Since its introduction in 1998, the Mitsubishi Challenger has earned a reputation as a no-nonsense off roader with, perhaps, not as much aplomb as some more expensive rivals. However, it has a proven ability to get to an off road destination and back without much bother.
The Challenger has traditionally competed for sales within the large SUV market with such vehicles as Kluger, Territory, Outback, and Captiva, rather than within the 4 x 4 niche. However, it’s a ‘proper’ four wheel drive in the same vein same as Pajero and Triton stable mates.
First starting out as a five seater, today’s Challenger now comes in several variants, offering five or seven seats and with all wheel drive and two wheel drive options. With standard two wheel drive for city and highway work, the availability of all wheel drive and low range on command – plus further traction via high or low range centre differential lock – there’s no denying the Challenger’s ability to mix it off road when push turns to shove. The high riding wagon with its excellent ground clearance, long wheel travel, and generous approach and departure angles of 36º and 25º respectively, is an impressive performer.
Based on the Triton utility, the Challenger shares underpinnings plus frontal design features; the signature Mitsubishi corporate grille being easily identified. The engine is also shared with Triton – a four cylinder in-line 2.5L common rail direct injection diesel power plant with a variable vane turbo – outputting 131kW of power, 400Nm of torque gives the Challenger an excellent turn of speed, and an easy touring and towing capability. The engine tends to be a bit noisy, in the old style of diesel engines, yet chatter turns to hum as speed increases.
A ladder chassis is also part of the mix but from that point onwards the similarity between Triton and Challenger largely ceases. One vehicle is a ute with leaf suspension at the rear, the other is a family wagon with multi-link/coil rear suspension. And it’s a fairly handsome family wagon thanks to sleek lines, side steps, roof rails and an overall commanding road presence.
Within the reviewed seven seat XLS Challenger, luxurious touches were abounded. Leather trim on steering wheel, gear selector and transfer lever were standard. A soft feel dash complete with panels of imitation walnut as highlights complemented the interior. The Mitsubishi multi-function centre display offered ample information regarding fuel economy plus various other items that might interest driver or occupants. Main instruments were situated right in front of the driver, where they should be.
Seated in a high ‘command’ style position on electrically powered fully adjustable seats, the Challenger’s driver enjoys fingertip control of the Mitsubishi sound system, with BlueTooth phone connection, USB and iPod connectivity for more advanced audio. A reversing camera – somewhat on the small side being only one half of the rear view mirror – will assist when parking. Easily managed cruise control plus additional gear selectivity via wheel mounted paddles, in addition to the manual over-ride system via the centre selector, will add a little spice to the driving experience. In effect, the clutchless manual selection of gears is designed to maintain momentum in difficult conditions by completely eliminating any loss of revs or torque through up or down changes. For city or highway work, you simple click the selector into D and leave the engine and gearbox to do their work.
Interior comfort within the Challenger was designed to please. Climate control air, electric windows, decent carpet, ample storage compartments and drink holders for all, created a feeling of comfort and style while seated high enough to enjoy the view outside. Leg and head room were also more than adequate.
The XLS Challenger’s seating consisted of three rows, being a seven seater. Carrying capacity, with the second row of seats upright, is impressive with a cargo space 1650mm long; even more space becomes available with the second row of seats moved forward. These seats have slide recline and tumble forward capability to facilitate entry into the pair of rear most seats best suited to youngsters or small, agile, adults. Once the rearmost seats are lifted from beneath the floor and set into a upright state, one of the second row of seats are tumbled and slid forward to allow easy side access. With the second row seat then slipped upright the seven seater is in business.
With its independent double wishbone with coils front suspension and three link with coils at the rear, the Challenger offers a smooth comfortable ride on most surfaces with the steering balanced on the light side. In hard corners there’s a tendency to understeer as well, although some body roll will usually intrude first. Overall though, the Challenger is a quite well mannered commuter or tourer and perfect for city or prolonged country road or highway travel.
The Challenger also makes a great towing unit thanks to its long wheel base and overall stability; 3000kg of braked trailer being permitted. In fact, I enjoyed towing a Trek Kudu camper trailer but unfortunately as it was during that horrendous rain period in late January I was not able to obtain a photo of the adventure. We did, however, make it home in one piece.
I found the vehicle’s self-levelling HID headlights greatly assisted when towing at night; eliminating annoying headlight elevation. Fuel consumption was quite acceptable; during mainly country driving I saw 10.2L per 100km from the 70L tank.
In many ways the all wheel drive Challenger XLS is an ‘old’ style off roader. The diesel engine tends to chatter a little, four wheel drive is activated via a lever, there can be a little body roll in corners, yet it’s undeniably a very capable four wheel drive with excellent off road capability.
In my view it’s more than an SUV; its seven seat capability, good towing performance and overall easy road manners it certainly deserves serious consideration for buyers looking for a just-right sized 4x4 with excellent towing and ample luggage capability. And it has a full sized spare! Price as reviewed for the seven seater was $57,290, for a five seater $55,290.Reads: 3132