Wednesday, 23 July 2014

REVIEW - Mitsubishi L200 Barbarian

This review takes me back to the very beginning of my trip into the world of journalism. I wasn’t even Simply Motor back in late 2011; but “Motor Mouth Dan”. Nevertheless, Shona Smith over at Mitsubishi was kind enough to put faith in me and give me an L200 to test. That started the ball rolling for me, and I will be forever in her debt. So with a new year, brings a new L200. This one is still the Barbarian auto, which was the model that landed on my drive back in the day. So would it be any different, and how would a few years of reviews change my perspective? Well read on to find out.

Looks – 7/10

The L200 that arrived this time was bright red, but it looked nigh-on identical to the one 3 years ago. Although a smart looking pickup at the time, the rounded shape is starting to date now. The current trend is for more squared, bold body shapes, like the VW Amarok and Ford Ranger. Both of these manage to dwarf the L200 by being imposing, and I think it’s about time for the L200 to be restyled. The Barbarian still gets chrome trim for the mirrors, door handles and petrol filler cap. I like the tinted windows, and the wheel design- although unchanged- is a nice style, and at 18-inch a nice size too. I also like the updated grille, which gives the front end a more premium feel over previous models.

On the inside very little has changed. There’s the new computer which displays average fuel economy, distance to empty, temperature gauge and even a barometer (not even entirely sure what it does). Although not of the highest quality, it is functional. And that’s the best way to sum up the L200 interior. The door trims are a cheap plastic, as is the dash. But the bottom line is that this is a commercial vehicle, and with the leather seats, steering wheel and gearknob there is enough nice bits to give that spot of luxury. Some pickups are guilty of becoming too car-like, such that you wouldn’t want to get in them with your work boots on. The L200 is nicely balanced, and I’m still impressed with the leather that looks like carbon fibre on the seat bolsters.

Handling/Performance – 6/10

It’s a shame that nothing under the bonnet has changed either. The same 2.5-litre diesel engine remains, with its 175PS and 350Nm. It was attached to the 5-speed automatic transmission, and therein lies the first problem. This is a workhorse at the end of the day, so it’s less refined and more bomb-proof. Which is fine. But the automatic gearbox doesn’t have the ratios to cope with motorway cruising speeds. Consequently if you get up to 70mph the L200 isn’t all that pleasant to be in. The manual gets six gears, and it’s definitely the one I’d go for. 0-62mph takes 13 seconds in the auto, with a top speed of 109mph. I wouldn’t like to experience one in a 3-digit speed though.

Partly that’s down to the steering. I’d forgotten about it being low geared, which nearly caused an upset on a roundabout. You feel like you’re winding and winding the lock on to get round a bend, and with variable steering that’s available these days you do sit back and wonder why the L200 remains so primitive. Thankfully the ride has improved over the years. Even with an empty bed there’s no wallowing like you get in other pickups. Sure, the rear leaf springs are a bit firm over bumps, but that’s much better than feeling the shockwave of a bump three miles down the road as it goes up and down and up and down. So credit for that. Also, despite the engine noise at motorway speeds, the ride itself is actually comfortable, and with the high driving position visibility is great.

Economy – 6/10

The other reason I’d pick the manual is for economy. It won’t make a difference to theroad tax, because as a light commercial vehicle (LCV) the rate is fixed at £225 currently. The issue comes with fuel consumption. Mitsubishi quote 32.1mpg for the automatic. But in the real world that would be a welcome figure. Having previously tested a manual I can honestly say the real-world difference is at least 10mpg, and for me that’s worth making my left leg do a bit of work. I suppose the only argument in the L200’s favour is that it can sometimes do the same work as two cars, so by that token it’s rather economical…

Practicality – 10/10

Which brings me nicely on to practicality. There’s nothing you can’t do with an L200. The rear bed pretty much gobbles up anything you throw at it, and the cabin seats four adults comfortably, and five if they don’t mind getting a bit cosier in the back. It may be a rather long vehicle but there’s great visibility all round, and a reversing camera to help you at the back. The front seats are heated, there’s a satellite navigation system too so you don’t get lost, and electric windows throughout. Even the rear window to the bed opens, which is a nice way to get a bit of fresh air into the cab. One thing going for the low geared steering is that one you’ve managed to wind all the lock on there’s a pretty decent amount of it, so the L200 is rather easy to manoeuvre. The big mirrors also help visibility on the motorway.

Fun – 6/10

There is something rather liberating about driving a large pick-up truck. And this rings true in the Mitsubishi L200. There’s a go-anywhere attitude, and with a proper transfer box you literally could go anywhere. Not sure how it would cope with the automatic gearbox in some properly tricky stuff, but then how often do we find ourselves in some properly tricky stuff? One of my biggest complaints may seem small, but it managed to grate over the course of the week. The iPod connectivity is a bit rubbish. It took the L200 about 10 minutes (seriously) to “index” the tracks on my iPod, and this was at the start of every journey. That did become irritating because I like to be able to plug in and go. This L200 also lacked the character the Black Edition had. It didn’t stand out, and nobody on the street pointed as you drove past. Which was a good laugh when I had the Barbarian Black.

Concluding Remarks

So then, the L200 Barbarian. Is it finally showing some signs of age? Well, it’s still the best selling pick-up, so I guess many think not. But I do think it’s time to bring it in line with the Outlander, which is rather good indeed. There will always be commercial L200’s, but people buying the Barbarian are more likely to use it as a car than a workhorse, and as such a bit of luxury wouldn’t go amiss. Especially given the price tag. The VAT inclusive price for a Barbarian automatic is £28,798. There’s no denying that is a bit steep, although it’s also the going rate in its segment. Knock the VAT off for qualifying businesses and you’re looking at a more reasonable £23,999 which then kind of makes sense. The L200 Barbarian; make sure you get your VAT back!

Total Score – 35/50 

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