Looking forward to the next million units with the Xpander

By Botchi Santos Philippine Daily Inquirer April 17,2019

The Xpander is meant as a step-up for those looking for a bigger, roomier, more versatile vehicle.

Fresh from celebrating its milestone of selling its 1 millionth unit since the company’s foray into the country in the ’60s, Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corp. has long been a faithful competitor and investor in this country. While they may have fallen into a rut a few times, the company and the brand has always been able to pull itself out of these difficulties and recover.

Their products have also been chided as being less than ideal by snobby car enthusiasts. But the truth is, the silent majority truly love Mitsubishi and continue to flock into the dealerships in droves, lapping up every single Mitsubishi product they sell. This is because their cars are priced well, relevant to the market, and in the case of the Mirage and G4, are what the Filipino needed to get motorized over seven years ago.

Competitors followed suit with Toyota’s Wigo, Honda’s Brio, KIA’s Picanto, and Hyundai’s Eon and i10. Though the Mirage wasn’t the first in this segment, it heated up the competition and started a massive sales push in the early part of this decade.

Looking toward the future, Mitsubishi finally unveiled the Xpander last year. It replaces the well-loved Mitsubishi Adventure AUV, and also acts as a substitute for the Grandis MPV (both 7+ seater vehicles). The 5Xpander utilizes an all-new front wheel-drive platform, with a family of transversely-mounted 4-cylinder engines sending drive via a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic.

It shares none of its parts with previous Mitsubishi models. The design is fresh, futuristic and very Japanese: anime/mecha/manga influenced, and appeals to a younger market. Designer Tsunehiro Kunimoto was spot-on in choosing this look, which truly points to the future and welcomes in a new generation of family-oriented Mitsubishi buyers.

The Xpander is meant as a step-up vehicle for those graduating from the Mirage/G4 segment, looking for a bigger, roomier, more versatile vehicle that can carry a growing family.

Alternately, the Xpander is perfect for small- to medium-enterprises that need a practical delivery vehicle and people carrier with a bit of pizzazz and panache, roles it can and will fulfill perfectly given its specifications.

This particular variant I tested recently comes with a 4-speed automatic transmission. Initially, one would think the Xpander would be very slow given its 7-seater layout and small engine that is mated to a 4-speed automatic.

But interestingly enough, it feels very sprightly, very responsive. Mitsubishi got the acceleration versus fuel economy compromise for the gearing spot-on, which is my biggest worry for the Xpander.

First and second gears are quite short, which helps with low-end pulling power and acceleration. There’s a much more noticeable drop in RPM in the shift from 2nd to 3rd gear, but 4th gear is still quite low-geared: at 100 km/h on the highway, you’re doing 2,500 rpm’s.

Most other sedans would be doing that with 700 rpm less. But the extra revs barely affect fuel economy on the highway in steady-state driving: I still averaged 14.5 kilometers per liter on my drive up and down Tagaytay City with me, the missus and our gear, for a quick overnight stay searching for cooler climes.

In the city, fuel consumption drops down to a decent 7.8-8.4 kilometers per liter with moderate to heavy traffic. But with a tight engine barely broken in, fuel economy should improve as mileage piles up. Never has 104 horsepower and 141 Newton-Meters of torque felt so perfectly adequate from the 1.5 liter 16-valve DOHC 4A91 4-cylinder engine with MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing Electronic Control system) in a relatively big MPV.

Inside, the Xpander is really roomy. Seating position in front is good: I’d want for a bit more steering column reach adjustment, but otherwise it’s comfortable even on long stints behind the wheel. The dual A/C really keeps the roomy interior cool even on a very hot day and with no tint. The 3rd row folds flat to the floor, allowing one to carry copious amounts of cargo. Even the second row is roomy and the seat-backs recline well enough to lull passengers quickly to sleep.

Ride is a bit bumpy, a bit like that of a pick-up, no doubt a consequence of the rear suspension designed to haul seven people without bottoming out on rough roads. But even on the highway, the ride feels stable enough that you won’t worry too much about losing control on bad bumps at speed. Brakes are strong, offer surprisingly great feel and modulation, though initial pedal travel is a bit mushy. Throttle, as mentioned earlier is responsive, but the 4-speed automatic transmission can become a bit confused in uphill dynamic driving conditions so it would be best to just shift the lever manually, and turn off overdrive in sporty/aggressive driving situations.

The Xpander’s dash is simple yet maintains a stylish edge.

Turning radius is small at 5.2 meters, and you get a useful
205 mm of ground clearance, enough for most farm-to-market roads in the province. With the 2nd and 3rd row seats down, you get a massive 1,633 liters of cargo space, and a very useful one at that since the interior is rectangular in shape, allowing one to load truly big and bulky objects. Fit and finish is very good, and the interior cabin materials are very decent considering the segment this vehicle is meant for.

It’s also a pretty safe vehicle too: ABS-EBD brakes, dual airbags, hill-start assist and active stability control keep the Xpander planted and stable in adverse road and weather conditions. Unfortunately these features do push up the price but well-worth it in the long-run.

About the sole negative attribute I can throw at the Xpander is its steering feel: it is absolutely sterile and cold with practically no feel, even at speed or hard cornering. Otherwise, driving the Xpander would have been a wee bit more enjoyable, more pleasurable and memorable.

But nonetheless, Mitsubishi has another real winner here. The Xpander is what the modern Filipino needs, is spec’d very well, fuel-efficient to meet the budget conscious, has enough safety features for those who put a huge premium on safety, and is honestly, very decently good to drive, MPV or not. I enjoyed my short stint behind the wheel and was quite sad when I had to return it.

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