Mitsubishi has returned to the van market after an absence of more than seven years. If the 2021 Mitsubishi Express looks familiar, that’s because it’s based on the Renault Trafic, but comes with a new grille, bonnet and badging.
In the modern era of global automotive cost-savings and vehicle sharing, this is a product of Mitsubishi becoming a part of the Nissan-Renault Alliance in late 2016. The conglomerate is now called the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi Alliance, and this is the first vehicle to be introduced by Mitsubishi sourced via the partnership.
In fact, as soon as Mitsubishi Australia learned it had become part of the joint venture, it was straight on the phone to France to ask for the van. We’re the first market in the world to get this Mitsubishi-branded Renault.
The styling changes are minimal because Mitsubishi Australia wanted to get into showrooms as quickly as possible.
It may seem simple, but the remoulded front bumper, bonnet and new badging (including on the steering wheel and wheel caps) took at least two years to bring into production. Plus, of course, using as many existing parts as possible saves the company money.
Mitsubishi says van buyers in particular care more about functionality, price, and running costs than they do about model differentiation. So for a lot of buyers, the Express will largely come down to how it looks on paper rather than in the showroom.
There are four models in the 2021 Mitsubishi Express van range: two short-wheelbase and two long-wheelbase. There are four colours available across the line-up: white, silver, red and black, coincidentally the same as Mitsubishi’s corporate colours.
Both body styles are available with a choice of a twin-turbo 1.6-litre four-cylinder diesel (103kW/340Nm) matched to a six-speed manual, or a single-turbo 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel (125kW/380Nm) matched to a six-speed dual-clutch automatic. Both engine options drive the front wheels.
Prices start from $38,490 plus on-road costs for the short-wheelbase manual, $42,490 for the short-wheelbase auto, $40,490 for the long-wheelbase manual, and $44,490 for the long-wheelbase auto.
Add about $3000 to each model for the drive-away price, and the line-up ranges from about $41,490 drive-away to $47,490 drive-away. This puts the 2021 Mitsubishi Express in the middle of the van segment price-wise.
For example, as this article was published, the Ford Transit Custom was available from $44,990 drive-away for a short-wheelbase auto and $46,990 drive-away for a long-wheelbase auto.
The Hyundai iLoad was on offer from $41,340 drive-away (manual) or $44,460 drive-away (auto), once a $2500 discount to ABN holders was taken into account.
Volkswagen Transporters are thin on the ground due to stock shortages caused by production interruptions during the coronavirus crisis – and while the company prepares the 6.1 update for release at the end of the year – so they were advertised at top dollar, from $48,700 drive-away to $53,900 drive-away depending on engine output.
After a massive June, the Toyota HiAce diesel automatic now has a three-month waiting list, so prices advertised online are full retail: $48,400 drive-away (diesel manual) or $50,400 drive-away (diesel auto). The V6 petrol manual starts from $44,800 drive-away.
The biggest competition for the 2021 Mitsubishi Express comes from within its own family.
Earlier versions of the Renault Trafic have previously limboed to $29,990 drive-away. As this article was published, the French manufacturer was advertising special deals starting from $36,990 drive-away for a short-wheelbase manual (with a five-year/200,000km warranty, rather than the three-year/unlimited-kilometre coverage that comes standard).
The Renault Trafic long-wheelbase manual was advertised from $38,990 drive-away (with a five-year/200,000km warranty, rather than the three-year/unlimited-kilometre coverage that comes standard).
It’s worth noting both examples were powered by the 85kW/300Nm version of the 1.6-litre diesel rather than the 103kW/340Nm version fitted to the Mitsubishi.
Renault also offers the higher-output version of the twin-turbo 1.6-litre four-cylinder diesel (103kW/340Nm), but for now has chosen not to advertise a special offer.
As this article was published, Renault also advertised the Trafic powered by the single-turbo 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel paired to the six-speed twin-clutch auto (the same engine and transmission combination offered in the Mitsubishi Express) for $43,990 drive-away (with a five-year/200,000km warranty, rather than the three-year/unlimited-kilometre coverage that comes standard). This makes the Renault slightly cheaper in this example.
However, as always, it pays to read the fine print because there are significant differences in the standard equipment offered on the Mitsubishi Express versus the Renault Trafic.
The Mitsubishi Express comes standard with dual sliding doors (as does the Toyota HiAce and Hyundai iLoad), whereas the Ford Transit Custom, Renault Trafic and Volkswagen Transporter have one sliding door (passenger side), and a second one (driver’s side) is optional.
There’s a similar complication with rear doors. The Mitsubishi Express and 85kW Renault Traffic are currently only available with barn doors (with a wiper for each window), while the Toyota HiAce is currently only available with a liftback door. The Hyundai iLoad, Ford Transit Custom, Volkswagen Transporter, and high-spec versions of the Trafic are available with a choice of both types of rear doors.
In case it makes a difference to your buying decision, there’s also a difference in the driven wheels. The Mitsubishi Express, Renault Trafic, Volkswagen Transporter and Ford Transit Custom are front-wheel drive, while the Toyota HiAce and Hyundai iLoad are rear-wheel drive.
Seat configurations also vary. The Mitsubishi Express, Renault Trafic and Ford Transit have three front-row seats (it’s optional on the Volkswagen Transporter), whereas the Toyota HiAce is a two-seater only.
Inside the cabin, the Mitsubishi Express has the basics covered, with remote central locking, air-conditioning, a digital speed display, cruise control, large cubbies on the dash and in the doors, and a couple of well-placed charging ports.
However, the cupholders in the dash are too small, the phone holder can’t accommodate plus-size phones, and the infotainment lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (standard or optional on most rivals). Instead, it has an old-school radio with Bluetooth, but the game has moved on, especially when delivery drivers rely so much on connectivity and maps.
A rear camera is standard on only two of the four Mitsubishi Express models (even though most rivals have it across the range), and even then it is only a small display in the rear-view mirror, rather than a large image on the infotainment screen as per most rivals.
Five of the seven Renault Trafic models have Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a rear camera as standard. Mitsubishi says this package wasn’t available to it from launch, but is working overtime to get the extra tech on the Express.
All versions of the Mitsubishi Express come with rear parking sensors (as does the Renault Trafic, Hyundai iLoad and Volkswagen Transporter), but the Toyota HiAce and Ford Transit Custom have sensors front and rear.
The other area with large differences is safety. The Mitsubishi Express and Renault Trafic have five airbags (two front, two curtain, and one in the driver’s seat, but not the front passenger seat).
The Toyota HiAce has seven airbags (including for the driver’s knee), the Ford Transit Custom has six airbags, while the Hyundai iLoad and Volkswagen Transporter each have four airbags (two front and two in each outboard seat, but no curtain airbag coverage).
The Mitsubishi Express lacks advanced safety aids that have become standard on new models such as the Toyota HiAce and Ford Transit, both of which have autonomous emergency braking, radar cruise control, speed sign recognition, blind-zone warning and rear cross-traffic alert. The Ford has lane-keeping assistance, whereas the Toyota has lane-wander warning.
That’s because the Mitsubishi Express is based on the Renault Trafic, which also lacks these features. Given the safety demands of government and business fleets – and the amount of time these vehicles spend on the road – these features will be added eventually, but for now they’re not available at any price.
If all of the above detail is a little confusing when it comes to comparing safety, perhaps the crash-test results compiled by the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) and European New Car Assessment Program (Euro NCAP) might help.
The Toyota HiAce has a five-star score from 2019, and the Ford Transit Custom has a five-star score from 2014.
The Volkswagen Transporter has a four-star score from 2013, and the Hyundai iLoad has a four-star score from 2011.
The Renault Trafic has a 'marginal' three-star score from 2015. Given the Mitsubishi Express shares the same safety equipment and body structure – and is made on the same production line in France – it’s likely it too has a maximum three-star rating. If measured against today’s tougher criteria, it could be even less than that.
Dimensions and capacities
In the business end of the van, the Mitsubishi Express dimensions are middle of the pack.
|Model||Length (mm)||Width (mm)||Height (mm)||Wheelbase (mm)||Turning circle|
|Mitsubishi Express/Renault Trafic SWB||4999||1956||1971||3098||11.8|
|Toyota HiAce SWB||5265||1950||1990||3210||11|
|Ford Transit Custom 340S||4973||1986||2020||2993||11.6|
|Volkswagen Transporter SWB||4890||1904||1990||3000||11.9|
|Mitsubishi Express/Renault Trafic LWB||5399||1956||1971||3098||13.2|
|Toyota Hiace SLWB||5915||1950||2280||3860||12.8|
|Ford Transit Custom 340L||5340||1986||2017.1||3300||12.8|
|Volkswagen Transporter LWB||5290||1904||1990||3400||TBC|
|Model||Length (mm)||Width (mm)||Width between wheel arches (mm)||Height (mm)|
|Mitsubishi Express/Renault Trafic SWB||2537||1662||1268||1387|
|Toyota Hiace SWB||2530||1760||1268||1340|
|Ford Transit Custom 340S||2400||1715||1392||1406|
|Volkswagen Transporter SWB||2555||1700||1244||1410|
|Mitsubishi Express/Renault Trafic LWB||2937||1662||1268||1387|
|Toyota Hiace SLWB||3180||1760||1268||1615|
|Ford Transit Custom 340L||2767||1775||1392||1406|
|Volkswagen Transporter LWB||2938||1700||1244||1410|
|Model||Manual (kg)||Auto (kg)|
|Mitsubishi Express SWB||1150||1115|
|Mitsubishi Express LWB||1200||1150|
|Ford Transit Custom||1387||1339|
|Model||Manual (kg)||Auto (kg)|
|Mitsubishi Express SWB||2000||1715|
|Mitsubishi Express LWB||2000||1630|
|Toyota Hiace diesel||1900||1500|
|Ford Transit Custom SWB||1500||2000|
|Ford Transit Custom LWB||2800||2000|
Service intervals on the Mitsubishi Express are 15,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first, which brings it into line with other Mitsubishi models, but out of step with Renault’s service schedule of 30,000km or 12 months.
By comparison, the Toyota HiAce has 10,000km/six-month service intervals, while the Hyundai iLoad and Volkswagen Transporter have 15,000km/12-month service intervals. The Ford Transit Custom maintenance schedule is 30,000km/12 months.
Mitsubishi only offers capped-price servicing for the first three visits for routine maintenance (at $250 each for a total of $750).
By comparison, the service costs for its rivals over three years or 45,000km are: Renault Trafic ($1797), Toyota HiAce ($980), Ford Transit Custom ($1222), Volkswagen Transporter ($1675), while the Hyundai iLoad has a five-year pre-paid plan for $2050.
Warranty for the Mitsubishi Express is five years/unlimited kilometres versus the Renault Trafic (three years/unlimited kilometres), Toyota HiAce (five years/160,000km), Ford Transit Custom (five years/unlimited kilometres), Volkswagen Transporter (five years/unlimited kilometres) and Hyundai iLoad (five years/160,000km).
On the road
For our preview drive, Mitsubishi put us in a short-wheelbase Express with an empty load and a long-wheelbase Express with a 200kg load.Both examples were powered by the single-turbo 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel paired to the six-speed dual-clutch auto driving the front wheels.
For anyone who has sat in a Renault Trafic, the cabin will be familiar. There are large storage pockets on the top of the dash, massive door pockets, and a fold-down centre armrest for the driver.
The driving position is comfortable and visibility once on the move is good thanks to the wide-view side mirrors – and the handy reflective strip attached to the passenger side's visor. When folded down, it gives an extra glimpse of the traffic in the adjacent lane.
The ride is relatively comfortable over bumps (for a van), and it felt more stable with a light load on board.There is a bit of tyre noise transmitted into the cabin, which is to be expected, especially when it’s an empty vessel.
It steers accurately and confidently, and is light work in tight parking spots. That said, the turning circle of 11.8m is a touch broader than most rivals (due in part to the front-drive layout, presumably).
By comparison, the following vans have a better turning circle: Toyota HiAce short wheelbase (11.0m), Hyundai iLoad (11.22m) and Ford Transit Custom (11.6m). The Volkswagen Transporter is 11.9m.
The fuel-rating label says you can expect a best of 6.2L/100km out of the Mitsubishi Express manual (powered by the 1.6-litre diesel) and 7.3L/100km in the auto (powered by the 2.0-litre diesel); however, we saw 10–11L/100km on our drive loops that mostly comprised of flowing 80km/h zones and stop-start traffic.
The lack of a proper full-size rear camera display became an annoyance, though old-school van drivers who have had to cope without for years may not be so bothered.
The Bluetooth works okay, but it was hard for those on the other end of the line to hear me properly, so perhaps earbuds are better.
The cupholders in the dash (on top and the fold-out one in the middle) are too small for even normal-size bottles, and won’t make it around a corner in any case. Fortunately, the door pockets are massive. The smartphone bracket was too small for my iPhone 8 Plus, but it would fit slimmer devices.
The digital speed display was a welcome addition (it has previously been a rarity in this class), but the lack of advanced safety tech was conspicuous by its absence: no speed sign recognition, no autonomous emergency braking, no radar cruise control, no blind-zone warning and no rear cross-traffic alert – all features standard on every new Toyota HiAce and Ford Transit Custom.
You might prefer to live without these features or view them as a luxury, but in reality this type of tech is quickly becoming the cost of doing business – and the Mitsubishi Express is priced alongside vans that have the lot.
The Mitsubishi Express has the basics covered, but the equivalent of a three-star safety rating – and the lack of advanced tech that is becoming the norm – weighs against it. It either needs more equipment or a sharper price to make it more compelling compared to the class leaders.