It's due for a replacement soon, but the ageing Mitsubishi Challenger still packs a punch off-road. Tough as nails and bulletproof, there might be some life in the old dog yet.
While the Mitsubishi Challenger is due for a much-needed replacement toward the end of this year, savvy buyers can pick up an end of model bargain with the current version still in showrooms. It might be something of a blunt hammer in modern terms, but the Challenger is still a properly tough off-roader, with just enough manners on-road to appeal to the budget-conscious buyer.
On test, we have the top spec LS variant of the Challenger range, with a starting price of $49,990 plus on-road costs. The two-variant Challenger range itself kicks off with the basic 2.5 variant, which costs $42,490 plus on-road costs. That said, if you're shopping now, there are sub-$40K base models to be had.
There’s something for most buyers with either the entry-level SUV or the range topper, but the LS variant is absolutely the pick of the range – almost thanks entirely to its standard Super Select 4WD system. More on that soon.
Our test Challenger had a few options starting with metallic paint ($550), but there were also some clever off-road additions. The rear cargo mat costs $120.89, the boot flap scuff guard $64.79, the tow bar kit $841.50, the tow ball $30.03, the alloy nudge bar $715.00, the wiring kit and driving lights $255.20 and the driving lights themselves $391.05. That brings the as-tested cost up to $52,958.
Buyers considering shelling out their hard-earned cash for a 4WD in this price range are going to be chasing a few crucial factors – among them reliability, affordability, durability and strength. The Challenger ticks all those boxes and rewards the buyer willing to compromise on factors such as refinement, outright power, creature comforts and insulation. If you’re considering a utility-based off-roader like the Challenger, it’s almost a given that you’re going to be heading off-road and getting it dirty.
The Challenger LS is powered by Mitsubishi’s venerable 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine backed by a five-speed automatic transmission. Power isn’t mind-blowing, with 131kW and 350Nm on offer, but the easygoing way in which it gathers speed makes up for the lack in outright numbers. The ADR Fuel usage claim is 9.8 litres per 100km and on test (without the trailer and boat loaded up) we saw an indicated return of 13.1L/100km. That figure came mainly around town in the usual heavy traffic.
Turn the key and you’re met with the reassuring sound of nostalgia. Remember when diesel engines sounded like a truck? As the Challenger’s oiler clatters into life and settles into a raucous idle, I’m immediately reminded of my childhood, when my father’s ‘work truck’ was actually a full-frame 4WD wagon that sounded like a scaled down Kenworth.
Forget refinement and insulation, there’s none of that behind the wheel of the Challenger. Some owners might desire a more modern, hushed environment, but many won’t care, and once you’re up to speed, there’s nothing annoying about the Challenger’s diesel engine. Getting up to speed though, there’s some serious diesel roar entering the cabin - there’s no escaping that.
On road and off, the Challenger’s main bugbear is — and has always been — it’s flat seating. The seats aren’t dramatically uncomfortable, but they offer virtually nothing in the way of support, and as we’ve said in any test involving Challenger or Triton, they are akin to perching on a park bench. The squab feels short for long-legged drivers and front seat passengers, and the base is also too close to the floor, so when you’re behind the wheel you feel as if your legs are stretched out in front of you. The bolsters don’t do much to hold you in place side-to-side, either.
There’s plenty of room in the Challenger’s cabin however, with the second row offering genuine comfort for adults and plenty of leg and headroom. Visibility is also expansive from behind the wheel, a factor that is helpful on-road and vital off-road as it makes positioning the Challenger on tight trails a breeze.
The Challenger’s long wheelbase means there’s also an exceptional amount of luggage room behind the second row. Load it up with gear for your holiday, whether you're camping or travelling in a little more luxury, and there’s plenty of room. The third row option that was available in earlier Challenger models has been deleted from the current line-up.
It’s fair to say that the Challenger’s audio/infotainment system is well past its use-by date. The Bluetooth is fiddly to connect, but is clear and reliable when it’s connected. The menu systems you need to access to make a call are annoying, and the actual speakers work in as much as they transmit music, but it’s nothing special.
This generation Mitsubishi Challenger had an important weapon in it’s arsenal from release - that being Mitsubishi’s clever Super Select 4WD system on higher-grade models. You can leave the Challenger in RWD if you like, but buyers can also select High Range 4WD, and leave the shifter there regardless of the road surface. That was an immediate advantage over much of the competition that wouldn’t allow the use of 4WD anywhere except loose surfaces. I’ve spoken to numerous Challenger and Triton owners over the years who simply leave their vehicles in 4WD all the time.
Around town, the Challenger isn’t the most comfortable large 4WD. The Toyota Prado has a more effortless manner of bump absorption, for example. That said the Challenger is never especially uncomfortable either. It just retains an agricultural feel to the way it rides over bumpy surfaces. The body-on-frame architecture means it is stiff by nature, but you can plough over most poor inner city road surfaces in reasonable comfort.
Handling, like refinement, isn’t an area where the Challenger excels, and nor should it really given its off-road prowess. The Nissan Pathfinder (in its previous form) springs to mind as a vehicle in the class that held the road in more sporting fashion. If you’re pushing the Challenger into tight corners at speed though, it’s fair to say you’ve stumbled into the wrong dealer and purchased the wrong vehicle.
One around-town skill the Challenger could certainly be better at is steering.
Its turning circle isn’t great and its steering system feels like it’s from another era. It’s slow to react to light inputs, seems to take forever to get from lock to lock, and isn’t even remotely helpful when you need to execute a quick three point turn. The new model should to be a significant step forward here.
We spent part of our week behind the wheel slogging through the sand at Stockton Beach north of Sydney, and with its tyres dropped down to 18 psi, the ageing Challenger came into its own and made short work of the powdery terrain. There’s nothing especially high-tech about either the diesel engine or the gearbox, but the combination (with low range selected) works exceptionally well off-road.
Challenger has a proper low-range gear set and with the centre diff locked there will be very few situations that will put a stop to progress. Indeed, you’d have to be looking for trouble - or a little silly - to get stuck off-road behind the wheel of the Challenger.
Sand is tough work for any 4WD no matter how capable it might be. The Challenger held a crucial ace up its sleeve during our time in the sand, that being the ability to keep up a reasonable speed (and momentum) without having to work the engine too hard. It engenders confidence and ensures the driver never feels like he or she is thrashing the Challenger. Some 4WDs really struggle in sand and heavy mud. The Challenger isn’t one of them.
While it’s a large SUV in terms of the segment it sits in, the Challenger can easily work its way through tighter bush tracks, thanks in part to its narrow cabin. Ground clearance is impressive too, with approach, departure and ramp-over angles that mean you can traverse some nasty off-road terrain without touching down anywhere.
CarAdvice cameraman and avid fisherman Glen Sullivan was tasked with lugging a boat up to Stockton behind the Challenger. The boat/trailer combo weighed in around 1800 kilograms and Glen reported back that the Challenger was a surprisingly impressive tow vehicle. The live fuel usage figure climbed up into the 16-19L/100km range, with the boat hitched up at freeway speeds. The cruise control also worked well on the freeway with the trailer lugging along behind.
Glen also reported that the Challenger cruised around effortlessly at lower speeds with the trailer behind and the rather unrefined diesel engine took to the task at hand enthusiastically. As we’ve stated before, it’s not refined, but it is definitely up to the task.
Manoeuvrability with the trailer attached was easy, with Glen reporting that the Challenger made squeezing the trailer into tight parking spots a breeze. The slick boat ramp provided no challenge (pun intended) either, thanks to Mitsubishi’s aforementioned super select 4WD system and all-round grip.
Challenger is covered by Mitsubishi’s five year/130,000km warranty with a 48 month/60,000km capped price servicing scheme. Servicing costs are: 15,000km/12 months - $315; 30,000km/24 months - $595; 45,000km/36 months - $595; 60,000km/48 months - $595. It retains a four-star ANCAP safety rating and will tow up to 3000kg.
There are more modern, more refined and more technologically-advanced 4WDs on the market now than the outgoing Challenger. You'll find better tech in its rival models the Holden Colorado 7 and Isuzu MU-X. Strangely enough, that’s why it is being replaced. Despite that, the current model still represents a value for money story for the astute buyer who wants a tough as nails off-roader that can double up as the family truckster.
The current Challenger’s time is almost up, but the factors that made it popular from launch remain and it’s a lot more comforting knowing you’re beating on a 4WD that cost you under 45 grand on the road (or significantly less as a run-out deal), than hammering an investment that represents double that or more.