The Mitsubishi Challenger is regarded as an outstanding off-road capable SUV that can tough it out in nearly all circumstances. It shares its underpinnings with the popular Triton Ute but offers seating for five and the styling of a modern all-capable SUV.
Only a few months ago we put a Mitsubishi Challenger 4x4 through some pretty tough terrain conquering Australia’s outback, which it did with ease. We also took it through an advance 4WD course in Canberra, which it completed without any hassles.
So when Mitsubishi handed us the keys to a Challenger 4x2, we were a little confused. A two-wheel drive Challenger is the sort of vehicle that doesn’t make all that much sense from the outset. Its tall ute-based chassis was engineered for off-roading capability so what would happen if you took its biggest asset away?
Not much, it seems. As much as we’d like to promote the Mitsubishi Challenger’s off-roading credentials, in reality not many owners ever take take their vehicle 30cm away from bitumen. For that reason as well as better fuel economy (100kg+ lighter) and a cheaper price, Mitsubishi’s 2WD Challenger came into existence.
From the outside it’s almost impossible to work out it’s a 4x2. There are no 4x2 badges and it doesn’t look any less rugged than its more off-road capable stable mates. So none of your friends will ever have to know.
It’s also still a rather good-looking SUV, echoing a simple design but one that is likely to stand the test of time. The front end is nearly identical to its donor car, the Mitsubishi Triton ute, but the rear is unique to the Challenger family.
Our 2012 Mitsubishi Challenger 4x2 test car had a starting price of $39,490 ($3,500 less than the 4x4 equivalent) but came optioned with metallic paint ($450) and the popular convenience pack ($3640). The convenience pack is a must, if not for the addition of driver & front passenger side and curtain airbags but for the reversing camera (in the electro-chromatic rear view mirror), 17-inch alloy wheels, unique radiator grille, fog lamps, rain and light sensors as well as roof rails.
On the inside you also gain a leather steering wheel with audio controls, privacy glass, six speaker sound system (up from four) and climate control. Although a full airbag compliment should be standard, the $3640 asking price is not unreasonable for the additional kit.
(Challenger LS interior shown above)
As with all Challengers, our test car was powered by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine that delivers 131kW of power and 400Nm of torque. Pretty good output figures from a small diesel and despite being a 4x2, it still boast an impressive three-tonne towing capacity.
A $2500 saving is in order if you prefer a five-speed manual but the five-speed automatic is the more common choice. Officially the automatic will use 9.6L of diesel per 100km (8.2L/100km for the manual) but our test car was returning closer to 10.4L/100km.
Behind the wheel the Challenger feels very much feel like a Triton ute. Thanks in part to its body-on-frame two-piece design (which is only used in trucks and utes – modern vehicles use a single unibody system), the Challenger inherits all the disadvantages of the Triton. Much like its direct competitor, the soon-to-be-replaced Nissan Pathfinder (which is also a body-on-frame design based on the Nissan Navara), Challenger tends to lean in corners and there is a noticeable amount of body roll, while the cabin itself is a little nosier than we’d expected.
Its 205mm ground clearance is more than adequate for everyday needs but is 15mm short of its 4WD siblings. The ride is soft but floaty (which is what you want if you frequent poor quality roads but not ideal for inner city driving) and steering weighting is not up to Outlander or Pajero standards. The elevated seating position and the rather short bonnet make for an easy to park vehicle, helped along by the much-needed reversing camera.
The front and rear seats are comfortable and there is ample room to fit four adults and one child without trouble. There’s heaps of space in the boot if you need it, that can expand further if you fold down the second row seats to gain 1,813L of cargo space, enough to move furniture with.
There are plenty of bottle holders and small storage compartments built throughout the cabin, but the overall cabin quality feels, well, like that of a ute. The three air-conditioning dials and the hard plastic surrounds are excellent if you’re after a hard working no-frills ute but are not representative of modern-day family-orientated SUVs.
There is one noteworthy gadget inside, though; the multi-function centre display that can show elevation, a compass, barometer, fuel economy, remaining range and outside temperature. But even that looks like it’s something out of an Atari game from the 1980s. Not all that helpful when you’re stuck in peak hour traffic but a nice gimmick to show the kids.
One of the Challenger’s biggest drawing cards is Mitsubishi’s standard 10-year powertrain warranty and five-year new car warranty and roadside assist. The Challenger’s servicing schedule is a reasonable 15,000km or 12 months with the first service costing $250 and subsequent ones coming in at $580 (until 60,000km/48months).
In essence, the Mitsubishi Challenger caters to a rather small segment. If the cheaper and more practical Outlander doesn’t do the job and the legendary (but nearly $20,000 more expensive) Pajero doesn’t fit the bill, then it’s tempting to look at the Challenger for its excellent towing capabilities and rugged looks.