Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Challenger - 5-dr wagon
Good package for the price, excellent visibility, competent off-road
Room for improvement
Rear suspension could be better - still
6 Jun 2001
By BRUCE NEWTON
AFTER two years sitting quietly in the shadows of the medium all-terrain wagon market, Mitsubishi decided it was time in 2000 to bring its Challenger into the light.
New looks, new rear suspension, a new automatic transmission and a model diversification with the launch of an upmarket "LS" model were the essence of the changes.
It wasn't so much that the original was bad, it's just that it wasn't outstanding either.
Considering this mid-size area is tipped to grow as buyers move down from the big four-wheel drives and across from traditional sedans and wagons, renovating the Challenger makes a lot of sense.
Most obvious among the changes are the looks aggression replaces placidity, the simple vertical barred look of the old front-end is replaced by a new grille with a diagonal egg-crate design, and new headlamps with chrome surrounds.
At the rear there's a revised bumper, rear combination lamps and tailgate garnish.
New-design six-spoke alloy wheels complete the look, bar new body side mouldings on two-tone models.
The LS model adds chrome mirrors and door handles, body-coloured rear spoiler and side step mountings, 12-hole alloy wheels and fog lamps.
An unarguably positive change is that the four-speed automatic - optional on the base model and standard on the LS - is now Mitsubishi's INVECS II adaptive transmission, which learns and adapts to the driver's style.
The other major mechanical change is under the rear floor, where the suspension's archaic leaf springs have been traded a three-link rear-end with coil springs. The aim was to provide improved stability on loose surfaces.
Inside, there's now a two-tone instrument panel and new centre console. The new centre console now includes a dual cupholder which was previously located below the radio in the instrument panel.
This has allowed the redesign of the lower instrument panel to provide space for an in-dash CD changer, which is available as an option.
Standard Challenger features include dual front airbags, air-conditioning, power windows, AM/FM radio-cassette with four speakers, power antenna, mirrors and windows, central door locking and overhead console with sunglass storage.
To this the LS adds a leather steering wheel, cruise control, anti-lock brakes, leather seats, side steps, fog lamps, woodgrain panel, radio/single CD with six speakers and illuminated vanity mirrors for both driver and passenger.
A limited slip differential is also standard on LS, but only available as part of an option pack on the base model, which also includes two-tone paint and cruise control. A second option pack adds ABS to the mix.
The rest stays the same the 3.0-litre 24-valve V6 engine once used in Pajero, which produces 136kW at 5500rpm and maximum torque of 265Nm at 4500rpm, the five-speed manual gearbox, separate chassis underpinnings taken from the Triton utility and the five-seat layout.
The interior look is definitely improved and somewhat derivative - the air-con unit is Magna-ish, the radio Pajero-ish. But ergonomics are not the best thanks to the high lidded box in the centre console, which can foul your elbow when changing gear in the manual.
Better to flip the bin lid up for smoother changes, although the abrupt nature of the clutch which leads to some stalling, and the lack of a left footrest - manual only problem this - means the auto option is looking better all the time.
Go for a drive and you'll be even more convinced. In manual form Challenger's short gearing in first and second means you are soon uncomfortably high in the revs, where there's plenty of noise and vibration.
Yet as an auto, a lot of that is shielded.
INVECS II keeps the engine in the meat of the power spread and slurps from gear to gear in its traditionally smooth fashion.
The engine does vibrate and feels somewhat harsh - not unpleasantly so - but it's no match for related units like the one that sits in the Magna.
And pulling 1840kg, it's never likely to be a rocket.
At 110km/h the V6 is singing away at 2900rpm - and Mitsubishi claims highway economy of 9.5L/100km which is not too shabby for a medium-size 4WD. If you really must, the engine is LPG compatible.
The ride is a noticeable improvement over the old car, which was choppy in the rear.
The short early gears also meant it was easy to light up the rear-end when accelerating, and too easy to break free on loose surfaces, particularly if there were corrugations involved.
You can still get the Challenger to loose traction, but it takes more effort and it feels more controllable as well.
The steering is reasonably sharp by 4WD standards, although feel is not a real highlight. Hardly could be considering the bulbous 265/70 15-inch rubber, which add to the macho looks but do little for grip levels.
They and the soft suspension set-up also seem to contribute to plenty of body roll. The up side of all that is a good ride and quiet progress on smoother roads.
Off-road, the tyres further blot their copybook by choking up with mud and hindering forward progress. However, ground clearance was not a problem, nor was the excellent low-range transmission, "Easy Select" proving itself very easy to work with.
It's a part-time system with a free-wheeling front differential. Selection between 2WD and 4WD can be made at any speed up to 100km/h.
From the big, but flat, driver's seat the view is excellent. You sit up high in that traditional 4WD fashion and thanks to the simple design shape, big windows and huge mirrors, there are no problems with visibility from any angle.
There's good storage space with a big, flat and carpeted rear area that includes four cargo hooks and two waterproof under-floor compartments.
One big advantage of this car is that the full-size spare tyre is fitted under the floor, rather than in the luggage compartment where it can eat up space, or on the vertically-opening rear door, which would impinge on rear visibility.
Capacity is further improved by the flexibility of the rear seats. They 60/40 split-fold, and the bases tumble forward to create a flat floor.
Challenger is strictly a five-seater though, which is a big point of differentiation with the popular Mitsubishi Pajero.
But disappointingly the centre-rear passenger misses out on a lap-sash seatbelt and headrest.
Overall, the changes made to Challenger are worthwhile.
An average package has been improved and refined that little bit. Whether it's enough, only you can decide.
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