The brand new Mitsubishi Challenger is now available in Australia from a starting price of $44,490 and to celebrate the launch of the new medium-sized SUV, Mitsubishi Motors Australia invited the motoring press to Queensland to experience the Challenger range first hand.
The original Mitsubishi Challenger launched in Australia in 1998 and was dropped from the company's showrooms in 2006. During its eight years on the market over 14,000 Australians took a Challenger home and a quick search online will tell you that there are still many happy owners out there enjoying their reliable and trusty Mitsubishi.
According to Robert McEniry, Mitsubishi Australia president and CEO, the previous model was more regarded for its off-road ability than its on-road comfort. The new 2010 Mitsubishi Challenger however, is designed from the ground up to sit between the Outlander and the Mitsubishi Pajero, offering all the best soft-roader bits of the Outlander and all the off-road performance of the Pajero. But does it?
To find out we started our journey from Brisbane airport heading towards Albert River Wines vineyard through Beaudesert and the Mount Lindsay highway. As an on-road medium sized SUV, you can be forgiven for thinking it's a little rugged looking.
From the outside, it doesn't look like a typical soft-roader or something you'd drive around the city everyday. With a 215mm ground clearance it sits relatively high and the black rear bumpers give it an even more prominent and aggressive stance.
Although it's not entirely based on the Mitsubishi Triton design, it shares the same engine, transmissions, front end and some suspension. Hence there is only so much sophistication you can build into a workhorse turned medium-SUV.
Nonetheless as far as Japanese SUVs go, it's one of the better looking ones. Mitsubishi says it has blended seemingly contradictory elements to create an exterior look that is both cool and hot or tough and smart. And it works. In some ways it looks like a car that you'd only take off-road whilst in many ways it doesn't look out of place in a city environment either.
Mitsubishi has adopted the family design for the Challenger which looks very similar to the Outlander and Lancer from both the front and rear, which is a good thing as the Lancer is the most attractive model in Mitsubishi showrooms.
A lot of thought has gone into the design, for example the front is built to allow high-speed off-roading (more on this later) by protecting against flying debris.
Exterior design aside, from the inside the Challenger is more modern than you may think. The high-end variants come with reversing camera, satellite navigation, bluetooth and a pretty darn good sound system.
There is ample headroom and storage compartments and you can pick either a five-seat or seven-seat setup with the ability to fold away the second and third rows for more storage capacity.
My main complaint with the interior was the "leather-look" insert in the door trims and around the centre console of the high-end variants. It looks a little out of place and unnecessary, the Challenger base-model interior which makes do with shiny plastic (but no leather seats) has a more classy feel to it as a result.
As far as the optional third row goes, having sat in the seventh seat for about 10 minutes, I'd say they are pretty good for children or small adults, however if you're 180cm or taller you'll still fit but you'll be hoping it's a short journey.
Driving feel on-road is exactly what you'd probably expect, leave the transmission in 2H (which means the power is being directed to the rear-wheels only) and you'll get around the city just fine. Although the car measures nearly 4.7M long it has a turning circle of 11.2m (kerb-kerb) so getting in and out of places isn't all that difficult. Front suspension is double wishbone type and the rear comes with a three-link design utilising coil springs.
After a two hour on-road drive we arrived at Scenic Rim Adventure Park which is designed primarily to test the ability of four-wheel drive vehicles. Usually when car companies invite the media to test their cars in an off-road environment it always feels rather controlled and a tad too easy. Not this time. After about 30 minutes of heavy rain we were all excited to tackle what seemed like a reasonably difficult course.
The Challenger has a 36 degree approach angle (25 degree departure angle) which makes it very useful off-road, but just how useful left us all amazed. As much of a city car this Challenger wants to be, when in its native environment it's an even more impressive machine. We spent four hours climbing and navigating our way around the four-wheel drive course which was certainly not made for the faint-hearted.
One of the better programs of the day was being taken around the 4WD course by Hiroshi Masuoka at extremely high-speed. Now if you can only imagine how someone who has won the Dakar rally outright two years in a row would drive around a 4WD course, you may understand what I mean by the Challenger being capable off-road.
My initial thought was the car he'd be driving was going to a specially prepared Challenger, but it wasn't, it was just a basic Challenger that you can buy today.
Driving through a 4WD course at more than 100km/h, jumping on the brakes, sliding sideways around a corner and then climbing a ridiculously difficult hills was all part of the 15 minute drive. At one stage the Challenger was sliding at what must have felt like a 30 degree angle through a corner with trees on both sides. I wasn't sure if Masuoka thought he was in an Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution or a Challenger!
Most of us came out of the car with giant smiles on our faces. Some of us came out a little blue.
The point of the exercise was to experience just how great the Challenger can be when driven by someone with more driving ability than all of us Journalists put together.
As far as off-roading goes, the Challenger will be able to climb and cross almost anything (and I can confirm, it can generally do it drifting sideways).
Powering the beast is the same 2.5-litre four-cylinder 16 vavle turbo diesel engine from the Triton.
Producing 131kW of power and 400Nm of torque when coupled with a five-speed manual (350Nm with five-speed auto). For off-roading the power delivery is smooth and more than adequate, however on the highway it does seem to want a little more grunt for overtaking.
Both the manual and five speed transmissions come with the company's Super Select four-wheel drive system which has four different driving modes. As mentioned already, the 2H mode is best used for general driving around town on good surfaces, 4H puts the Challenger in full-time four-wheel drive for when its a little wet or the surface quality is getting rough.
For off-roading you can select 4HLC which will lock the centre differential and distribute power equally to all four-wheels. This is a must for those slippery or daunting 4WD tracks. The last and final mode is 4LLC, which is the lower range of gears, and should only be used if you're climbing or departing steep hills.
All these four modes are selectable using the transfer lever located to the right of the transmission gear shift. The first three can be selected on the fly at speeds of up to 100km/h, you'll have to come to a stop to engage 4LLC.
Fuel economy is best delivered in 2H and with a manual transmission, official figures put the Challenger manual at 8.3L/100km for the combined city and highway cycle whilst the automatic is a little thirstier using 9.8L/100km for the same cycle.
Both around the city and out in the bush tackling rough terrain the new Challenger is a proper all-rounder, even if it doesn't look it. It's worth noting that even whilst the car was driving around the 4WD course at high speed there was never any big bumps or uncomfort felt inside the cabin, it was just as comfortable on-road as it was off-road.
The new 2010 Mitsubishi Challenger is available in five variants. The manual transmission is only offered in base model LS five-seater which starts at $44,490. Moving up from there the LS five-speed automatic variant retails for $46,990. If you want seven-seats in LS trim you'll be looking at $48,890 (with auto).
The LS variants come standard with 17" alloy wheels (with full sized alloy spare); side steps, chrome exterior door handls and mirrors, roof rails, air-con, steering-wheel mountain cruise control, single CD-player with 6 speaker sound system (auxiliary support), leather bound steering wheel, gear shift, park brake and transfer lever.
Additionally all variants come with six airbags and Mitsubishi's All Terrain Technology which encompasses active stability and traction control, ABS with EBD and diff lock.
XLS variants start from $56,990 for the five seater autonatic and the range tops at $58,890 for the seven seat XLS automatic. The extra $10,000 will get you a chrome grille, leather seat trim, power drivers seat with slide, dual height and recline movement, colour keyed side protection mouldings, privacy glass, wood-trim console and centre panel as well as cargo blind and cargo room net. Mitsubishi's Multi Communication System (MMCS) with satellite navigation, reverse camera (a must for a car this tall), video jack and bluetooth phone connectivity is also available.
From the outside, fog lamps, headlamp washers and reversing sensors complete the package. The Challenger is available in eight colours: White Solid, Charcoal, Cool Silver, Platoon Pearlescent, Terra Rossa, Champagne, Deep Blue and Black.
The new Mitsubishi Challenger will sit between the Mitsubishi Outlander and Pajero and appeal to customers looking for a car that is at home both on and off-road. CarAdvice will soon spend a week with the new medium-SUV and bring you a comprehensive road test.