out on the roads the seating position feels extremely commanding. Yet the Barbarian is delightfully easy to place, thanks to excellent steering. It's light and isn't shot through with feel, but it doesn't have that usual vagueness around the dead ahead that other pick-ups display. It's also not bonkers heavy, like the rack in the Navara, so it makes manoeuvring the Mitsubishi a cinch.

The handling is pretty good too, because the L200 has been on a weight-saving programme and - for a car on this scale - clocks up a reasonable 1,860kg in total. Grip is plentiful, even if you run the Barbarian in rear-wheel drive to save fuel (we got 30.4mpg average from it), and body roll is kept to an acceptable level. The manual gearbox has cleverly spaced ratios and a pleasingly accurate lever action, despite its long-of-throw nature, while the brakes are good too (and they're drums on the rear axle!). And that 2.4-litre engine, which is actually a new unit despite its familiar capacity figure, is cultured and muscular. The L200 is one of the most accelerative vehicles of its type and while it's a bit slow to step off the mark, once it's rolling it picks up pace with real meaning in the mid-range. This is another area where the L200 has the Nissan licked, as this Mitsubishi intercooled turbodiesel is much more refined and quiet than the Navara's whooshing twin-turbo 2.3.

It really all comes down to ride and price. Dealing with the latter first, the L200 is reasonably inexpensive. Buy it as a CV and prices start from as little as 19,749 excluding VAT for a 4Life double-cab. Realistically, the sumptuously equipped Barbarian is going to be bought as a lifestyle vehicle before it's purchased as a workhorse, so lump the 20 per cent on top of its 23,799 CV price and you end up at 28,558.80 for the manual, or 30,238.80 for the automatic. With a few styling options like upgraded 17-inch wheels, styling bars, a tonneau cover, a sports grille and parking sensors, the price creeps up to more than 31,500. Which might seem a lot for a vehicle that was essentially built to transport bags of gravel and cement about the place, but is actually a lot cheaper than comparatively sized, well-equipped SUVs would be from European marques - and you can drop a lot more cash than this on something as modest as a Honda CR-V if you're not careful.

That makes it decent value for money. So let's assess that ride. Longer, elliptic leaf springs are fitted at the rear of the Series 5 L200, in order to make it less bouncy when it's unladen. In the main, it has worked a treat. On motorways, main A-roads and around town, the Mitsubishi doesn't feel much worse than the class-leader on this score (it's that Navara again) and it's certainly a match for the Volkswagen Amarok. However, on bumpy, unclassified B-roads, the L200 finally shows a chink in its armour. And it's a big one. Any pick-up with leaf springs on its rear axle can feel jittery without a load in the rear to weigh its suspension down; in essence, they're all set-up to be carrying 1,000kg in the boot, so without bulk in the load bed they feel light and skittish.

The Mitsubishi is worse than that. Driving along a rutted country lane to the nearest A-road was five miles of alarming thumps and knocks from the rear end. And it wasn't so much skittish as out-and-out jumpy over one cresting left-hand bend. Given these five miles were our first of 480 behind the towering wheel of the L200, it wasn't the most auspicious of starts. Luckily, much more of our time was spent in conditions where the Barbarian's ride settled down to acceptable levels, yet we'd offer this advice: if you live in urban or semi-urban areas, you'll never have to worry about this sort of thing; if you live out in the sticks, like us, then you might want to sling a couple of concrete slabs in the back of the L200 to keep its comportment calm.

Nevertheless, intermittent ride quality issues aside, the L200 is another pick-up that's easy to love - and it also, like so many in this class, has more character than an SUV. We noticed an unspoken camaraderie among all pick-up drivers while we were out and about in the Barbarian, with occupants of Ford, Volkswagen, Nissan, Isuzu and Toyota rival machines still giving us a nod as we went past; it's like you're in a special club once you're driving one of these things. We'd probably put the Mitsubishi on the class podium with the Navara and the Amarok, our only problem being that we're not quite sure of our 1-2-3 final order. If it's sheer good looks, decent fuel economy and a refined, powerful engine you place above all else, then there's little better than the L200 Barbarian.

Alternatives:

Ford Ranger: Recently facelifted and improved, the Ranger Wildtrak with the 3.2-litre diesel unit provides strong competition for the Barbarian, although it too has a jiggly ride.

Nissan Navara: A tale of two main technical items: the best of rear (multilink) suspension, the worst of noisy turbodiesel engines.

Volkswagen Amarok: Magnificent Canyon range-topper remains our favourite pick-up for aesthetics alone (if finished in orange), although it's more expensive than the L200 by a good margin.


Matt Robinson - 16 May 2016



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2016 Mitsubishi L200 drive. Image by Mitsubishi.2016 Mitsubishi L200 drive. Image by Mitsubishi.2016 Mitsubishi L200 drive. Image by Mitsubishi.2016 Mitsubishi L200 drive. Image by Mitsubishi.2016 Mitsubishi L200 drive. Image by Mitsubishi.

2016 Mitsubishi L200 drive. Image by Mitsubishi.2016 Mitsubishi L200 drive. Image by Mitsubishi.2016 Mitsubishi L200 drive. Image by Mitsubishi.2016 Mitsubishi L200 drive. Image by Mitsubishi.







 

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